Generating Power From The Hara (Japanese) / Dan Tian (Chinese)

Many of the old Okinawan/Chinese masters talk about moving from the Hara (as it’s known in Japanese) or the Dan Tian (as it’s known in Chinese).  It’s just behind and slightly below the belly-button.  Yet in many martial arts, especially Japanese and Korean styles, we are taught to focus on moving from the hips.  Although the Hara is very close to hips, it is not quite in the same place and when we train to focus on moving the hips, we are not moving from the Hara as the old masters described!

How could this anomaly come about?

Well I’ve been saying for years that many martial arts have been dumbed down.  It’s very easy for a master who wants to teach the public, yet not give away hard earned secrets; to make a small adjustment to the way they teach so that it looks the same but is not.  The students see how fast and powerful the master is and hang on his every word, accepting without question.  Why would you question somebody who is obviously so good!  The student get good results.  Not as good as the masters (even after many years of training), but it’s easy to dismiss that as the master is . . . . well . . . . the master!  Then you get a new generation of masters who have only been taught the dumbed down version; and so it goes on.

By the time the Okinawans first took Karate to Japan in the 1920’s, the Japanese were already dismissing traditional martial arts as obsolete except for personal and physical development.  The first Okinawan teachers focused largely on universities and schools training young men who would later go into military conscription.  Not really necessary to give away all your secrets!

The Chinese too originally had the attitude that their martial arts were for Chinese only and not Westerners.  Bruce Lee was harassed by the Chinese community in the US for teaching Americans.  So later when the Chinese found that there was good money to be made from teaching foreigners and opened their doors to us; do you think that maybe they held some stuff back?  I’d say almost certainly; especially in the early days.

The Hara is often described as a centre of the bodies internal life force energy.  Some people won’t like this, but that too from a martial arts point of view is a distraction.  Firstly, it’s where your core muscles are.  Secondly, you have a number of fascial chains going through the Hara, so when you train to move your Hara in a certain way, you learn to pull on those fascial chains giving an internal connection of many muscles groups which in turn generates more power than you would normally be able to do.  This, very simplified, is what Internal Power is about.  It’s not about hitting with mystical esoteric Chi/Ki energy!

But change the focus a few inches, from the Hara to the hips and much of that is gone, even though on the surface it looks very much the same.  Dan Harden who teaches Internal Power properly, relates a story of how he got his Japanese Sensei to teach him Internal Power, even though the rest of the class was not learning it.  In one class, Dan and the student next to him did exactly the same thing; the Sensei corrected Dan’s movement yet told the other student he was doing it right!  He was blatantly teaching on 2 different levels in the same class.

Note:  When the pandemic is over, if you get the chance to train with Dan Harden, grab it.  It’ll open up a whole new dimension to your martial art (whatever your style).

So in the video below, I look at moving from the Hara.  This is just one very small part of Internal Power, yet a very important part.

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4 thoughts on “Generating Power From The Hara (Japanese) / Dan Tian (Chinese)

  1. You’re welcome Barry.
    Yes I thought the second one would help you.
    Thanks for the share, I’m a fan of Kanazawa. It’s a real shame that he’s no longer with us!

  2. Thanks Charlie. Yes, these (especially the second) are helpful.
    Somewhat related too is the following that I recently discovered on YouTube and that I am finding useful –
    Kanazawa Breathing During Techniques:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SzlG37OzRI
    As the video progresses Kanazawa demonstrates the application of multiple techniques / out-breaths on a single in-breath.

  3. Hi Barry, thanks for the feedback.
    Yes, I think as we get higher up in the Dan grades some people do start to do it naturally. But this seems to happen by accident rather than design. If people know what they are actually looking for, then they can achieve it at a much earlier stage and achieve it by design. The trouble is, most people do not know what they are actually looking for, which is why it takes so long to find (if it’s found at all)!
    As for your quest to move more from the hara, you might find this post helpful as well: https://bunkaijutsu.com/2011/05/natural-breathing-karate-and-martial-arts/
    Especially the second video!
    Good luck.

  4. Excellent article and illustrations Charlie. I have been trying to work on moving from the center – the hara – lately. It is now my primary focus in training. I have a long way to go before it becomes second nature. It sure feels good though when it happens – more power with less effort due to incorporating body weight and a larger muscle group. Thanks again for the article. I look forward to when I can look back and say this is how all my movement and techniques naturally begin. So many, even advanced belts, seem to not get this. It seems to me that this is an issue for most below 3rd Dan. I notice it less with 3rd Dans and I above.

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