In search of “Koshi”

Koshi is most often translated as “hips” and bring much confusion in the minds of martial arts practitioners. If we include Kyokotsu in the use of “Koshi”, a new world opens up, a world of energy and power.

Koshi can variously refer to the pelvis(to include the hips, pelvic carriage, lower spine, sacrum and coccyx), the lower abdomen, the upper thighs, the centre of gravity in the lower abdomen, and all the muscle and other bodily material situated around these areas.

George Donahue, ‘Koshi / Yao: An Introduction’ php?id=663

In the same way, one of the bases in Chinese Taijiquan or Yiquan, “using Yao” is often translated as “using hips”. Basically, it also comprises the upper torso above the hips, and even the rib cage.

During many seminars, the importance of “Koshi” came up, but unfortunately in most cases the explanation where koshi is located was confusing.

Thus, when you are looking for a complete explanation for “Koshi”, most of the information will be confusing. To experiment with Koshi, I can only recommend a form of abdominal breathing known as “reverse breathing”. During such breathing of Taoist origin, several elements must be taken into account.

  • Breathing in – pulling slightly in the upper abdomen, imagine breathing through the belly button.
  • Exhale while pushing the diaphragm, the picture is to bring the air into the hara.
  • Pull on the perineum to create a certain compression in the hara, the source of your physical and mental stability.

After some training, weeks or months, depending on the schedule you use, you will feel how the lower body muscles and the rib cage move. The next step is integrating kyokotsu into your training process. This is the controller for power transfer, originating from the legs and feet through the Koshi in the arms.

Koshi is not the origin of power. Koshi is the tool to deliver the power of the legs and feet in sync with gravity, to the rest of the body. But the Koshi muscles are really strong. These muscles can generate a lot of useful power as an “injector” to begin our movement with or without displacement. The role of the hara and in particular of the “tanden” is to create physical and mental stability.

The importance of posture

To begin to sense Koshi, we need to adopt a proper posture. It may be “shizentai” or natural posture, but also “Kamae” or posture ready for action.

There are some important considerations.

  • Posture in line of the pull of gravity
  • The head is at the top of the posture – the ears are drawn far from the shoulders, do not pull the shoulders down.
  • Kyokotsu is very lightly pulled in, the breast has a concave form, not a military posture or a collapse.
  • You have the image to sit with Koshi
  • Body weight can be experienced in the feet touching the ground.
  • …..

Suri-ashi, sliding feet

The idea behind Suri ashi is to slide your foot parallel to the ground. At Noh, they learn a posture, leaning slightly forward. What’s going on here is that your ankles will be bent so that you can move your foot without or with a little lifting from your heel. You can’t make one big step.

Raising the heel too high should be avoided since it creates an unstable body.

This can only be done when the appropriate posture is taken. Koshi must connect with the legs and feet to sense the power coming from the earth. There is a certain pressure on the feet, in particular the ball of the feet. It comes from the acceptance of gravity. Body weight falls by placing the Koshi in the proper place.

Pressing too much into the ground using muscle power, creates excessive resistance that hinders the flow of motion. Similarly, too little pressure creates a collapsing body, the horizontal parallel lines between the koshi and the ground are disturbed, and the body begins to ‘waver’ when it is moving.

Suri-ashi has some benefits when you need to reduce the distance between you and your training partner to perform an offensive move from a proper distance. Essentially, you move with a Kamae posture.

Those benefits are:

1) no rocking of the hips,
2) no unnecessary twisting of the upper body
3) no ups and downs of the body.

When I practiced Suri ashi, one leg is pressed downward and the other leg is near empty. The empty leg can move on with help from Koshi. It is called “the use of substantial and non-substantial behaviours”. The exercise is done very slowly, with full focus on weight distribution.

Ki-ai, the sound of energy

With proper posture and breathing, the hara is strengthened and ready to invoke a burst of energy. If it is accompanied by the power of the earth, channeled by Koshi to the arms and hands, effective movements or waza are created. Sometimes the waza is accompanied by a sound or a scream from the bottom of the hara. It is the sound of energy also expressed by famous singers and players of Noh (Noh – the classical Japanese dance theatre).

Ki-aI, the sound of energy is linked to the use of “hakkei”, the skill of instantaneous power. Sometimes “hakkei” may be thought of as an explosive power. Be that as it may, a strong hara is a necessity for the use of Koshi handled by kyokotsu.

Onmyō – Yin/Yang

Our movements are acting by using opposing forces – tension and release. The concept of opposing forces is in Oriental philosophy explained by the well-known words: Yin and Yang, in Japanese: Onmyō.

Pressure (tension) by stepping (unsoku – Suri-ashi and tsugi-ashi) represents the building up of energy, and the distribution and control (release) with the koshi creates efficient movements. The arms and in particular the elbows are controlled with kyokotsu.

When building up pressure or storing power, there is always a flexibility component that represents movement. Let’s take the example of our breath. Inhalation creates pressure or tension and breathing out is the release of pressure or tension. Our respiratory muscles should have high quality flexibility. Tightening these muscles will hinder the efficiency of respiration.

