(Empty-Handed Way), an imperative to one’s Way is to learn how to breathe correctly in one’s 技 Wazas (techniques), be it 突き Tsukis
(punches), 蹴 Geris (Kicks
), or 立 立ち 構え Dachis/Tachis/Kamae
(stances/posture). The art of berthing is almost forgot in contemporary times, most 子 Deshi (disciples) or 学生 Gakuseis (students) do not learn how to breathe at all during their 基本 Kihon
(basics) training. And breathing is something that needs to be stressed in one’s Karatedō from the onset. Regarding as it why it is not taught or underscored in today’s Martial Art’s is of unimportance. In short, sometimes one realizes things further into one’s practice and thus, one’s perception alters, and usually for the better. Nevertheless, one of the main points in doing or performing Kihon is to learn not only how to execute a proper Dachi/Tachi, in regards to one’s balance, or 当 Ates (strikes) or the aforesaid Tsukis or Geris, but for one to learn how to breathe within one’s Waza that is being demonstrating or actualized. The importance of learning how to breathe, so that when one is doing a Waza, one can effectively do it with the utmost power, impact, and beauty. Further, learning to breathe properly also assists in one’s ability to it easier, because like a punch or kick, when one learns to incorporate one’s 腰 Kōshi (hips) into one’s Waza, e.g., Geris or Tsukis, one will therefore punch twice as hard with half the effort, because one is flowing or having fluidity within one’s Waza in one’s Karatedō.
息吹 Ibuki (breathing) is essential in may or all athletic endeavors, because it helps one find one’s rhythm (meter in performing things), and allows one to control one’s body or physiology overall, because it is the mental strength that is at the forefront in breathing. And by doing so, one can calm down one’s mind and body when one is over-excited or exhausted. This is crucial for one in every 型 Kata (series of formal movements) or Kihon, or 組手 Kumite (Free-Fighting), which is illuminated in proficient 空手家 Karatekas (practitioners of Karatedō) in their respective aforementioned aspects. Fighters who are considered the best, and this refers to ones that do not just over-power others with brute force, etc., but to the one’s who understand the value of Kihon and Kata as well have learned this. Albeit, that many who perform Kata, for the most part, are too theatrical with the over-Kiai-ing 気合 (battle cry), and superfluous facial expressions or movements; notwithstanding, the true Karatekas demonstrate power/impact within their movements and accentuate it with 目先 Me Sen (fixing eyes directly in front of one) and display 残心 Zanshin(continued focus) as well as wonderful Kamae (posture). All of which evolves from breathing correctly. Thusly, allowing one to move fluently and easily; it also improves one’s spirit, because one is not exhausted to the point of wanting to give up and that is something all Karatekas, as a right-of-passage experience in one’s promotion tests.
In regards to athletics in general, all athletes learn about breathing (i.e., how to breath), so that they can perform at an optimum level; hence, their high abilities that they transcend as professionals. There is not any “sport” that does not include breathing, e.g., even in a game of Chess or playing cards involves controlling one’s breath, so that others cannot see any anxieties that may be compounding in one. Plus, as one’s breathing increases in a fast manner, which is not controlled breathing, one’s blood pressure increases also, and one may begin to sweat or feel the onset of tunnel-vision happening or one can manifest the shakes too. All of that, which are small examples of how breathing incorrectly can have devastating effects for one, but nonetheless, underscore the point. Breathing among athletes is apparent before they compete in whatever it is that they are doing, e.g., before a Baseball player goes into the batter’s box or at some point within the box, the batter will manifest some breaths to relax and to focus. This is also seen in Tennis players before they serve, or a Skier before going downhill or a shooter before target shooting, a Dancer or gymnast before a performance, etc.; so, breathing is an imperative that should be a focal point for anyone in life for general purposes, but for this prose, a Karateka’s transcendence.
