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 In some historical documents written by famous swordmen, the skill of the hara is referred to and even explained how to do it.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.

Rendo -The art of linking

A “martial art body” is determined by the word “Jukozo” or flexible structure.
When we see how someone is catching a ball, we can get an idea how the body works during a whole body movement.

The synchronisation of the body with the ball is the main concept. Catching with a stiff body will not be very successful in catching the ball.

Developing a flexible structure – Jukozo

This has nothing to do with stretching exercises per se; rather, it has to do with learning to maintain a certain suppleness and adjustability in the body.
By controlling different parts of the body, we can create linked movement segments. The power of Rendo is going further than the power of an isolated movement of the arm.

We can move the arm or we can move the arm as a whole body movement.

Isolated movement = Movement segment

From a scientific point of view, a movement segment is “a functional unit made up of two adjacent articulating surfaces and the connecting tissues binding them together. “

This is for most of us too difficult to understand, we need a more simple and practiacal explanation.

The green dots are 3 centres to create a stable posture.

The yellow dots show the movement segment of the arm.

The red dots show the movement segment of the leg.

Of course, this is very simplified, but it has some practical use for our training.

Whole body movement

Whole body movement is made by linking movement and postural segments and it is called “rendo”. It is not only a physical action, the brain (and its functions) plays also an important role.

Postural Segment

Once again, simplicity is key to success in an entire body movement. Too many details create a malfunction in our brain. Also, understand that there are more than 3 points required to move an arm (or other segment) efficiently. Maybe one time you will feel so many dots that it becomes a flow. Each point during the movement can be handled by your mind… the game of “ki” begins.

Of course, it is not easy to control the linking process. Controlling the mind using “zanshin” or focusing the mind may be the first step of the control process. Zanshin is a skill how to use the mind to control our body and movements. Many martial traditions mention this skill and use the art of standing – Ritsuzen – (ZhanZuang in Chinese arts) to perfect the focusing skill. Ritsuzen is a simplistic method to create Jukozo. Ritsuzen uses three main areas of his body:

  • The Mind residing in the head
  • Sternum
  • Pelvic region

In our research on martial arts training, most methods mention vertical posture as the most favourable to apply a punch or strike to the opponent. Even when working at the office, the upright posture is the healthiest.

Let us examine these centres and begin with the centre of the basin, the pelvic area or hara.

Hara, the pelvic region

The word “hara” is often used to describe the use of power in martial arts training.

Hara can be described either as the physical centre of a human being or as the metaphysical centre.

As part of our training, the hara may be considered the physical centre and it contains the centre of gravity. This is true in most cases, because it is possible that the centre of gravity is somewhere outside our body. The centre of gravity is not fixed in any particular place.

If you’re doing an Internet search, there’s a lot of information out there. And some of this info can be helpful during our training.

  • The balancing, equilibrium, or pivoting point of the body. 
  • It is the point where the sum of all the forces and force  movements acting on the body is zero. 
  • It is the point at which all the weight of the body may be  considered to be concentrated and about which all the  parts exactly balance.

A physical view

When standing, the centre of gravity in the human body is located in the front of the sacrum at the height of the sacral vertebras.

A metaphysical view on hara

In our western culture, the pelvic region has still a kind of taboo. The association with our sex organs makes it difficult to talk about this region. From a metaphysical point of view, the pelvic region is a source of energy. When you have an interest in this matter, I suggest you to look into the many articles on the internet on Traditional Eastern Medicine and Healthy Living.

So, please put aside your taboo thinking and see our pelvic region as an important part of whole body movement.

Kyokotsu, the sternum centre

Like the hara, kyokotsu is a small part of the body which cannot be regarded as a hinge. Basically, it cannot move by itself. Nevertheless, with the help of the surrounding muscles, it is mobile and will affect the spinal column and the attached muscles. Since the spinal cord is involved, it will also influence the use of the hara or pelvic region.

Movements of the arm is not only by using local arm muscles, but it is a process of a whole body movement. By controlling kyokotsu, we can use the muscles of the pelvic region and the attached legs.

Connection between hand and kyokotsu is by determining the “dots” between root, segment and tip.

The Mind

The function of ‘The Mind” is briefly described in another post: “The science of training”.

Previously I mentioned Zanshin or controlling the mind to perfect the skill of focusing the mind. It takes a lot of training time to become skilful and maybe this goes beyond too much the motivation to do a martial art. If you go this path, you cannot ignore the metaphysical part of training.

Many martial sport champions acknowledge the importance of this part of the training. Controlling the mind is a basic skill to create high competence in your art. And this applies also for all sports or professional activities.

On the other hand, if your martial art activity is some kind of social gathering with friends, this is not a mistake but don’t expect a high level performance. Martial arts have different faces, and you can make a choice.

