Breath Control in the Martial Arts


Martial artists have a tendency to fall out and disagree over things, but I’m pretty certain that regardless of style, discipline or outlook on the martial arts, we can agree that breathing is pretty important. It doesn't take a 10th Dan, Grandmaster, Sifu or Ninja to comprehend that if we don’t breathe, we die, but how many of us think about our breathing patterns, especially when training?


Yoshinkan Aikido, my primary style focuses a lot on breathing, especially as you reach the higher levels and the founder Gozo Shioda, was a big fan of talking about `kokyu ryoku` or breath power. For many of us, myself included, this seems like too much of an out there kind of concept and I’m fairly certain the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido wasn’t an advocate of knocking people out with his breath alone (tic-tac?) yet kokyu ryoku remains an integral part of Yoshinkan Aikido. So what is it? The way I understand breath power, and the way it has been explained to me is more in terms of timing and matching your partner/opponent in terms of speed, distance and energy, a coordination of such that you train by proper application of breathing. 

Other forms of martial arts and exercise such as Tai Chi, Yoga and Qigong also focus heavily on breathing the correct way, in through the nose, filling the belly, not the chest with air, then out through the nose, sucking the belly back into the spine. This not only opens the lungs more effectively, but mobilizes the spine and generally allows you to take in more oxygen and exhale more carbon dioxide.

In terms of martial arts, finding the correct breath is definitely of crucial importance. Ever tried punching and breathing in at the same time? Feels weird! You punch and exhale, adding power and coordination to the punch. This is an obvious example of breathing correctly in the martial arts but in terms of Aikido, breath power is also used to great effect and something to be focused on in martial arts in general. How many of us actually think about the way we breathe during training, or think about how we breathe in general? It’s a pretty natural thing to do, an unconscious effort but could we improve our martial arts if we simply thought slightly more about breathing and made it a conscious effort? If we think more about our breath while executing throws, can we add power, coordination and improve our general levels of fitness?
Aikido works on the principle of using the opponents power against them and key to this is the idea of kokyu ryoku or breath power. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido said that the key to unlimited strength was breath power and that although as we get older, our muscles and strength deteriorate; our breath power can get stronger and stronger. Maybe our martial arts would improve in general and our skill level would increase if we focused more on our breath power and the correct way to breathe.

About the Author:

Dan Holloway has been training in martial arts since he was six years old. He started with Karate and then moved to Aikido which he continues to train and teach, holding a 2nd Degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido. Dan has training with some of the best instructors in the world including Joe Thambu Shihan who Dan spent a month in Melbourne with training full time, as well as Robert Mustard Shihan from Canada, and Yasuhisa Shioda Shihan, the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido’s son. 
Dan has also trained in various other martial arts including Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, KFM and MMA under various instructors and professional fighters. Dan is passionate about martial arts and self defence and has recently become a trustee for the self defence charity 'Just Give It A Thought'. Dan also owns his own blog - The Martial View.


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