How to Breathe Correctly in Karate

It’s crazy…jesse_enkamp_breathing_beach_seishin_gi

You can go weeks without eating.

You can go days without drinking water.

But you can’t even go minutes without breathing!

Yet, most of us pay more attention to eating & drinking than our breathing!

In fact, many people pay more attention to their clothes than their breathing.

Why?

Two main reasons:

1. People are not aware of their breathing.

This is natural, because if we have to consciously make an effort to breathe, we could die the minute we forgot it. Mother Nature therefore decided our breathing pattern should be automatized. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. But it also means that we often neglect our breathing, since it’s not a conscious act.

2. People don’t know the correct way to breathe.

Okay. Let’s say you manage to snap out of your habitual breathing pattern and learn to observe your breathing. Then what? Should you breathe differently now? Is your breathing good or bad? Should you breathe through the nose? The mouth? The ears? You don’t know. So, you give up and start worrying about today’s outfit instead.

Listen…

Breathing is essential to life.

And, as you know, Karate is a way of life!

To understand breathing is to understand Karate.

It’s a direct connection between your body and mind.

“In order to harmonize your soul, you must harmonize your breathing.”

– Mabuni Kenei

This phenomeon has been discovered by people since the dawn of mankind, and has given rise to a plethora of holistic breathing exercises; like Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

But no matter what esoteric “breathing method” you follow, they all operate based on the same fundamental human truth:

jesse_enkamp_seminar_breathing
Teaching a simple breathing exercise at my first UK seminar.

Breathing is your brain-body pathway.

It’s a direct connection between you and yourself.

Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the greatest Karate masters throughout history have always included breathing in their teachings.

But here’s where people get it wrong…

When most people realize the importance of breathing, they start searching for the “best” breathing method.

Big mistake.

There is no correct way to breathe.

Sorry to burst your bubble!

  • There is no single CORRECT way to breathe.
  • There is no single INCORRECT way to breathe either.
  • But you MUST always breathe!

So…

If there’s ONE thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s this.

Breathe.

Just breathe. And keep breathing.

Holding your breath is one of the 10 most common mistakes in Karate.

That being said, there ARE different ways to breathe.

Let me finish this article by showing you four effective ways to breathe, taught to me by sensei Vinicio Antony in Brazil earlier this year.

Sensei Vinicio is a Karate genius who combines traditional Karate concepts with modern training methods. I consider him one of the greatest Karate experts I’ve ever met. That’s why he’s one of the hand-picked instructors for KNX16 (The Karate Nerd Experience 2016) in Toronto, Canada.

(Sign up to get notified when more info is available.)

Check it out:

jesse_enkamp_breathing_1

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing: Start by breathing 4 times deep into your lower belly, also known as “tanden” in Japanese (using a muscle called the diaphragm). Make sure you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Every inhalation and exhalation should be maximized. Feel your belly expand and contract with each breath.

jesse_enkamp_breathing_2

2. Ribcage Breathing: Then, breathe 4 times laterally, to your sides. However, this time you expand your rib cage (instead of your belly) with every inhalation. Again, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Try to really isolate this breathing from the previous belly breathing.

jesse_enkamp_breathing_3

3. T-Spine Breathing: Next, breathe 4 times to the back. It’s difficult if you’ve never done it before, but try to really feel the tissue surrounding your thoracic spine expand with each inhalation. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, as usual. Remember to redirect the expansion of your lungs toward your t-spine (between your scapulae). This works as myofascial release for a your posterior chain.

jesse_enkamp_breathing_4

4. Chest Breathing: Lastly, breathe 4 times using your chest. This is super easy, because most people can only breathe like this! It’s the standard breathing method when you’re stressed. Expand your chest and raise shoulders as you inhale through your nose. Then exhale, letting your chest and shoulders sink down.

Done.

You just practiced four essential ways of synchronizing inhalation & exhalation with contraction & expansion in your breathing.

Personally, I consider these breathing methods extremely effective.

It’s like a stretching program for your inside!

The next step is to integrate alternating breathing patterns with your Karate techniques.

(Your sensei can help you with that.)

Remember; the key is not HOW you breathe – but THAT you breathe.

Start by observing your breathing!

Gradually, this habit will spill over to other areas of your life, making you a more conscious human being overall, instead of always being a victim of circumstances.

It all begins with breathing…

“Inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit.”

