Mikao Usui (1865-1926) created a system of practices for spiritual self-development from which Reiki as we know it today developed. Although the approach was primarily spiritual, with the goal of realizing pure non-dual consciousness, Usui's method also included vibrational and bioenergetic techniques for mental and physical healing. Those who sought Usui's help first received healing through his touch. They were then taught his techniques for spiritual development and healing, and expected to practice diligently. Usui is said to have had little patience for those who were not prepared to make self-effort. Usui emphasized the importance of principled lifestyle, and offered his students Precepts to guide their behavior and demeanor.
Toward the end of his life, Usui was approached by Chujiro Hayashi (1878-1940), one of Usui's 18 advanced students, with a request to develop the healing techniques separately for those who were not motivated to engage in stringent spiritual practice. Usui, perhaps curious to explore the effectiveness of the healing techniques outside the context of spiritual practices, agreed, and asked Hayashi to write a handbook. This collaboration gave rise to the practice of Reiki as it is known throughout the world today, including hand positions.
Five years after Usui's death, Hayashi adapted the techniques further from the context of spiritual practice and more in the direction of a healing intervention. Although Usui had sometimes used the word Reiki, it is likely under Hayashi that the term came to refer to the practices. Hayashi had a small eight bed clinic in Tokyo where his students offered Reiki treatment in pairs.
Hawayo Takata (1900-1980) came to Hayashi's clinic in 1936 with serious respiratory and abdominal complaints. Takata was a young first-generation American, a widow with two small daughters. She was healed after four months of treatment, and petitioned to be trained in Reiki. Hayashi agreed, a radical and courageous decision to accept an American as a student at a time when only Japanese were trained. Takata learned First and Second degree Reiki from Hayashi. For a year, she offered Reiki in the clinic in the mornings and made housecalls in the afternoon. By the time she returned home to Hawaii, Takata had extensive experience both receiving and giving Reiki, and had spent considerable time with her Reiki master, Chujiro Hayashi. Hayashi's Reiki master, Mikao Usui, had made a point of sharing the beginning teachings openly with the public, which ran counter to Japanese tradition. Hayashi took this a step further, telling Takata to bring Reiki to America, where he promised to visit her to support her efforts.
Takata accepted a profound challenge when she agreed to carry Reiki out of the supportive womb of Japanese culture into 20th century isolationist America. She distilled the essence of Reiki and packaged it in a way that Americans (and eventually the rest of the world) could grasp and put into practice, a form that combined American pragmatism with the potential benefits of a spiritual practice, a potential that can only be actualized with disciplined, consistent practice over time.
As Takata brought Reiki practice to Hawaii, a story of Reiki's origins developed that was palatable to American cultural and political sensibilities (this was just before World War II, and anti-Japanese sentiment was already strong in the US), a story in which Mikao Usui appeared as a Christian minister. Takata used the story as a teaching tool to illustrate various points about the practice. Takata did not alter the practice she had received from her Reiki master.
As promised, Hayashi and his daughter came to Hawaii and spent 6 months with Takata. On February 21, 1938, Hayashi made a public announcement and signed a certificate acknowledging Takata as a fully credentialed Reiki master, the first woman Reiki master, and at the time, the only Reiki master outside Japan.
Takata made Reiki her life's work. She shared Reiki in Hawaii and began visiting the US mainland frequently starting in 1973. Takata died in December 1980, having initiated 22 Reiki masters. The Reiki Alliance is an international organization of Reiki masters committed to an ethical, disciplined practice of Reiki in the manner in which Takata taught it.
As a direct consequence of Takata's courage, her trust in Reiki and in her Reiki master, and her personal insight, discipline and skill, the practice of Reiki rapidly encircled the globe. In the process of this rapid expansion, however, many practitioners abandoned Takata’s standards for Reiki education and practice. Traditionally, a Reiki student would have substantial practice, as Takata did, before teaching. It is not uncommon today for students to take a weekend training, view themselves as Reiki masters, and begin teaching immediately, so it is always important to inquire about a Reiki master’s experience and education.