Techniques>Breathing>Importance of proper breathing

↩ Back

Importance of proper breathing


Proper breathing and breath control are very important in the martial arts. There is a direct connection between breathing and the performance of a proper technique. Breathing is an integral component of the technique, not separate from it. Proper, controlled breathing increases power and synchronizes intention and body movements (coordination).

How it works

After inhaling, the body can be thought of as full of air and the potential for power and movement. When powerful or fast movements for used it is best to use a quick powerful exhalation. For a longer exertion, such as lifting a person for a throw, a longer, forceful exhalation is used.

After exhaling, the body can be thought of as empty of air and the potential for power. Since this a point of weakness, attention should be paid to proper breathing during sparring, both offensively and defensively. Trying to either attack or defend while empty of air momentarily is likely to be ineffective. Offensively, watch for your opponent's "empty" spots and attack just as he or she finishes exhaling. The kiai (yell) that is used in the martial arts during the execution of techniques to control the exhalation of breath and thus focus total concentration and power.

Holding the breath tenses the body since it is under stress. One should never hold the breath while performing any physical task. Inhaling pulls energy 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 it 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. The existence of ki has never been proven; it is a belief and as such, it can affect the body through the placebo effect (if you believe a concept is true; you will feel its effects even if the concept is false).

Ki refers to the natural energy of the universe, which permeates everything. Ki is not breath, it is the power that makes 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 like the 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. The secret to replenishing ki is in proper 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 to release the power. When we inhale, we bring oxygen and ki into our body. When we exhale through the mouth, we expel unused air, but we also expel some of the ki.  If we continuously expel ki, we never build a reserve of ki within the body.

However, when we exhale through the nose we transfer some of the ki to the dantien or hara (center of the body, a location in the center of the abdomen). Each breath strengthens the dantien. Once sufficient Ki has been stored, the ki may be expelled with tremendous force. This release of ki is known as the kiai where the breath is expelled through the mouth as a yell. We must recharge our 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:

↩ Back

No comments: