The general meaning of kokyu-hō is “a method using breathing”. It is also known as kokyu-ryoku or “a method for training breath power”. It is a method of practice that is necessary for mastering power in martial technique. In addition to the martial benefit, there is also an improvement in general health because of more functional breathing.
Abdominal breathing is an essential part of the martial art practice. The usefulness of a correct breathing is built upon the practice of three breathing modes, diaphragm breathing, flank breathing and open throat breathing.
The abdominal breathing or diaphragm breathing is the first step to successfully complete breathing.
Some martial arts methods utilise respiratory pressures during force production. The concept of “Tanden” or “Hara” is needed to understand the “Why and How” of abdominal pressure. Tanden has to be seen as a three dimensional area of varying size in the abdomen, not as a point on the abdomen.
The abdominal pressure causes the “Tanden” to be more compact. This resulted in better handling by the muscles of the abdomen to produce what is called internal strength. In fact, there is no mystery about this skill, it must be trained to become useful as a tool to express “hakkei” or explosive power.
The skill of abdominal pressure
Bring your consciousness to Tanden (lower abdomen), the centre of gravity of your body, and use the diaphragm and the perineum to control the abdominal pressure.
Acquiring a skill of abdominal pressure by using the diaphragm and perineum shall be performed by a progressive use of our breathing system.
We can distinguish 2 methods of breathing useful in our training.
- Complete abdominal breathing (normal and deep breathing) – improves general health and martial arts general performances.
- Reverse complete abdominal breathing (reversing the breathing cycle) – improves explosive martial arts performances (hakkei).
Complete abdominal Breathing
Complete breathing is a breathing technique that unites diaphragm-breathing, flank-breathing and open-throat-breathing into a single natural rhythmic movement.
Complete breathing is seen as a healthy breathing technique. In the exercises, the intention is not to inflate itself like a ball, but rather to breathe unforced. Full breathing is most natural when the execution has a smooth and continuous coherence and the three phases follow each other, without breaking the continuity.
The three breaths blend progressively. If the breathing is audible, it means that it is too hasty. Also, when practising complete breathing, people sometimes collapse their abdomen by switching to flank breathing. However, the air pressure in the lower abdomen must stay at the same level during the transition to the next step. Pulling the perennials should support the abdominal pressure.
When people experience a sense of dizziness during the complete breathing exercise. It’s sometimes unpleasant and it’s scary. That would happen, especially for people with slightly lower blood pressure. Dizziness is caused by reduced blood pressure and therefore blood pressure in the brain and is therefore beneficial in itself.
When breathing in, the diaphragm flattens and pushed down on the abdomen. The muscles between the ribs open the breast more to enable more air in the lungs. The throat must open more by relaxing the muscles in this area, resulting in more air going into the lungs.
Complete Abdominal Breathing (Reverse)
Complete reverse abdominal breathing is a breathing method in which one expands the abdomen when breathing out and contracts the abdomen when breathing in. Complete reverse abdominal breathing increases the abdominal pressure, which in turn increases power.
Note that complete reverse abdominal breathing is part of our normal breathing habits. For example, when you are happy and you laugh, you exhale and your abdominal area push out.
This mode of respiration is the opposite of full abdominal respiration. Gently pull into the area of your stomach while breathing, holding the perineum upwards. The pressure is higher than regular breathing. Total reverse breathing should be used to enhance martial applications (hakkei). Refrain from reverse breathing when you have high blood pressure problems.
Expand the lower abdomen (the area from the navel down) while breathing out.
Control over abdominal muscles.Control over abdominal muscles.Controlling the abdomen muscles
Correct breathing in the martial arts requires practice. Complete abdominal breathing and the reverse alternative are exercises to develop the abdomen muscles and having full control of these muscles.
Though often overlooked, breathing has a vitally important role in our lives. Correct breathing can lead to increased calmness and relaxation, which facilitates greater focus and endurance. For martial artists, success in combat depends largely on high levels of energy and concentration, so proper breathing is absolutely essential.
Most instructors insist on not thinking about what is referred to as correct breathing during training. The point is, if you don’t need oxygen, you won’t breathe until you need it. There’s no need to take deep breaths all the time. Breathing is a natural process and we should not think about it.
Of course, if your muscles are weak, you will not be able to perform a strong “hakkei” or explosive power if required. It all comes down to controlling your tanden. Therefore, respiratory training is needed to expand your breathing possibilities.
While it is relatively easy to practice complete abdominal breathing when sitting or standing quietly, it is much more difficult to perform when engaged in activities requiring physical effort and movement. Yet, the timing and rhythm of physical movement are linked to breathing and neuromuscular control. Breathing and neuromuscular control depend on each other and interact.
Some practical information
How to become “Jūkozo” – flexible body
“Jūkozo” – flexible body is already described in another post on this blog
In every exercise, the body needs a quality that is not tense. The word “flexible” is accurate. The word relax is sometimes used, but that is not the right word in this context. Relax makes you feel almost limp. The body needs some muscle tone to move immediately.
Strength is generated through the loosening of the shoulders and the use of a flexible koshi.
I have already mentioned several times the efficiency of “ritsuzen” as the main exercise in developing a flexible body with the quality of “Jūkozo”. It is not a question of “standing”, but of an exercise with many internal movements. Full breathing may be added after the body is free of excessive strain.
Breathing during an exercise
If you are tense, your breathing will be not optimal. First, create Jūkozo before proceeding with the integration of complete abdominal breathing.
If you want to include complete abdominal breathing in your exercises, you must consider the rate of breathing. Breathing and body movements have to be synchronized, especially when you begin such an integration of breathing. We need to slow down the pace of performance. Breathing may not cause excessive muscle strain. Breathing is a natural process and breathing exercises are tools to improve respiration efficiency.
Complete abdominal breathing is the normal breathing during exercises. Reverse abdominal breathing is used when explosive power is needed.
Oshi-taoshi type of exercise
Expiration occurs primarily when power is needed, inspiration occurs when you absorb the opponent’s motion and power.
When you absorb the power, the reverse breath can be used to produce “hakkei” upon exhalation. In some cases, you will be able to use “Kiai”.
The exercise must be done at slow speed and in sync.
More info about these exercises
While breathing is a natural process, but at the beginning of respiratory training, you need to be very careful when you have medical problems. Breathing workouts may further aggravate your problems. Please check with your doctor for guidance.