Congratulations Sensei Nicky!!!

Speaking of Old School

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Congratulations to Adrian, Serge and Annalise, who passed their exam on Friday night.

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Exam Time

This is just a quick note to remind members of the dojo that there will be an exam next week. Please remember to show up with a (clean and ironed) gi and sparring gear. Good luck to the examinees!

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The following is an essay by Roberto Delicata of Wolfson College Taido Club at Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford, UK written on the 7th of December, 2002.

Aspects of Breathing in the Martial Arts

The role of breathing in the martial arts is complex, and extends far beyond the physical act of oxygenating the blood. In this essay I will explore some of the aspects of breathing as they apply to the martial arts, both as a combative discipline and as a promoter of health and longevity. The wealth of breathing techniques championed by martial arts instructors is almost as diverse as the styles that these instructors practise. As a karate student well conditioned to exhaling strongly whilst punching, I was duly reprimanded for doing so in a Shaolin kung-fu class. Why are you breathing loudly?”, I was asked.  If you breath loudly, your opponent will know that you are about to attack!”. Whilst I cannot fault the logic in this, the justification for audible breathing is equally as convincing. I use this to highlight the fact that there is rarely a single right way to do anything in martial arts. For much of this essay I favour the discussion of principle over technique, since the principles of martial arts are, in general, more uniform than the way they are implemented within particular styles. Where I do descend into discussion on technique, it should be borne in mind that a method is being talked about, and not the method.

Breathing techniques

At a very basic level, karate students are taught that breathing plays an important role in the correct execution of technique. Inhalation should take place through the nose and exhalation through the mouth. Inhalation is usually performed in the transition between stances or positions and exhalation

proceeds whilst the technique is performed. If a sequence of techniques occur in quick succession, the exhalation is usually spread over the number of techniques involved. One master, Kenko Nakaima, professed that breathing (during kata training) should be natural, exhaling with a sharp hiss when striking. He went on to add that, in combat, the breathing should be undetectable. Yoshio Itokazu of Goju-ryu also believed in this principle. The apparent contradiction between the techniques that are trained, and those that are applied in combat mirrors the difference between karate-breathing and kung-fu-breathing mentioned above. Eiichi Miyazoto, also of Goju-ryu, discussed breathing technique at greater length: Inhale slowly through the nose using the lower abdominal muscles, and in the same way gently ease the air out through the mouth with a guttural hiss. This sound is coincidental to the breathing and should not be made on purpose.  Shoshin Nagamine taught that a
defensive technique should be executed with inhalation, whereas an offensive technique should be executed with exhalation. These views are all joined by a common thread: they teach the what but not the why.  The rudiments of correct breathing are oft stated but rarely explained. In all of the examples above, the teachers advocate that exhalation should accompany an offensive technique. Why is this? One fundamental reason is that if you are hit in the chest while your lungs contain air, you are likely to become winded. Emptying your lungs avoids this danger. It is also said that the purpose of kihon (basic training) is to unify the mind and body with the breath. This is most clearly seen in kiai, of which I will have more to say later. In some way then, karate is underpinned with the belief that exhalation whilst performing a technique binds the intent of mind and body: a strong, powerful exhalation promotes the execution of a strong and powerful technique. Many of the Okinawan styles advocate breathing from the abdomen rather than from the chest, not just while training but all of the time. The Japanese phrase, bu no chikara, is used to describe the hidden strength that is thought to result from this. It is believed that such abdominal breathing engages the tanden – the centre of the body’s intrinsic energy, or ki. The tanden is located just below the navel and is important in internal martial arts such as tai-chi, and in styles of karate that teach kyusho-waza (techniques performed to the body’s vital points). The Koju-ryu employs muscle breathing exercises that help to harden the body internally and allow the body to take a blow on any surface without damage. In Taido, there are four methods of breathing that relate to the four scenarios experienced by a person being attacked. Each breathing technique is made up of two components: inhalation and exhalation. Both the inhalation and exhalation can be performed at two speeds, quickly or slowly. The four methods are therefore as follows:

Method Inhalation Exhalation

1. Fast Fast

2. Fast Slow

3. Slow Fast

4. Slow Slow

A fast inhalation is carried out when a possible threat becomes apparent – the taidoka inhales quickly in preparation to move. A slow inhalation is conducted when there is no apparent threat, but the taidoka still needs to maintain a state of awareness and readiness (zanshin).  A fast exhalation indicates that a perceived threat is real and marks the transition into a defendable
position such as kamae. Conversely, a slow exhalation marks a continued state of readiness, even though there is no immediate threat.
It should come as no surprise that fast breath is used to match a fast action, and a slow breath is used to match a slow action. This can be experienced by trying to perform your favourite technique at full speed and power, whilst breathing slowly. Deliberate and controlled breathing also promotes a state of readiness and calmness – If you can control the breath, you can control the mind (think about the difficulty of acting rationally when the body is struggling for breath). Similarly, if you can control the mind you can control the body (think about the conict between mind and body that arises when you are in the middle of a gruelling run) . Moreover these breath-mind and mind-body relationships are transitive: If you can control the breath, you can control the body. The ability to control the body is a core principle in martial arts.