The relationship with “Noh”

Japanese martial arts like Budo Aikido have a lot of common with Japanese and Chinese performing arts like Noh, Kabuki or Chinese Opera. Those cultural arts have a history which spans more than 700 years. The ideas of training in Noh or Chinese Opera can be usefull for modern martial arts. In our bodywork, kyokotsu, koshi, yōbu and tanden have the most important role in training.

250px-Noh-Hayashi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noh

From an article by Ashley Thorpe

Observations on the importance of the yao/koshi to the actor in Japanese no ̄ and Chinese jingju (‘Beijing opera’)

Ki or chi/qi

Energy may be considered as a culturally specific phenomenon, but there is correspondence between no ̄ and jingju. In Chinese, qi can mean breath, air or spirit, but it is also a technical term used in traditional Chinese medicine to refer to a vital life energy. The conception of qi as referring to the energy of the actor is in evidence in jingju, as Jo Riley explains:
Qi means more than mere breath control. A performer who has qi is considered to be ‘in-spired’, moved by a special kind of energy or filled with presence. During training, the master will often point to the student’s abdomen and demand that the student draw up his qi. This is the heart or residence of qi, the undefined and indefinable centre of the human body from which presence( force) flows.
Shelley Fenno Quinn has suggested that qi [in Japanese, ki, 気] was used by Zeami Motokiyo (c.1363-c.1443) to describe the technique of the no ̄ actor in producing his voice.

Basic training

The focus on basic training automatically raises significant differences between the two forms. In no ̄, an actor develops through the learning of kata [型], movement patterns that form the basis of plays. Techniques that might be regarded as basic, such as kamae [構え] and suriashi [摺り足], underpin all kata, are used on stage in performance, and thus cannot easily be demarcated as a distinct set of basic training exercises (even though these techniques might still be described as the ‘basics [’基本]). Incontrast, jingju has training explicitly conceptualised as jiben gong [基本功], ‘basic techniques’that are only practised off-stage, but nevertheless are central to underpinning the quality of movement on-stage. Jiben gong includes exercises designed to cultivate specific skills, fitness and endurance in the actor, including in the yao [腰] ‘lower abdomen and thighs’, tui [腿] ‘legs’, taibu [台 化] ‘stage walking’, yuanchang [垈 魁] lit.‘circular course’, a training exercise in which the actor practices fast stage walking by repeatedly circling around the room, shanbang [山膀] ‘mountain arms’, yunshou [云 手] ‘cloud hands’, tanzigong [毯子功] lit.‘carpet training ’but meaning the conditioning of the body for acrobatics, and bazigong [把子功] ‘weapons training’. Thus, jingju performers do not begin by studying particular plays or characters, but by focussing on how these foundational skills and movements should be mastered. Once central aesthetic ideas are understood and the body has become accustomed to the demands placed upon it, jiben gong is extended according to the conventional requirements of one of four role types in which the actor may specialise: male [生], female [旦], painted face [昌], and clown [丑]. A professional actor must have technique “inside the heart” (xinli you, 心里有), a state fully achieved only by solid training in jiben gong as a child, and further consolidated throughout adulthood. Thus, the conceptualisation of the ‘basics’ and its relationship to the actual material performed on stage is different in each form.

Building presence (kigurai) – harnessing tension: the significance of yao/koshi 

In no ̄ and jingju, I have experienced energy emanating from the lower section of the trunk of the torso (yo or koshi in Japanese, yao in Chinese). The term yao/koshi is difficult to neatly translate into English. 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.
In my own experiences of training, although I can locate the central locus of energy reasonably precisely to a specific area of the body, I would never describe it as only element of the lower trunk working to produce, support and distribute energy. I find the yao/koshi to exist as a kind of ‘interconnectedness’ between the skeletal and muscular structures in the lower section of the torso. For instance, in no ̄, I find that the locus of energy emanates from the base of the spine. Yet, tension is also achieved by pushing the base of the spine inwards and extending the hips backwards, creating a solid central focus of compressed energy around the lower back more generally, which is then forced further downwards. Indeed, teachers have often stressed to me the importance of having good koshi, which supports the basic kamae stance. In jingju, energy is considered to emanate from an area described as the dantian [丹田], an ‘energy centre’ situated towards the front of the waist just below the navel which is also cited in relation to Chinese martial arts, Qigong, and Taiji. Basic exercises aim to strengthen the yao as a means to cultivate stamina and suppleness in the dantian, which, in turn, supports all movement, from walking, to gesturing, to acrobatics.

Tenshikei – rotational body movement

Tenshikei

spiral line012Tenshikei is the Japanese term for chan shi jin or silk reeling, a skill in Internal Chinese martial arts. The name derives from the twisting and spiralling movements of the silkworm as it wraps itself in its cocoon and the pulling off the silk from the coccoon. The body is imitating this by winding and unwinding movements.

