The deeper understanding of breathing technique
In short term: The impact of breathing during kumite or kata.
In long term: The impact of breathing technique in body and health.
In my profession as a TCM Acupuncturist, breathing exercises are fundamentals in most treatments where deficiancies or stagnation of Qi or/and breathing are recognized.
Qi also possesses " transformation" functions, which are important for the metabolism of fundamental substances. As suggested by these words, qi may "vaporize" substances in the body and transform them into essence (in kidney) or vital energy. In a Budo term this is the only way we can uphold our spirit - and righteous Qi which are connected with our kidneys. Therefore it is of great importance your breathing is the number 1 "nutritive" during exercise. Learning these principles of chinese medicine can improve your Budo training and gain vitality to your body and Mind.
Breathing exercise, No1.
Lie down on your back and relax. Put your right hand in center of Tanden Hara (Dan Tian). Make sure your breathing is connected to your right hand. Relax. When you feel your right hand is moving in the same rythm as your breathing, your upper abdomen will be relaxed.
Breathing exercise No2.
Accumulation of Ki (Qi) in the lower abdomen. Kase Sensei often told us obout "Kime" and the nessecity of contraction and decontraction with his breathing concept. Of course, the result of "More Speed - More Power is given. In a Physical sense. What he was trying to explain - in further development of "Kime", is the accumulation of Ki and Power in the lower abdomen surrounding the whole hip and part of the spine.
This concept of breathing is also to "store" kime in a Non-contractive way between the kidneys. The exercise to do that is as follows: While you breath in, concentrate at a point at the perineum (point between anus and vitals), "lift" your breath upwards without moving your shoulders. Make sure your hara is active. While breathing out spend your focus on "storing" Qi or Kime. This is the first part of "releasing a technique" spontaniously. The rest are biomechanics. Remember: Kime is not only a contracted abdomen! If you want to realease something - you must have "stored" something!
My guess is that the most of us have been occupied training the method of decontraction - contraction in the region of "Hara", by breathing in - and out and giving all efforts to the lower abdomen. Which is correct, I think. But, the way Kase sensei were explaining his approach to Budo karate and breathing is 3 or even 4 dimensional taking the whole concept of breathing technique, bodymovements, spirit and Kime under consideration. This means the interaction between willpower, ability of "storing Qi", flexibility in muscels and developed breathing due exercise.
Breathing exercise no3.
"Opening" - "Storing" - "Keeping" - "Releasing".
"Opening" of Tanden Hara can be explained by the bodymovements of opening the hip, for instance in Fudo-Dachi. The same principle combined with in-breathing through the perineum and coggygyx result in an opening of the Tanden Hara or Mingmen, the Qi center between kidneys. As a result of training kata Zanshin, I have experienced a non-contractive exercise (muscles and tendons) with all focus on breathing technique, is gaining more speed and power when released. For example: When getting in contact with your Tanden Hara - "Store and Keep" Qi, but relax upper body. When moving forwards focus on bodycenter (tanden hara). Make all hand-technique with open hands, no contraction at all. Do not "go forward" with your legs only, let your accumulated or "stored" qi and breathing technique move your body in the desired direction. This is a very relaxing but at the same time a vitalizing exercise not to speak of the positive sideeffects on your health!
After you have experienced the differences between decontraction and contraction, it will be easy for you to "Release". The releasing part in Kase-ha Shotokan is often seen as very powerful. And of course, this is the part we have SEEN! The other part is to Experience and Feel. So, in a pedagogical way, it is maybe better to learn how to pull the Bow, before releasing the Arrow!
This may have taken a few minutes for you to read, but it will take a Lifetime to understand and implement in your everyday Life and Training! I think all Budo practitioners are coming to a point in their training when the Peak of physiological Limits are reached. Kase Sensei said after a question about his physical Limits when getting older: "You must change muscle!". The meaning of this short but accurate answer may be as follows: "Open your Mind, have Faith in your chosen pathway (Do) and accept the changes. Give more attention to your psycological adjustments during exercise and not concentrate whether your body hurts or not. The outcome will have positive effects on your Karate-do, your Health, Body and Mind!
Roland Emanuelsson Juli 2010