The Hard Soft Style Swimming Academy

There is a quite famous book in Karate circles known as “Bubishi”.

You might have heard of it.

It is actually an old Chinese fighting manual (original name: Wu Bei Zhi) and depicts various self defence scenarios, pressure points, theory, strategy on fighting, philosophy and so on. It contains quite many articles, and a long time ago it made its way from China to Okinawa somehow (several theories exist here). In Okinawa it was secretly copied by Karate enthusiatist, and spread in the community. Today many Westeners have translated the Bubishi to English, making it available to the public.

Okay, that was the intro.

Now, in the Bubishi, there is list of “The Eight Precepts of Quanfa”. One of these principles are the following:

The way of inhaling and exhaling represents softness and hardness.

Let’s go to Okinawa again.

Because in Naha, the “place to be” in Okinawa, there once lived a man who had a copy of this secret book, Bubishi. He studied it day and night, and the above passage was his favorite. Inhaling represents softness, exhaling represents hardness.

Simple and true.

In fact, he liked this passage so much that when the Japanese authorities asked him later to name his style of Karate, he answered Goju-ryu. “Hard-soft-style”, using the same kanji (Chinese characters) that were used in the Bubishi.

Goju-ryu is today one of the worlds most widespread Karate styles.

But the principle of hardness and softness is not exclusive to Goju-ryu. Although they seem to emphasize it the most, every style actually contains this contrast between hardness and softness. In fact, every martial art does. Judo, Kendo, Wrestling, Karate, Boxing… the list goes on.

Anyway… a few months ago I read a science/sport journal where they compared amateur swimmers to Olympic swimmers. They tested things like muscular endurance, maximum strength, speed and other important factors. What the scientists found most interesting was something completely else though.

– The difference in the ability to relax.

If my memory serves me right, I think the Olympic swimmers were seven times more relaxed (!) than the amateur swimmers, when they were relaxing.

But when you think about it, Olympic swimmers are quite explosive, right? So how does relaxation and explosiveness relate to each other? Well, by maximizing the “space” between relaxation and tension you get explosiveness. If you can have maximum Ju (relaxation/softness) in one moment, and in the next moment have maximum Go (tension/hardness), you have created an explosion. So, explosiveness comes not from being tensed and hard, neither from being relaxed and soft.

Rather, if comes from the ability to change between these two extremes in a split second. The bigger the “gap”, and the faster you close this gap with your movement(s), the more explosive you are!

In swimming as well as Karate.

Go and Ju, hardness and softness, is essential in all Karate styles, and every style could theoretically be named Goju-ryu if you see it that way. Even every martial art.

And even swimming (imagine Goju-ryu Swimming Academy)!

So… how to become explosive? Well, the first step is practising Go and Ju. Practise being hard, and practise becoming soft. Then, practise the transition between hard and soft. Slowly… then with more speed, and before you know it, you will be more explosive! Some people are naturally tense, so they need to focus on relaxing. Some are naturally more relaxed, so they need to focus on becoming harder. It’s individual!

If you want a more practical example, consider what we did in our class yesterday evening:

After a really devastating, sweaty and explosive kihon everyone were really exhausted. Lactic acid in their muscles. So I closed the door, told everybody to lie down, and turned off the lights. I simply told everyone to relax. No further explanation.

Total darkness and stillness. One second they were screaming, sweating and punching, faces all red… and the next second they were lying on the floor, eyes closed, just quietly relaxing.

From 100% to 0 % in an instant.

We lied there for 2 minutes. Maybe a bit short, but better than nothing. Then the lights went on, everyone flew up, and back to 100%!

Please, do try this exercise. And make sure you don’t explain too much. Because if you do, they will mentally prepare to relax. And that mustn’t happen! No explanation, just lights out and relax. In reality you don’t have time to think “Nice, now I will relax” or “Aargh, now I need to be strong”.

You just do it, subconsciously, when you need to.

Response must result without conscious thought.

Also from the Bubishi.

Hmm… I wonder what the old Chinese knew about Olympic swimmers…


  • Victoria Young
    i always use Swimming as may daily exercise, it is much better than jogging and running~,*
  • Liam Price
    swimming is my favorite way of burning of those extra fats and calories~..
  • Alisha Cox
    what i do love about swimming is that it is fun and you can see lots of babes on the beach.`,
  • Metallic Sandals :
    swimming is my favorite way of exercising my body, it can really make your back shoulder muscles big and strong;:"
  • Fleur
    What is everyone on? This post isn't actually about swimming! Any how Jesse, I think relaxing is one of my biggest challenges. I recently changed from a school with a strong Shotokan influence to Matsubayashi Ryu - where relaxation and speed are diffenately the go, so major adjustment and lots of work needed there. Sounds ironic - having to work on relaxing, but it is a really hard thing to do. Good post!
  • hp mini 210
    This a very good read by you looking forward to come back more very soon.
  • Gerry
    One way I train in kata is to complete each technique and hold the tension at the completion of the technique until I complete exhaling. I then consciously relax my entire body then explode into the next movement. For me this is a great method for working on Go & Ju.
  • Carissa
    "The Art of Mental Training" by DC Gonzalez is an incredible book with many gold nuggets to take away from it. You should read it. :) it's cheap on amazon and a quick read but I guarantee you'd love it!

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