Haragei, the physical side

Haragei, the art of hara is a concept with a lot of interpretations and is essentially a concept referring mainly in a metaphysical context. There is also a physical aspect when we look at “haragei”. The hara in single words is the part under the diaphragm and consist of “koshi”, “tanden” and “yobu”. In some historical documents written by famous swordmen, the skill of the hara is referred to and even explained how to do it.

The perfect handling of the sword is produced by the integration of three elements: the rotation of the koshi, the diagonal tensions produced by this rotation and the displacement of the body.

Morita Monjuro

Rotation of the koshi, mostly translated as rotation of the hips, is in many cases explained too simple. Rotation is not only in the horizontal plane, but also in a vertical plane. By adding diagonal tension or movement, the rotation of the koshi becomes multidirectional.

Multidirectional movement creates a kind of sphere and can be seen as a balloon in the lower part of the trunk, in other words Hara.

Hara Power is frequently mentioned in publications on Bodywork and Martial Arts. Some of the publications give you a good insight in the development of the Hara. I already wrote some ideas and info on the concept of Hara. But new developments are coming to the surface after daily training and need some explanation.

Where is “hara” localised?

Hara is a 3-part structure in the lower part of the trunk.

  • Koshi
  • Tanden
  • Yobu

The term “koshi” is usually translated either as “kidneys”, or as “hips” or as “pelvis”, but these translations are approximate. Koshi is an area located on the lower back, the opposite of the tanden located in the lower abdomen.
The tanden and the koshi, located on either side of the body, in practice form a whole. Each use of the koshi muscles is transmitted to the tanden by stimulating it by pressure, which positively activates different parts of the nervous system. Yobu is referring to the waist and these muscles will be used for turning action of the trunk.

The muscles of the koshi and the tanden form a unit, but their roles are not the same. The tanden is the centre of the hara and is the place of a relative no-movement. The training of the koshi is synonymous with the training of the tanden.

In our study, Hara will be used in many exercises, especially during Tenshikei movements.
However, a practitioner cannot develop Hara without breathing and the movement and stretching of the respiration-related tissues. Full development of the Hara will include the winding motion of tenshi, rotational internal movement or silk reeling movements. The power generated by tenshi is called tenshikei and is expressed by the movement of the arms or legs.

Mata-股 = 胯 – kua & 裆 – dang

Japanese terminology and Chinese terminology can create some confusion and need some explanation.

The translation of “mata” can be “inner thigh” or “groin”, “crotch”, “femur”……
In our study, reference has to be made in the area around the hip-joint.

In Chinese martial arts and movement methods, 2 words are used to describe the “mata” region.

  • 胯 – kua or kwa
  • 裆 – dang

“Kua” in Chinese has a reference to “hips”. Our waist and hips have to be relaxed and loosened. . Only then can power flow down from the body to the legs and your feet. It helps to give your feet the foundation of your strength. Then your power can build up throughout your entire body.

How to relax or loosen up our hips? During practice, we have to bend our knees, flex (means bend or fold, not tense up) our hip joints, and sit on our legs.

“Dang” means “crotch”, the place where our legs meet the body. Our crotch has to be round like an arch. When our crotch is round and open, we can shift weight more freely. If we make our knee move very slightly closer to each other, our crotch can be made round. You will feel also the heels will go slightly outside. Keep weight on the ball of the feet.

Yobu – Yao

The waist is a part of the Hara and is used during many body movements. For example the turning of the trunk happens more efficiently when the muscles of the waist are used.

The efficient body movement is achieved by integrating the diagonal tensions of the body which cross it from the legs to the arms. By applying this skill, the force spontaneously filled the tanden. The use of the waist is an integral part of a full body movement. This skill can be seen in tenshikei or winding power, a kind of rotational strength.

An example with wooden sword training

To strike correctly from the tanden and the koshi, it is necessary to obtain a perfect handling of the body or a perfect handling of the sword. It is a skill that is produced by the two diagonal forces which go from the right leg to the left arm, and from the left leg to the right arm.
The cutting power of the sword is produced by the integration of the three elements: the rotation of the hara, the diagonal tensions produced by this rotation and the displacement of the body.

The mechanism of sword cutting can be used when you apply atemi to the opponent by using tegatana or other parts of the body to produce a shock into the opponent. It is of course also very effective with some throwing technique like “shomen ate” or “gyaku gamae ate”.

