I was asked “What are the first things I teach in Karate?” So, in the same light, of my last post I thought I'd answer that here today. Before I go on, now (due to my schedule in Japan) I only teach instructors and elite competitors at my dojo here in Oita City. Nonetheless, I taught total beginners for many-many years.
Well, at the beginning of the first lesson, I'd initially teach the following: How to make a correct fists (seiken) and stand correct with a good posture (shisei) in shizentai. From there, I teach the ryo ken daitai mae position. In this regard, I teach people to drop their shoulders and ‘sink the energy down into the lower abdomen’. Basically, TO RELAX and rely of the kahanshin (lower body). This is physically achieved by diaphragmic breathing and consciousness awareness of where human energy intrinsically is. Next, I always teach to fix the eyes on one point directly in front the trainee (as a basic reference for them) and begin the practice of receptibility; that is, having an empty/open mind to all stimuli that surrounds them. Please remember, this is the beginning. But like all beginnings, these aspects are ‘constants’ for the karateka. In fact, they eventually expand and differentiate the levels of people.
Just to clarify, in my teaching, this training precedes the standing ojigi and seiza, as it is perquisite to performing these formalities. Furthermore, as already alluded to, these foundational skills underpin everything else.
Today, let me to briefly focus on just one of these points…DIAPHRAGMIC BREATHING.
1.0 What is the Diaphragm? The diaphragm is a muscle at the base of our lungs which is shaped like a dome. When one inhales the diaphragm contracts and moves downwards creating a space, in your chest cavity, that allows your lungs to expand. When one exhales, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards into the chest cavity. Reading this, tai no shinshuku in karate should immediately come to mind.
1.1 What is the Diaphragmic Breathing and what are its benefits? So, what then is diaphragmic breathing? It is belly or ‘abdominal breathing’ which allows a full trade of incoming oxygen and outgoing carbon dioxide. In other words, it is ‘high quality breathing’. Diaphragmic breathing has long been known as scientifically beneficial for people with various diseases. However, it is also known to lower blood pressure and heart rate; reduce stress, anxiety, and anger; enhance mental clarity; and indeed, improve physical performance and recovery from exertion.
1.2 Basic exercise to learn how to do Diaphragmic Breathing: To begin practicing diaphragmic breathing lie flat down on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your lower abdomen—just below your rib cage. Inhale slowly and steadily through your nose with the intent of getting the air deeply down into your lower abdomen. The hand on your chest should remain motionless, whilst the hand on your stomach should rise. Tighten your abs and allow them to fall inwards as you exhale from your mouth. The hand on your abdomen should move down to its original position.
1.3 Applying Diaphragmic Breathing to one’s Karate: The next phase to replicate this breathing, but in the standing position, as described as the start of this article (with the hands—instead of being placed on the chest and belly—being in the ryo ken daitai mae position). From here, this breathing methodology is appropriately applied and in harmony in all karate techniques; thereby, optimizing physical and physiological capacity.
The first thing we do when we enter the world is breath. And it will be the last thing we do. Accordingly, “…the quality of our breathing—between times—is ‘pretty important’.” I will conclude on that note!
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).