Friday, April 18, 2008

The Importance of Breathing in the Martial Arts

Over a year ago, I had an argument with Slan, a guy I used to work with who had once been a Kempo instructor. The argument was about when to breathe when striking or being struck.

I had argued that you should breathe out when you strike and at the point of impact when you're being struck. He had argued that you're at your weakest during your out-breath and should therefore avoid breathing out when being hit.

In reality, we were both right.

According to my MMA coach, you should breathe out when you strike so as not to tire over the course of a fight, whether it's boxing, MMA, or any other ring-style fight form. He did, however, add the caveat that you should not breathe out on every single strike but once every three strikes. The reason for this is that you are most vulnerable at the very end of your out-breath. If you breathe out on every strike, a smart opponent will see the pattern and hit you just as you finish breathing out, causing a very strong winding effect. But, if you breathe every three strikes, your opponent will not be able to track the pattern in the hectic environment of a fight.

My co-worker had not gone into this much detail, but if he had, I'm would have agreed with him. I do remember times when I was hit at the end of an out-breath and found the hit affected me more than at other points of my breath cycle.

As for being hit, if you start your out-breath at the point of impact, you're better able to steel yourself for the hit. Anyone who has done the standing abdominal drop exercise with a medicine ball will know exactly what I'm taking about. It must be timed exactly right though because, as my coach said, if you take that hit as you finish your breath, it has quite the opposite effect.

Outside of the ring-fighting arena, most martial arts teach you to breathe out while you strike, not only because it helps keep you from tiring, but also because it helps harness your power and focus your energy (ki or chi, if you want it in traditional terms). A kiai, the shout often used in martial arts training, is an extension of this logic, with more powerful effects.

Having been laid off a couple of months back, I no longer see Slan on a regular basis. I have to say, I truly miss our regular martial arts discussions, whether they were diplomatic or argumentative in nature. :P


Chris | Martial Development said...

Having noted the problems with linking the breath to the strike, why not just breathe with no set pattern at all?

Most people do naturally breathe out when issuing force, because it increases their strength. However, we as martial artists are not bound to follow the example of untrained people!

Lori O'Connell said...

Funny you should mention that. When I spar, I no longer focus on breathing at specific times. I find my breath comes when I need it naturally anyway. Though I do tell my students who are less experienced to incorporate a breathing pattern to prevent the mistake of not breathing enough which often happens when under pressure.