|Kangeiko late 2013/early 2014 in Kumamoto.|
The term 寒稽古 (KANGEIKO) is a special training, in various forms of budo/bujutsu, in which practitioners endure training in the cold. This midwinter practice is meant to strengthen not only the body, but the mind. While this definition is fine, to me it doesn’t highlight the real technical benefit of engaging in Kangeiko. That is, what one can technically gain from doing it? Really! What can you get?
For me, this runs parallel with one of the things Asai Tetsuhiko Sensei intermittently did in his own karate practice; that is, ‘holding his breath when stretching’! Now, before you start saying how ‘bad’ this is, let me explain his rational. Remember, he didn’t do this every time (nor for all of his stretches); rather, he effectively used this methodology to maximize his incredible elasticity.
Obviously, it is correct to breathe deeply from the diaphragm when stretching. This is not only good for your health but, indeed, results in relaxing—and going deeper—into your respective stretches.
So why did Asai Sensei sometimes practice ‘not breathing when stretching’? The answer: “If you can ‘stretch well’, when not breathing, then you will gain more flexibility when you breath correctly”. In text, this sounds illogical—perhaps even a little crazy, but contrary to how it sounds, it is actually very true. Yes, it works and it works very well! Returning to Kangeiko and the parallel it has (with this manner of flexibility training): “…being in the cold makes moving harder as the muscles are naturally tighter and less elastic. Occasional practice like this—especially during the annual Kangeiko—“…will result in learning to move more softly; moreover, when in a regular state, this will increase one’s speed and explosiveness”, amongst other aspects.
In sum, if you want to perform at your best, Kangeiko is never going to be optimal: as the environment is against this. Being cold is a being in a hostile environment for peak performance, just as holding your breath when stretching makes life difficult. Nevertheless, if you want to improve—and you are in good health—both these practices can result in valuable gains.
To conclude, I’d like to say that often I see that ‘the physical benefits of Kangeiko get overlooked’. Accordingly, I hope that this short article has elucidated how this special winter practice can literally benefit your physical prowess in Karate: in addition to the mental strength/grit that it can help to develop.
PS – A brief YouTube Video (PART TWO) will be coming soon…
© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).