Natural Breathing In Karate (And Other Martial Arts)

One of biggest assets in a real fight is to be able to move naturally.  And there is no more natural bodily function then breathing.

Yet in Karate, I believe that one of the biggest problems over the years has been an over emphasis on the exhalation at the end of the technique.  In fairness to other styles, I should point out that most of my experience is with Shotokan Karate so it may not apply to other styles quite so much.  But if everybody is honest, I don’t think that Shotokan is completely alone with this fault.

An over-emphasis on exhalation at the end of a technique, especially if the exhilation continues after the technique is competeled will unnecessarily waste energy, create pauses between techniques (where your opponent could counter) and create stiffness and tension in the movements.  Not only is this counter productive for self defence, but it not the healthiest way for the body to move either.

I would guess that a lot of this come about because many of Funakoshi’s early students where lost during the War.  After the war, Funakoshi was quite old and not able to steer the teaching quite so much.  Also Karate was dumbed down a lot for political and social reasons (see my 5 part video course for more info) so more emphasis was placed on the physical development.

Over the decades Shotokan Karate (and probably most other styles) has progressed and become much more fluid and relaxed (hence more effective).  Some of the very senior Karate masters like Kanazawa, Kase and Abe have also studied Tai Chi (as does my Sensei) and have brought some of that knowledge back into their Karate.  There are still many who do it the old way tense way, but it’s changing.

However, I think that for the majority, the details of breathing are seldom broken down in the way I’ve been taught.  So I’ve put together a couple of videos to help anybody who is not quite sure of how it should be done.

Ironically, the way it performed in the more modern versions of Shotokan is quite similar to how it is done in the more modern versions of Tae Kwon Do where they use the sine-wave movement.  Although Shotokan does not rise up and down like the sine-wave, both breath in during the first half of the step to get relaxation and fluidity and exhale in the second half of the technique.  It is explained a bit more in the following video’s which I hope you enjoy.

How To Put The “Whip” Into A Linear Punch (Part 2)

In Part 1 of How To Put A “Whip” Into A Linear Punch, I looked at how to use the hips properly to generate a waveform motion through the body for basic punches.  Many people struggle with this because as beginners we tend to move the whole torso as one, rather than generating movement from the hips and simply relaxing the rest of the torso so as to let it flow naturally.  This puts tension into the body and takes away our power.

The method used in the first video is great for single basic techniques, especially Choku Zuki (straight punch in upright standing stance) and Gyaku Zuki (reverse punch), where we end with the hips square to front or just 10 to 15 degrees past square.  Well in this next video we take it a step further.  When you snap a towel (or your belt), you have a “pull back” just at the end of the forward movement.  We can incorporate this “pull back” to gain extra whip/snap when we perform a snap punch, or multiple techniques (e.g.  stepping punch, reverse punch or block then reverse punch).  That pull back at the end of the first techniques not only puts an extra whip/snap on the end, but also initiates the hip movement for the second technique.

Now I know that not everybody will have been taught this way, so before you watch my video, please have a quick look at this one by Master Kagawa, 8th Dan Shotokan Karate and Technical Director of the JKS.  As he performs Age Uke (rising block) you can clearly see his hips rotate fully, then just settle back slightly at the end of the movement.  This settling back (or pull back) gives that extra little “whip” on the end the rising block and can be used to initiate the next technique (which is usually a reverse punch).  So for anybody who has not seen this before (and there will be very many who haven’t), I’m not making it up.  This is nothing new, it’s always been there, its just always explained in detail.  I’ve been lucky with my teachers.

[Waveform punch Part 2]

How To Put The “Whip” Into A Linear Punch

I usually focus on the practical application of techniques on this website, but today I’m actually going to focus on technique itself.  I think this one is important, as it can greatly enhance the power of your punches and other strikes.

The Karate masters of old often taught that we should use our body like a “whip”, but this is not always easy to do, especially if you practice a predominantly linear style.  In practically all sports, power is generated from the hips, transferred to the shoulders, then to the arms/hands.  However, people often struggle to do this in linear styles.  I believe that this is because we are often taught that everything finishes together, whereas in most other activities they are taught to move in sequence.  I believe that this is partly brought about by the fact that we focus (kime) into one spot, whereas in most other disciplines (including other sports) they move through their target.  When a golfer hits the ball, he does not stop there, he moves right through it (as does anybody using any kind of racket or bat to hit something).  When somebody throws a ball, they do not stop at the instance of release, they move through that point.

Yet with a linear punch, we stop dead at the point of focus, especially in basic form.  Even in freestyle, at the point of focus we strike and retract rather than moving through, and I think this is what causes the problem for so many.  Many people end up moving the shoulder and hips together, rather than in sequence like everybody else.  The only way we can move shoulder and hip together is by tightening the muscles of our torso and locking them together.

Yet we are always told that we should be as relaxed as possible and that movement comes from the hips . . . . . . . or as some would say, the Hara (Japanese) or Dan Tien (Chinese).

If we are locking the shoulders and hips together, we cannot be completely relaxed.  Also, movement cannot be said to come from the hips (Hara/ Dan Tien) as the whole torso moves as one.

If we truly generate the power from the hips and we are truly relaxed in out torso, then the hips should move first, creating a small rotational stretch in our body as the shoulders are left fractionally behind.  When stretched, the body naturally wants to return to its original shape, so the shoulders will start to rotate as well, just fractionally behind the hips.  However, as we are not actually focusing on our shoulders and the torso is relaxed, there will be a feeling of the shoulder and arm being “thrown” by the hip, rather than having to focus on moving them and extending the arm.

Chinese circular styles seem to achieve this whip like feeling more easily as a circular techniques goes through its target and does not stop at the point of impact (unlike a basic linear punch).  Some of the modern day masters talk of a putting in a waveform motion.  The Russian martial art, Systema (The System) also talks of a waveform.  This is often compared to the standard Karate/TKD punch and advocated as being much more powerful.  However, I believe that this is because most people are not really aware of how to put the waveform into their linear technique.  Using the method described above and demonstrated in the video below, it is relatively easy to get this waveform (whip) into a linear punch.

I must put in one disclaimer however, and that is that many advanced Karateka/TKD practitioners do this naturally as they learn to relax.  However, I don’t think that most of them are actually aware of the mechanics of it, certainly very few will explain it in this manner.

When I’ve shown this before, I’ve had people say that they loved it, but had never seen anything like it in their own club.  I believe that I may have “re-framed” things a bit, but everybody should be training this way.  By re-framing it I hope to make it clearer; I am not introducing something new here.  If this concept is new to you, please give your feedback below on what you think of it.  If you have been taught this concept, but this video makes it clearer please tell me.  If you think I’m a mad Karate heretic, then say so 🙂

[Waveform punch]