Good luck! ; -)

26 Comments

  • Glad someone outthere in the world understands how busy i am with life to know that im still a martial arts enthusiast who loves knowledge to help me work toward my goal at being an expert martialartist. Tnks jesse.keep this spiritual martialartist stuff going
    • No matter how busy we are, there's always room to breathe and let go! Thanks for chiming in Jamie-san. Keep it up!
  • Justine Jacobsen
    Great article Jesse! Thank-you so much.....I struggle with my breathing during Karate (I hold my breath to often....concentrating and Nerves) I have been searching for a simple tip how to harmonize my body and mind and feel strong yet calm within myself :) I'll be putting these tips into practice :) Cheers Justine (40 year old mum who's enjoying the Love of Karate Life...sharing the ride with my two kids)
    • Thank you Justine-san! Makes me glad to hear about your journey on the path of Karate. Keep sharing, growing & breathing! :-)
  • Ossu, and this beginner who doesn't know nothin' 'bout nothin' thanks you for the lesson!
    • The day we know everything, we have failed Joelle-san! The journey never stops. Keep exploring & breathe on!
  • Riz
    Many years ago I was sparring with a black belt and he was picking me off and made it difficult for me to attack and defend. After the session I asked him how he did it. He said that he followed my breath. He attacked me at the top of my breathing cycle and knew I attacked at the top as well. Since then I learnt to hide my breathing but still manage to try and breathe.
    • So true, Riz-san! Great fighters can read your breathing pattern like an open book. Thanks for chiming in!
  • Thanks Jesse for this nice article. I have been trying first method since beginning of my karate life but remaining methods are not usual for me but i will follow. osss
  • Danielle
    Loved it! I'll do this on my next training! :D
  • James
    I left a comment before, Jesse-san, asking you about your opinion on the karate/yoga relationship... and I think this answers it. I feel they share similar principles regarding breathing and consciousness.I think all karate students should be taught how to breathe :)Love this article.
    • Thanks for good article. Most people, not just karateka have to "re-learn" how to breathe. Shallow breathing is the cause of all kinds of physical and emotional problems. I've been practicing Karate for 35 years and Yoga for past 15 years and find them to beautifully complement each other. I offer Yoga at my dojo because of many other benefits beside breathing. Can't ignore the breathing, "Breath is Life", "Breath is the Door".
  • I have not much idea about Karate but after reading your post I learned little bit about Karate. Thanks for sharing this info about karate with us.
  • Peter
    Jessie, just read that you're holding a seminar in Toronto 2016 , have you dates yet for this ? Regards Peter
    • Hi Peter-san, please use the link in the article to sign up for notifications about KNX16: The Karate Nerd Experience 2016 and I will let you know when the date is confirmed.
  • Gustavo Sosa
    Hi Jesse. What about breathing during kihon or jiyu kumite? The exercises you depicted are great as a sort of meditation, but I find it hard to translate them to physical activity.
    • It's all about practice, Gustavo-san! Every breathing method has its time and place. The most commonly taught breathing type in Karate is #1. Try starting with that one. Good luck!
  • Another quality read Jesse Always look forward to reading your blogs, tweets etcCheers
  • Tivinstan
    well done
  • Jose santiago
    Hi nicely said but it's a sad day when dojo instructors don't do this early in people's careers in the martial arts this was lesson 2 or 3 when I started training for the first time back in the 1970's. and I remember both my Sensei and sifu used to make us sit or stand and do breathing to these areas at the star and end of classes. good to see its is being remembered once more Just another one from Yoga is wave breathing, using what you explained but in lying down and moving the breath from the navel upwards, and outwards form and back and the reversed out. great relaxation exercise as well after the first couple of breaths. thanks
  • Nice article, but please more details how to transfer the different ways of breathing into Karate and Kata. I´m searching now for nearly 40 years and asked a lot of Karate masters, how to do it the right way in Karate, but there was no real satisfying answer over all the years. Hope to have time to join Karate Nerd Seminar next year to go on with breathing.
  • karatekaththi
    i am karate student. I read the article,it was nice.but i want more about how to breathe during fighting time?.i am karate student but i am not just a student .I will give my life for karate .it's is nice but you will give more information about this...
  • Max
    Never thought about it, there is always new things to learn. I ll add this methods to my routine
  • Robert D'Eramo
    Everyone agrees on inhaling through the nose . What is the difference between Exhaling through the nose or mouth.Why do you recommend the mouth?
  • Thank you Jesse-san. Awesome stuff. I'm glad somebody finally pointed it out. I started to be more focused on my breathing when I was a teenager and read an article about controlling your breath. I talked to a few of my friends that practiced martial arts back then, and most of them thought it was crazy. Then when I was in my late 30s, I took yoga and really found out how important breathing can be. Yoga taught me not only how to breathe, but how to move with my breath or to make my breath move with me. It has really helped me a lot.
  • Shamik mohanta
    Thanks to give me a typical type of breathing techniques that I want !!!! I am really glad to you jesse senssiai oss

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