Serape effect and diagonal tension

“Muscles must be placed on their longest length in order to exert their greatest force”

The serape effect is a rotational trunk movement that It stretches the muscles to their greatest length; when this tension is released from these muscles they shorten for the completion of the movement, a greater velocity is applied than had the muscles performed from a normal resting length.

Hara is a key factor in the use of the of diagonal tension, in other words: Tenshikei

The rotation of the pelvic girdle is a part of the tenshi movement and is important for creating a more efficient use of power in the direction of the target. The rotational movement of this large body segment, the trunk, enables a summation of internal forces that is able to be transferred from this large area to a smaller area as such as the arm and the hand for applying force to the opponent.

Conditions for developing “hara” strength

There are some conditions to achieve an efficient exercise

  • Correct breathing (kokyu)
  • Winding movements (tenshi)
  • Relax or loosen up koshi and mata
  • Using intent (I in Japanese – Yi in Chinese)

Correct breathing

Basically, during practise our intent is not on the breathing process. Breathing is an involuntary process. Nevertheless, during exercises, focus can be put on certain aspects of breathing to strengthen the breathing muscles.

During breathing, pulling the perineum is a skill to put pressure on the hara and forces to provide movement to the muscles used for deep breathing. By exerting these muscles become stronger and will support the “tenshi” movements. As a result, tenshikei power becomes more effective and stronger.

Winding movements

Winding movements create a kind of corkscrew strength. This strength does not initiate from the foot. It initiates from the trunk of the body. It transfers down toward the foot when standing, and then it rebounds from the foot back up and on through the body. When sitting in seiza, the same can be performed. The movement start at shoulder level, next a diagonal movement and finished by a movement of the pelvis. Releasing the tension happens in the opposite order.

Relax and loosen up hip joint

It is often said in many dojos: “drop your shoulders”. But if your “koshi” or pelvis is frozen or too weak, you will have difficulties dropping your shoulders. If pelvis are frozen, you cannot bring down your hara, if your pelvis is too weak, you will hold up your hara too high.

Strengthening the koshi and loosen up the hip joints will give support to the hara. Even in a standing or sitting posture, you need the feeling of sitting upon the sit bones.

Using intent

I in Japanese – Yi in Chinese – Yi is mostly translated as “intention” or also as “wisdom mind”. It refers to one’s experience or knowledge base. A practitioner might have a strong spirit, but without good tactics, combat knowledge and martial skills, the practitioner would not be able to fight very effectively.

So, intent is the skill to access your knowledge base which is acquired after successful training. The beginners knowledge base is very limited and using “intent” is very difficult and mentally tiring. After sufficient training, the knowledge base becomes a source derived from all your training experiences.

Practical exercises with diagonal tension

There are many exercises with diagonal tension. Mostly it will depend on the practical use of the exercise in the syllabus of the chosen martial art. In case of Tomiki’s Aikido, Tandoku Undo Tegatana Dosa is an excellent choice to incorporate diagonal tension.

Keypoints Tandoku Undo Tegatana Dosa 1

  • Take chidori ashi posture
  • Lift hand above head (jodan)
  • Feel the line between the foot and the hand
  • Lower hand into chudan posture
  • Perform koshi mawari
  • Do not turn the feet and knees
  • Keep your “koshi” flexible but firm

During the 2nd half of the exercise, keep diagonal tension line.

Keypoints Tandoku Undo Tegatana Dosa 2

  • Start with chidori ashi posture
  • In chudan posture, turn palm upwards
  • Turn waist, keep arm in front of chest
  • Turn palm downwards
  • Turn waist to the front
  • Keep the movement of knees minimal
  • Keep “koshi” flexible but firm

During this exercise, keep diagonal tension line

During the 2nd half of the exercise, keep diagonal tension line. Turning of the waist and diagonal tension generate power into the hand.

Keypoints Tandoku Undo Tegatana Dosa 3 -part 1

  • Chidori ashi posture
  • Keep the movement of knees minimal
  • Use diagonal tension

Keypoints Tandoku Undo Tegatana Dosa 3 -part 1

  • Chidori ashi posture
  • Using waist without moving feet and knees
  • Use diagonal tension

The impact of the back

When using kyokotsu properly, it will affect koshi and oscillate between 2 positions according to kyokotsu movement.

Normal posture and slightly pulling in arms, kyokotsu is in forward position.

Pushing out arms, kyokotsu is in backward position and tilt the pelvis forward.

About shobukaidojo

A passion for Martial Arts since 1964

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