Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

May 14th 2012


From Sensei Bob Dobrow, Ni-Dan
Ueshiro Northfield Shorin-Ryu Karate Dojo of Minnesota



“Get low,” “squat,” “step first,” “breathe!” On the deck we hear our sensei repeat the words over and over. Most times we don’t even think about it, just try to do it, work harder, push more. But other times, for whatever reason, something that’s been said to you a thousand times suddenly stands out and hits you in a totally new and unexpected way.

I had such an epiphany two weeks ago when Hanshi was in Minnesota leading our training. “Breathe,” he called out. “Breathe. . . THAT'S HOW WE GET OUR ENERGY.”

So obvious, but it hit me like a mae-geri kick to the solar plexus. We breathe for ENERGY. And there’s a direct relationship between our breathing and our energy level--—power, intensity, kiai—--on the deck. I began to visualize the process of getting stronger with every new inhale, and I tried to lose myself in embracing my breath.

There is much in our literature on breathing. See, for instance, the Tanden chapter in the Green Book and the subsection on “The Breath of Life” (pp 64-67). A basic principal is to contract on the exhale, squeezing the air out, and relax on the inhale, drawing the air into the body---natural breathing.

Try doing some repeated kata focusing 100% on your breathing. Maybe visualize the air in the dojo as a colored foggy medium filled with energy. Picture it coming into your body, filling you up and moving out. Picture yourself getting stronger with each intake of the breath. Try to develop a smooth, natural rhythm coordinating the breathing with the kata.

The general principle is to breathe in on the blocks and out with the punches and kicks. In kata, when punch follows block, such as the first moves of Fukyugata Ich, it might be a little easier to develop an in-and-out rhythm. When there are several punches or blocks in a row, the general principle might have to be modified, also based on the speed in which you are working. Most important, however, is to never hold your breath, never restrict the flow of air, the flow of energy. Work the rhythm for yourself, but emphasize natural movements and relaxed, smooth and continual in-and-out breathing. In through the nose, into the diaphragm, filling up the lower and then upper lungs, taking in as much energy as you can, and then pushing out through the mouth. The contraction should be on the exhale, the inhale should be natural and not forced. The mouth is slightly open to vent the body. Breathe in, breathe out.

I remember a particularly intense workout one year in Florida. The senior black belts were working with small groups of students. Our group was dripping with sweat, and Sensei Barnes had us suddenly shift gears and do repeated kata half speed and power, with and without the count, concentrating completely on our breathing. It was a transformative experience. When it came time to do it full speed and power, I think all of us felt that our kata had moved to a higher level. We had ten times more energy then when we started and our group exploded with power.

This week, remember to BREATHE!!!

“Karate requires a harmony between breath and action. Therefore, we must learn to adjust our breathing until we reach the point where each breath coincides with each of the movements during practice.” – Master Shoshin Nagamine, “The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do”

“To master one’s breathing is to master one’s self.” – Hanshi Robert Scaglione

Domo arigato gozaimasu,

Bob Dobrow, Ni-Dan
Ueshiro Northfield Shorin-Ryu Karate Dojo of Minnesota