Protecting ourselves from our "selves": Take a deep breath. ( Part 2) by Mireille Clark

In my first section, (Part 1) I mentioned how we are in more danger from daily stress, and stress related problems than from a random attack in the street, and how we may use our Martial arts experiences to help protect us.

There is a common saying of “Take a deep breath, and count to ten..” when faced with stressful situations. Our Martial Arts knowledge can affirm this wisdom. Breathing is central to a well executed attack and defense. Also, using self control over our impulses, and emotions can help us to time our attack for the most effective moment.

Let us look at breathing in more depth:

When one is stressed ( fearful, anger, etc.) we tend to go into a light, high, quick type of breathing that uses only the top part of our lungs. This does not offer good aeration to the blood, and also raises our blood pressure. We can control this, and chose to do deep diaphragm based breathing which also activates the cleansing our of bodies lymph fluid to remove more waste products from our blood system, and actually lowers our blood pressure. Or in other words.. “Take a deep breath..”

Deep breathing also helps unite the core of our body with the limbs, which is one of the reasons that we kiai. A simple experiment during class would be to have students strike a pad with punches or kicks in three ways. At first, ask them to Kiai fiercely as they initiate the movement. Then, have them Kiai as their attack hits the target. Finally, have them Kiai after the attack has finished. The idea is to concentrate on the feelings within their body as they do the three exercises. Depending on how much effort they place into the exercise, and how much attention your students are capable of achieving into their own sensations, they may feel how an early Kiai will excite speed, and contraction, a simultaneous Kiai brings connection, and a late Kiai seems to have no effect on the strike.

Patterns (Kata/Poomse) can also help a student become more aware of the rhythm of their breathing in/out as they perform the techniques. Once the movements of the pattern have become ingrained in the individual, they can start to focus on the minute differences that happen during the performance, and become aware of what their body is doing to keep up with the demand. Then, they can start applying breath control to improve their technique.

During daily life, the more we learn to read our body’s responses, and start recognizing our breathing patterns, we can become aware of the onset of quick stressed breathing, and deepen the breath by choice centralizing our mind’s focus on calming our body. This provides more oxygen to our brain, and allows us to see our situation more clearly. We will not be as tempted to fall into the verbal taunts, and traps placed before us by arguing, aggressive, or annoying people.

Colin Wee
Taekwondo Techniques, Patterns, and Applications at the Traditional Taekwondo Blog. [Subscribe using email or RSS feeds] [Tkd Sitemap]


Potatoe Fist said…
So I've been taking more time to focus on breathing during sparring or other fairly anaerobic activities. I've found that I have to keep my belly fairly slack to accomplish this which makes it an easy target on me. It could be a factor of my general fitness.
supergroup7 said…
Interesting that you have found it to be this way Potatoe Fist.

Taking in a deep breath does not mean that you have to relax your core muscles. It is possible to keep your core tight, and under control and still pull in a deep breath. How to explain this is difficult. I will think about this, and look towards exercises, and explanations that will help reveal this aspect of our training.
Colin Wee said…
Mir, good article. I have tried to incorporate breathing skills into my program by making sure that the breath out is synched with all kata and kihon moves in our beginner's program. This is emphasized during sparring training to ensure that students are indeed able to keep their endurance up and to reduce the flight or fight response - eliminating the shallow breathes from the top of the lungs. This is done through rythmic breaths using the larger abdominal muscles. But it is true, as Potatoe has said, the belly is relatively more slack. This is one way to improve on speed, but does not do much to protect the internal organs when you get struck. Sadly the tension is inversely proportional to the speed. The more you tense, the more you can take a hit, but the slower you are to get off your mark. You can tighten the stomach muscles somewhat, but not fully. I suppose you just need to improve coverage and deflection in order not to get winded. Colin
supergroup7 said…
Thanks Colin,

Maybe it is in the understanding of what is considered "tight" or "slack" that might be causing confusion for a reader?

I agree that a fighter needs to stay relaxed to be able to react quickly, and that a tense body slows one down... but I've noticed that within that relaxed state there is an underlying system of "alert" tenseness. The best example that I've seen of this is watching a cat ready to pounce.. the body is relaxed, but ready to tighten on demand.

We can do the same with our core muscles. The outer protective layer of abdominal muscles ready to absorb a strike if needed, and the inner diaphragm moving rhythmically down, and up in a relaxed way. I have felt this in my own body more than once.

Yes..I agree Colin, improved coverage is very helpful when attacking to allow for deeper controlled breathing.
Colin Wee said…
Back when I was an Archery coach we did understand that there is an 'optimal' tension before competition - meaning that being totally relaxed is not exactly the best for heightened performance. This is a discussion related to the 'ready' stance - I usually talk to my students about what 'ready' really means. Is it just standing there with two fists in front of your belt loop ... gut sticking out, weight on your heels, ready to fall asleep? No. In fact wasn't it Itosu who said "You should practice karate in the following manor: glare, lower your shoulders, and harden muscles as though you were actually engaged in a fight." So while we train and in regard to this post of yours, we should also figure out what "as though you were actually engaged in a fight" means. Then we'll soon get to optimal tension.


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