The breath can be used to mirror the body’s intent. A strong, powerful exhalation promotes a strong and powerful technique. In addition, the use of abdominal breathing can reinforce the body’s resolve and the ability to strike. The natural extrapolation of these principles results in the performance of kiai. The physical act of kiai involves tightening the muscles of the body (including the diaphragm) on impact, and exhaling forcibly to produce a shout. Kiai literally means `spirit convergence’ and is a state of being which is meant to express a harmony between the body and the mind. In his
autobiography, Funakoshi recounts a tail of the karate master Matsumura, who once defeated an enemy using only his kiai. The physical shout of the kiai can be used to scare the opponent, something that Musashi states as being of great importance: The difference between a half-hearted scream intended to scare the enemy off and a resolute shout is the difference between bragging
and making a commitment to attack.  It is also said that the act of kiai causes the throat to harden – in defence against a strike to the front of the neck. Although the use of vocal kiai is championed by the majority of martial arts, it is by no means universal. Kaneshima, of Tozan-ryu, believed that the kiai shout is not necessary for karate training, and is in fact, a \waste of time”. Indeed, some schools teach that the use of kiai marks a weak point in the martial artist’s attack, since it causes the body to become tense. Many higher graded sensei refrain from performing an audible kiai, preferring to give an `introspective’ kiai on impact; strong but subdued. It is an unfortunate side-effect of competition karate that more value is ascribed to the physical shout than to the internal aspects of kiai.


The principle of mushin, or no-mindedness is important to zen martial arts such as karate. When fighting in a state of mushin, the body reacts to stimuli without the intervention of the mind; thoughts do not cloud the body’s intent and the body acts freely. The principle of mushin may appear too esoteric for some, but it is, in fact, completely natural. While you are reading this, you are not thinking about reading it, you are merely reading it. As soon as you think about reading, it
becomes much more dicult to read – the mechanics of intentional reading inhibit your ability to read. It is the same with martial arts – when confronted by an enemy (and all the attendant fears), the intervention of mind can only be a hindrance -inserting `thought’ where your best guide is instinct.  Mushin is sometimes experienced during the practice of meditative sitting, or zazen. People sitting for the first time often find the sitting uncomfortable and the mind remains extremely active. The process of breathing deliberately, and in particular the counting of the breaths, helps to focus the mind on a single activity. This is often called one-pointed attention. The same principle applies in martial arts – intentional breathing can be used to focus the mind. Once the mind is focused on a single thing it can make the transition from one-pointed attention to no-pointed attention – the state of mushin. If this explanation seems unclear, it is because no-mindness is not something that can be easily described, but can only be experienced.


In this essay, I have touched on a few aspects of breathing in the martial arts. A closed mind can never learn; only an open mind can be free. The pursuit of freedom; freedom from fear, prejudice, conict and a multitude of other restrictions to which we are necessarily bound, is a lofty goal for any martial artist to aim for. As with life itself, a martial art has nothing to do with the goal, and everything to do with the journey. Breathing, a vital action that is for the most part performed entirely unconsciously, helps us along this path by allowing us to control the body and the mind. The application of techniques such as kiai can fuse the body’s power, intention and resolve,
into a single point. Breathing can also help to promote the calm, lucid and free state of mind that can lead to mushin. In this way, the act of intentional breathing helps to draw together many disparate threads in the practice of martial arts.

Categories: Drop in the Bucket

Weapons Night

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On Killing

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

In movie combat we often see one individual grab another by the throat and attempt to choke him. And Hollywood heroes give the enemy a good old punch in the jaw. In both instances a blow to the throat (with the hand held in various prescribed shapes) would be a vastly superior form of disabling or killing the foe, yet it is not a natural act; it is a repellent one.

This quote comes from Lt Col Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing, which I picked up after reading the though provoking review at the TKRI blog.

There are plenty of reasons to read Grossman’s book “On Killing”; there are historical lessons to be gleaned, there are matters of strategy to be considered, there are lessons for society regarding the importance of honoring the service of members of its military, there are the lessons regarding drilling and conditioning, Grossman’s discussion of PTSD is very insightful, the list could go on and on. This is an incredibly rich book that not only offers the reader profound insight into the psychology and history of killing in combat, and of preparing men to kill in combat; it also examines and reveals the deep humanity at the heart of professional soldiers.

Personally, I found the book cranked how I thought about fighting 180 degrees. As martial artists, we spend a great deal of time thinking about how to avoid force, and when no other option is available, how to apply it with precision. Grossman’s book talks about the rules governing military combat (which I find fascinating), and then goes one step further to talk about how those who have engaged in extreme violence live with the memory.

If you’re interested in the review (and it is excellent), you can find it at the TKRI blog. If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a copy of the book, it’s currently on sale for 6.99$ at Munro’s Books on Government Street.

Categories: Reviews


January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

So, um, I was thinking last night about the characters I used to make for AD&D and thinking about how I always wanted to make a multiclass character and I don’t think I ever did. I also always wanted to take ambidexterity as an attribute, but I don’t think I ever did that either. It just took too damn long for the character to level up and get useful. Sure, when they do level up, multiclass characters are the characters behind whom everyone else hides, but I wanted instant gratification.

Today, while training sticks and bo in the parking lot behind work, I was thinking about how long it’s taking me to get the absolute most basic fundamentals of two-hand weapon work, and about how I’ve been told to pick up another weapon. I was thinking about how I’m struggling to keep the little I’ve learned from evaporating. I was thinking about how I typically train at least one extra out-of-dojo hour a week, but since I started to be OK with weapons, that number has been creeping closer to three hours.

It occurred to me while I was chanting temple-temple-forehead, temple-temple-knee that I’ve done in my life what I was always too impatient to do with my characters: I’ve multiclassed and taken ambidexterity. And it is taking a damn long time to get things to a point where I’m not afraid of dropping stuff on my feet or sticking myself in the side, but in the end, I think it’s gonna be worth it.

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