“Sinking” In Your Stance At The End Of A Technique

In many martial arts we are taught that on the climax of our technique we should “sink” into our stance.  I will admit that if my knees are sore, I sometimes find this quite difficult to do.

But firstly, why do we do it?  “Sinking” at the climax of out technique is a way improving our skeletal structure and helping us for form an immovable “root” to the ground, thus enabling us to more efficiently absorb the reaction energy to any impact from our blows.  Or more correctly, we don’t absorb the that reaction energy as it tries to go through our structure, finds the immovable ground, and is rebounded into our opponent again (so he gets it twice).

So why do a lot of people struggle with it?

Although you obviously have to bend your knees more in order to sink, if you focus on bending your knees then ironically it will probably not come easily.  It’s a little bit like doing a squat, the more you bend the knees, they more you intuitively tense your legs to absorb the weight!

In some styles  such (as in the early versions of Shotokan exported from Japan) there was an over exaggerated exhalation/tension in order to produce kime (focus).  I remember being taught to tense the whole body including the legs, which will obviously make it them a bit more resistant to bend, in order to sink further.

Also, if you have knee pains, you intuitively tense the muscles around them in order to prevent your knee bones/cartilage/ligaments/tendons/etc from moving about too much (hence less pain).  I know this from personal experience.  But this tension makes it difficult for you to bend the knees more and sink.

The best ways to “sink” into your stance is by getting the right feeling rather than focusing on a physical movement itself, because focusing on physical movement tends to make you focus on muscles, hence – tension.  Some say it is like “falling down a hole”, but obviously you stop yourself before going too far.

Different things will work for different people, but I’d like to share something that has worked for me.

We are usually taught in most martial arts to “breathe into your stomach” (or hara/dan tien).  This is of course not actually physically possible as the air we breathe in goes into our lungs and can’t get passed the diaphragm to our stomach.  Our diaphragm moves down and displaces our internal organs, so that it feels like we’re breathing into our stomach.  In fact it’s a visualisation that we use help get the right breathing technique.  It is however a very popular visualisation which most of us are taught right from the very beginning.

We can however build on this.  When you want to sink in your stance as you exhale, try to visualise the breath leaving the stomach through the legs, to the feet and out into the ground.  If you focus on the breath going down (rather than your weight going down), you should find it relatively easy to sink slightly without unnecessary tension.  The whole process becomes much more relaxed and natural movement which is what we should be aiming for.

I actually learnt this through Tai Chi, but have applied it to my Karate.  Of course, once your body gets used to the correct feeling, you can drop the visualisation as your body will know what you are looking for, but it is a useful tool to help get that feeling in the first place.

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.