There is a story told that Confucius once attended a court function in which he was part of the rituals performed. He conducted himself beautifully throughout the ceremonies, but after they concluded he immediately retired into seclusion.

His disciples approached him and enquired about his reclusive behaviour and he said, “During the ritual, I noticed my breath rising.” The ancients breathed with their heels.

To Confucius, this was a sign of his incomplete training, a reflection on those disciplines yet to be mastered.

In order to be a complete martial artist we must learn to connect our breathing to our movement and non-movement. I have heard many times that you will learn breathing by practising, over and over, the movements of the art.

The instructors will spend thousands of hours showing, explaining and making you do the technique, but will almost never do that for breathing.

Well, your breath is so important and needs so much attention to detail that it is often applied when teaching physical technique. As well, you need solutions to when your breathing becomes erratic or disturbed … as Confucius found out.

In karate, there is one specific kata (Hangetsu) that allows the development and training of your breath. Each part of this kata requires a different type of breath. Years ago, at the master camp in Philadelphia, the head instructor of Japan Karate Association taught some of the breathing techniques required to do this kata properly.

For example, one series of movements is required to be performed without any breath at all. Imagine you are underwater without any air left, but still need to swim 10 feet to reach air. This would be as if someone is choking you, and your need to free yourself is a matter of life or death.

What would you do?

The normal reaction is pure panic as your system shuts down, but if you have practised this state of non-breath, then you will find the ability to still move. It could mean the difference between life and death.

This kata trains you to still be able to perform movements necessary even though you can no longer breathe.

Other parts of the kata teach dynamic tension in the lower abdomen, using your breath.

This could be used to absorb and attack or exert great strength. There is also reverse breathing, abdominal breathing and, finally, relaxed breathing.

Breath is who we are. Think of when you get angry and how your breath changes … or when you become stressed and what happens to your breathing. Think what would happen if you controlled your breath.

Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts for over 38 years and has trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at toddhardymla@gmail.com.