Two forms of breathing are known to the Karateka, which are the aforementioned Ibuki as well as No Garde Emote, which I do not know the proper translation for, but nonetheless, the differences I do know, thankfully do to my teacher Soshu Shigeru Oyama (originally of 極真会館 Kyokushinkai Kan
and then of his own style: World Oyama Karate
). Pertaining to No Garde, one starts with ones hands extended out in front of one (like Frankenstein), then one inhales via one’s nose/nostrils, taking a deep breath into one’s lunges as one slowly pulls one hands backwards towards oneself, then holds onto it (one’s breath) within one’s lunges as one’s hands (palm-side up skywards) are now by one’s side (by one’s nipples/chest with one’s elbow extended past one’s armpits or behind oneself), then one turns one’s hands downwards (palms downwards to the ground) to then slowly exhale while pushing the hands downwards to one’s upper thighs (keeping the hands in flexion or flexed, so that one’s wrists are facing down and the fingers are still outstretched forward). This is repeated several times until one’s breath is calm and one’s heartbeat is pacified. This is an exceptional skill for any Karateka to cultivate, especially the novice who will become overwhelmed with the lack of air from not breathing within the movement, which can take years to learn. Further, this should be explained in detail in class by the teacher/instructor and used over and over again, because this translates into all aspects of one’s Karatedō, e.g., Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. An old Buddhist
adage that expresses the importance of breathing and flowing within the moment of time, which is not static, but forever moving/changing/living is: “Still body…still mind
.” Hence, the importance of ANY
form of meditation (sitting, standing, or lying), which by it very essence/purpose demands a still body, so that transcending oneself by exemplifying a still mind, for peace and clarity, which is Balance (the Middle Way
garding Ibuki, it is breathing from one’s 丹田 Tanden
, which is the center of one’s core, which is located between the navel and lower diaphragm (above the pubic bone/region). One has to inhale deeply via one’s nose/nostrils (naval cavities) drawing in as much air as possible into one’s abdomen and not into one’s lungs to then hold it within one’s Tanden and slowly, yet powerfully allowing air to escape by squeezing/contracting one’s stomach muscles while pushing one’s air out, which makes a uniquely deep visceral sound upon exhaling via one’s mouth. One should notice and feel one’s 腰 Kōshi (hips) or pelvis push or rotate forward (a pelvic thrust if you will) with the exhalation. Of course this is very hard, because most do it via the lunges, i.e., most inhale and exhale with the mouth and never truly develop a deep breathing attribute from the gut (Tanden/Core). Instead when doing it via the mouth, one can feel some nausea or light-headedness, which underscores that one is performing this Waza incorrectly. One can even develop a headache to doing this for a length of time in the wrong manner. However, in the realm of properly doing Ibuki, one will feel a tightening of one’s Tanden upon 三戦 Sanchin
(a Kyokushinkai Kan Kata made famous by 千宗守 茂 大山 Soshu Shigeru Oyama
, a protégé of 総裁 倍達 大山 Sosai Masutatsu Oyama
). In doing this Kata, one will cultivate proper inhaling and exhaling and will consequentially feel the toxins and negativity purging from one. Sanchin is a Kata that is tremendous to practice to learn how to breath correctly/properly for one’s calmness, balance, and peace of mind (soul); but, any Kata that involves Ibuki is wonderful to practice. This breathing connects one’s entire being: it illuminates that one has to be one within oneself in one’s practice, which can be opined for any endeavor of one’s chosen. And when performing this in its truest essence, one is foundationally stronger, i.e,, every fiber of one’s being, down to one’s marrow you could say. This can also be considered a form of meditation as well since it coalesces the mind and body (psychologically and physiologically).
Both Ibuki and No Garde should be a mainstay in one’s Karatedō to transcend oneself. Suffice it to say, when doing Kihon or Kata or Kumite, the two forms of breathing are not done, with exception of getting the wind knocked out of one and as a result, using Ibuki to get one’s breath back, which is usually followed or appended with a loud KIAI! Irrespective of that, breathing is an essential aspect of one’s practice and sadly, not something that is at the forefront of one’s training at a dōjō, but that is not to say that it should not be or cannot be. Furthermore, it is never about blame or criticizing; rather, it is about sharing knowledge that one has humbly learned and then, to pay homage and veneration, by passing that onto whoever is willing to listen.
Nilo Rivera,Sensei is the New York branch Chief of IKU – International Kyokushinkai Kan Union, Founder and Chief Instructor of Genjōkōan Karate Organization. You can find his work at genjokoankarateblog.blogspot.com