Breathing is a valuable element in the way power is used, distributed by koshi and controlled by kyokotsu. The inhalation pressure and the associated breath, energy, must be distributed in the hara to create a solid foundation. Koshi requires a solid foundation to distribute the power of the earth. If there is no solidity in the koshi, there will be a possibility to hurt the muscles of the Koshi or damage the lower vertebral column..

Tension and release are an expression of the dual forces in the universe. Both elements are constantly in motion and by tension, the movement will stop.

Adding Kyokotsu into the training

Before you can use kyokotsu control, you need to experience kyokotsu. The outcome of the kyokotsu manipulations can be seen in the Koshi movement.

Do not move Koshi deliberately, allow Kyokotsu to do his work, Koshi will move without thinking. Of course, this can only happen when you relax your body and adopt a good posture.

Some examples of kyokotsu movements can be seen in next videoclip.

Tenshikei, diagonal power

Tenshikei, in Chinese called Chansigong or silk reeling, is a topic for another blog post. The correct manipulation of kyokotsu and Koshi is the source of tenshikei or diagonal power. There are drills for developing this kind of power. Here is one simple example. The motion starts with pushing Koshi in the direction of the foot. The heel pushes outward without actually moving. There’s a rebound that goes through the body to the head. In the end, the eyes follow the diagonal path. The body goes back the same way.

Balance of “JU” and “GO” or the alternative way in Tomiki Aikido

Tomiki Aikido is most commonly associated with a “competitive” version of the Aikido. In a way, this is correct because this kind of Aikido is created at Waseda University for the purpose of holding competitions among the different universities in Japan. As with other martial arts, Tomiki Aikido is also known as Shodokan Aikido has become a sporting activity throughout the world.

Every martial art also has a component of maintaining health, the same goes for Tomiki Aikido.

Maintaining a strong and supple body is an important condition in order to live a happy life. Our minds and thoughts have an important role to play here and this cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, our sedentary life is a great danger to our movements, physical as well as mental. Such a life does not give us much chance of moving our body or using our creative mind. We can forget how to move our body in a rational way and our mind becomes in a state of unmindfulness.

Some people begin with a movement program to solve the problem of inactivity. Martial Art can be such a program for better movement.

The image of a martial art with the people in general, is an image of violence and aggressive behavior. Of course, people are aware of the Japanese art of Aikido or the Chinese art of Tai-chi-chuan. Most of the time, they consider these arts to be a watered-down combat system, without any connection to the real world.

The purpose of martial arts can be described as 2-fold

  1. Civilian purposes
    • Maintenance of health for everyday life and well-being.
    • Self-cultivation of the mind/spirit
  2. Martial purposes
    • Self-protection/self-defense
    • Simulated combat (sport/randori/shiai)

Basically, the main concept in the so-called soft martial arts is to find and improve the balance between relaxation and tension. This is not only a physical matter. The balance in the mind has also to be accomplished.

When the balance is created, the movements of mind and body can be describes as: “The rational way of using the mind and body.”

To understand this, two concepts come forward: Ju and Go.

  • Ju: the body is flexible, movement is smooth without blockage, force can be transmitted in the body without difficulty
  • Go: a physical state, mostly associated with martial art practice in which the body or movement is strong but not rigid.

In other words, a balance between flexibility and power is needed to produce an efficient action in your life.

For example the action os simple standing and trying to relax. Relaxing is associated with some kind of softness and flexibility. We also need some power to overcome gravity and keeping the body up. Too much power creates a stiffness in the body and mind, too much relaxing creates a kind of collapsed body (mind & body).

Balance between “Ju” and “Go”

The balance between the Ju and Go, the 2 physical qualities of the body create a detached mental state, in other words a state of emptiness, also called “mushin mugamae”, a famous quote frequently used by Kenji Tomiki/

You become an observer of the movements produced by yourself without any urge to bring your “ego” into play. Your mind and body comes into a state of balance between flexibility and power.

How to?

So, when you start to practice, you should first focus on relaxation in order to remove any stiffness in your mind and body. Stiffness is the condition of muscular movements in which your mind cannot lead your body movement.

Or the muscular force is blocked at a certain point even though the mind wants to reach a certain objective. In other words, there’s a lack of coordination and alignment between the body and the mind. The disharmonious state between the physical movement and the mind is the root of stiffness.

To practice “relaxation”, the best way is to put yourself in an upright posture, also called “shizentai”, and start to get rid of all unnecessary tension by scanning the body. You can find more on this matter if you do a search on ritsuzen.

The next step is making the body strong by using the optimal muscle tone to generate power for you movement action. Be aware, movement is always guided by the mind, but never forced by the mind.

Tandoku renshu

Solo training consists of several components that cannot be omitted.

  • Warming up – loosening up mind and body with soft stretching and flexible movements
  • Energetic exercises – Kiko or Qigong – Shin-kokyu exercises (reverse breathing exercises)
  • Winding/unwinding exercises – Tenshikei exercises (Chansi-gong)
  • Sword-hand exercises with displacement – tegatana-dosa and unsoku-ho

Sotai renshu

The purpose of partner exercises is to test the efficiency of the skills developped during solo training.

Katachi and Kata training

Martial art techniques using the skills developped during solo training and partner training


Testing the accumulation of the skills developped during training of tandoku renshu, sotai renshu and katachi/kata.