Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

December 17th, 2017

This weeks technique is submitted by Sensei Lisa Markowitz,

Go-Dan, Ueshiro NoVA Karate Club:

Controlled Natural Breathing


Our long lineage of masters recognized the importance and benefits of controlled natural breathing in our Shorin-Ryu karate training long before the physiological basis was understood. In the Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Master Shoshin Nagamine described how the essential differences between Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu, the two main Okinawan styles of karate, lie in the basic movements and methods of breathing. At the foundation of Shorin-Ryu karate training are forms linked to natural movements and breathing that is controlled naturally.

Controlled natural breathing is infused into our karate training from the moment we begin each class. After we bow in and sit in seiza, we use controlled natural breathing technique to help create empty mind to prepare us to fully concentrate on our karate training. As we part our lips and breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth, we focus only on each breath, breathing in strength and energy, breathing out tiredness and weakness. Hanshi perfectly describes this technique in Chapter 1, pages 13-14, of the green book, Karate of Okinawa, Building Warrior Spirit. Next, as we go through warm ups, we use the technique to establish a rhythm of breathing in on our blocks and out on our kicks, punches, and strikes. This is then reinforced in our practice of kihon techniques across the deck, as we begin to gain momentum and introduce faster footwork, speed, and power, all the time while breathing naturally. Then as we transition into kata, controlled natural breathing helps us generate endurance to practice our kata at varying speeds and powers while emphasizing different aspects, such as proper execution of moves, an imaginary opponent, and focus. Towards the end of each class, as we work on yakusoku kumite and three point arm training, it helps us stay alert, engaged, and responsive to our opponent’s moves. Then, as we begin to wind down with stretching techniques, it helps us fully stretch and cool down our muscles properly. Finally, as we end class as we began, eyes closed in seiza, we once again use controlled natural breathing technique to help empty our mind and prepare us for life outside the dojo.

I recently took a course in communication that was run by Jeff Ansell, a former news anchor and media and presentation coach, in which he described the physiological benefits of using controlled natural breathing to overcome anxiety associated with public speaking. He recounted how the technique had helped calm his own nerves when he experienced extreme uncharacteristic nervousness before giving a speech after he had learned that the speaker before him was none other that President George Bush Sr.!

Ansell prescribes the technique of diaphragm breathing to calm the nerves; a technique employed by many different yoga styles that is not too dissimilar to the controlled natural breathing we use in Shorin-Ryu karate. The main difference being that in diaphragmatic breathing, one breathes in and out through the nose, whereas in Shorin-Ryu controlled natural breathing, we breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. However, both techniques engage the autonomic nervous system and produce the same desired effect––relaxation! As we inhale through the nose, our hara moves up and the chest moves out as the lungs fill with air. As the air rises up through the chest, it builds internal body heat that naturally relaxes the sympathetic portion of the autonomic nervous system. As we exhale through the mouth, our chest moves in and our hara moves down as we push air out of the lungs. This action applies pressure to the diaphragm and activates the vagus nerve, which produces the relaxation response through reducing the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Again, a very eloquent description of this breathing technique can be found on pages 13-14 of the green book.

Our long lineage of masters spent centuries studying and perfecting each of our techniques so that our karate could be performed optimally. Executed properly, controlled natural breathing helps us clear our minds and focus on our training, relax between moves, build endurance, and stay alert and engaged. As you train on the deck this week, explore how this technique is an essential component of your karate.

Domo Arigato,
Sensei Lisa Markowtiz, Go-Dan
co-Shihan Ueshiro NoVA Karate Club
lthompson@aibs.org