Importance of Breathing in the Martial Arts
Proper breathing and breath control are very important in Taekwondo. There is a direct connection between breathing and technique. Breathing is an integral component of the technique, not separate from it. Correct breathing increases power and coordinates body movements. Proper, controlled breathing is the way synchronize intention and body movements.
After inhaling, the body can be thought of as full of potential for power and movement. Powerful or fast movements are best done in conjunction with an exhalation done in the same manner as the technique, quick and powerful. For a longer exertion, such as lifting a person, a longer, forceful exhalation is used.
After exhaling, the body can be thought of as empty of air and potential for power. Since this a point of weakness, particular attention should be paid to proper breathing during sparring, both offensively and defensively. Trying to either defend or attack from a situation of being empty of air momentarily is likely to be ineffective. Offensively, watch for your opponent's "empty" spots and attack just as he/she finishes exhaling.
The kiai (yell) is used during the execution of Taekwondo techniques to control the breath and focus total concentration and power. See the kiai topic for more information on the kiai.
Holding the breath tenses the body since it is under stress. One should never hold the breath while performing a physical task, Inhaling pulls "ki" into the body, increasing its kinetic energy, while exhaling uses this stored energy. Inhaling relaxes the body, while exhaling tenses it. Inhaling hampers movement and power, while exhaling assists movement and maximizes power. In combat, we are most vulnerable during inhalation, and critically vulnerable if accompanied by dysfunctional breathing patterns. Deep breathing calms and increases mental alertness, reduces blood pressure, slows respiration, and slows heart rate.
Breathing and Ki
Most martial artists have heard of the concept of Ki. Ki refers to the natural energy of the Universe, which permeates everything (see Ki topic). Ki is not breath, it is the power that makes it breathing possible. It is the power behind movement and thought and is in the oxygen we breathe and the blood that flows through us.
Ki within the body is similar to power in a rechargeable battery. Occasionally it needs to be replenished. The Ki of the universe is inexhaustible, but the body needs fresh Ki to maintain its vitality. By energizing the body with Ki, it is revitalized naturally enabling it to fight off illness. The secret to replenishing Ki is in breathing.
Breathing through the nose enables the body to process Ki energy effectively. Most people understand the importance of breathing in through the nose, but breathing out through the nose requires a deeper understanding of the nature of Ki. Martial artists need to absorb and process Ki to generate the power and they must be able to retain Ki until it is needed. When we inhale, we bring oxygen and Ki into our body. When we exhale through the mouth, we expel carbon dioxide, but we also expel the Ki. If we continuously expel Ki, we never build a reserve of Ki within the body. However, exhaling through the nose transfers the Ki to the dan tien or hara. Each breath strengthens the dan tien. Once sufficient Ki has been stored, the Ki may be expelled with tremendous force. This is known as the Kiai where the breath is expelled through the mouth. This is the reason that there are usually only two times within each pattern where we Kiai. We have to recharge the Ki for a while before it may be released again. If we try to Kiai with every technique, we quickly become fatigued since we are expelling Ki with every breath.
Hoopes, A. (2002). Breathing Training For Martial Artists. Shotokan Karate Magazine. (Issue 72); Generating Ki through Breathing. Shotokan Karate Magazine. (Issue 73); Stillness Training, The Basis of all Movement. Shotokan Karate Magazine. (Issue 72).
Sonnon, S. (2001). Oxygen Debt Does NOT Equal 'Cardio Training. Dvizheniye Journal July/August 2001. Available: www.amerross.com.