Tenshikei uses the diagonal tension and releasing of the muscles and tendons in the central body. Tension and releasing are controlled by the kyokotsu.
Kyokotsu as a control centre of the movement, uses the tanden,koshi and yōbu as the stability platform.

Hara – Tanden, Koshi & Yōbu

Basically Hara is the lower part of the central body. Mostly it is translated as “belly” or “abdomen”.

  • Koshi means the area of the hips. It also includes the lower back.
  • Tanden is a point below the navel, loosely translated as the energy centre (Chinese medicine and martial arts). It is the focus point for internal techniques and exercises.
  • Yōbu is the waist area. The Chinese word is Yao. The waist is the part of the abdomen between the rib cage and hips.

In our study, Hara will be used in many exercises, especially during Tenshikei.
When the body moves, the Tanden is the centre and is the place of a relative no-movement.
The muscles associated with koshi and yōbu will be used to start movements. There are other methods to start movement like using gravity, but this is discussed elsewhere in this study.

Morita Monjuro (1889-1978)
Famous Japanese swordman wrote some interesting notes on the relationship between tanden and koshi in hitting with a sword.

The striking at a single pace: the tanden and koshi by which all kind of strikes are possible

Tanden and the musculature of the koshi form a unity, but their roles are not the same. The tanden controls the koshi. The training of koshi is synonymous with the training of the tanden, center of the body, and thus it becomes a training of body and mind … We can say the training of each technique strengthen the muscles of the koshi and the tanden. Which has almost the same effect as to strengthen the tanden practicing zazen. If the practice remains at a mere technical manipulation, the effect can not be the same. By producing the art of the koshi and tanden, we can strengthen our mind and body.
To hit properly from the tanden and koshi, we must use a perfect structured body and a perfect handling of the sword. This is a gesture that is produced in accordance with the two forces that go diagonally right leg left arm, left leg and right arm.
The perfect handling of the sword is produced by the integration of three elements:

1. the rotation of koshi
2. diagonal tension produced by this rotation
3. displacement of the body

Twisting and untwisting

In a basic format the twisting of the upper body will follow a certain sequence.

  1. Turn the shoulder line. Keep gankyo bappai **
  2. Turn the body along the diagonal line.
  3. Turn the pelvis line.***

Feel the spiral movement in the body. Avoid muscular tension by pulling the muscles, the tension you feel is the result of the twisting

Untwisting follows the reverse sequence.

** Gankyōbappai (含胸抜背).
This is a phrase used to describe the postural adjustment at the chest level (Empty the chest & Pull out the back ). Keep the concave shape of the chest and stretch the spine to widen the back. Important is not to tense the muscles.

***Turning the pelvis line is only possible when the “mata” or “kwa” is flexible and not tensed up. If you cannot make the groin soft, you will not make the full twisting movement.

Tenshikei solo exercise – twisting and untwisting

rolling tanden01

Using a modified kyokotsu exercise – see earlier.
The arrows show the direction of the movements.
Don’t tense the muscles, just release the tension when turning to the other side.
The exercise is “one” continuous movement.

Tenshikei and force

Twisting and untwisting creates force, this force can be transmitted into the opponent.

Tenshikei lines

Partner exercises are an example for applying twisting and untwisting.
In the example the force of twisting and untwisting will be transmitted by extending the arm and creates the opportunity to apply “oshi taoshi” or pushing down.
Extending the arm and putting the weight into the opponent will create “hakkei” or sudden power.

Tenshikei from the lower body

tenshikei lower body

The body is a system which includes also legs, feet…. To create a full-body tenshikei, we must take out the tension of the knee.

The lower part of the central body will become involved in a full-body tenshikei.

See example : Bring the bodyweight on the the right foot, take out the tension of the right knee. Make a full tenshikei by moving the shoulder line, the diagonal lines and the pelvis line.

Both shoulders should be moved as 1 unit.

Ido-ryoku

Ido-ryoku can be  translated as ‘locomotive power”. When we grasp the arm of the opponent we can move our body a certain distance, this creates some power called momentum.

In Newtonian mechanics, linear momentum, translational momentum, or simply momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. It is a three-dimensional vector quantity, possessing a magnitude and a direction. (Wikipedia)

Another meaning, although related to the previous one, ido has the idea of “shift”. It is not always necessary to move the feet. Body weight shifting (taijū no idō) is a method to produce power without the use of the feet.

 

Ido-ryoku is the effectiveness of “physical movement” that works even without a locomotive power in a mutual relation between two practitioners. (Prof. Shishida – Aikido Lecture & Seminar at the 11th TAIN International Festival / 2015 Aikido World Championships On Thursday October 22, 2015.)