Breath in Karate

Breathing is one of the basic functions of our body, part of an autonomous system. We do not have to learn how to do it, we are born with this ability. If you look at a baby breathing you can see that there is no struggle, breaths are easy and full, the abdomen moves rhythmically with every breath.


When we grow we seem to forget how to breathe fully and healthily. Our breath changes becoming shallow and quick. Air in our lungs is not fully exhaled, preventing us from being able to fully inhale fresh air. In this way we are only using a third of the actual volume of our lungs, decreasing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, therefore our brains and other organs are never fully oxygenated.  Most of us breath with the upper parts of the body only. This type of breathing is called intercostal breathing. In Karate, just like in meditation, we try to focus on the diaphragm when breathing.

In Karate the centre of the breath is in the Hara or Tanden, a spot about four fingers directly below the navel. Breathing with the Hara requires good posture, our spine is elongated, our abs are relaxed, our diaphragm is stretched and pulled down when we inhale and our abdomen pushes outwards.

Exhaling compresses the stomach pushing the diaphragm upwards and forcing the air out of our lungs. When we are relaxed we should see the rhythmic waves of our stomach moving in and out.

In Karate we have two types of breathing:

Meditation (relaxed)


Inhale – Breathe in through the nose. Centre your breath in the stomach letting the breath in naturally without using the abdominal or chest muscles at all.

Exhale – Breathe out through your mouth. Lips should be slightly open and your tongue elevated. Let your stomach fall back in and breathe out slowly, double the length of the inhalation. When you feel that all the air has left your lungs squeeze gently with the lower part of your abdomen.

This type of breathing is very helpful in relaxation and calming down. It is used in meditation and medicine. The principle of taking a longer breath out than the breath in is used in the prevention of hyperventilation, for example in women giving birth.

Ibuki (power generating breath)


Inhale through the nose rapidly, filling up your lungs from the bottom to the top, using your stomach muscles.

Exhale and tense your abdomen muscles with your mouth open wide, throat open and your tongue relaxed held in lower palate. Squeeze from your Hara (the point blow the navel) and keep breathing out loudly till your lungs are completely empty then dynamically squeeze the rest of the air out with small cough.

This type of breathing is use to develop power, often you can hear Karate practitioners make a loud noise, this is a Kiai. This is the same type of breathing but faster and in time with a technique to generate the most power. This technique is used also by weight lifters to generate power.

Zen masters say that to relearn the natural way of breathing takes around six years and it is an art in itself.

As in learning all skills experience is the key to understanding and this is gained through individual practice under an experienced teacher and the right atmosphere in a dojo.


About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.

8.5 million people suffer painful joints

As a Personal Trainer (PT) and therapist I work mostly with clients who have some kind of injury. Talking with other PTs I have noticed that they have a growing number of clients who are training with an injury.

photo-11-09-2016-12-35-47 Clients who have seen a GP and have been sent away with pain killers decide to work through the injury. As pain killers are great at reducing pain they can make clients forget about an injury, which might lead to their condition worsening as they train. In the United Kingdom around 8.5 million people suffer painful joints*. During a year Accident and Emergency treat 380,000 sports injuries and 30% of GP appointments relate to musculoskeletal problems*. As the NHS is lacking the budget, staff and resources to cope with these problems, the responsibility for helping clients with injuries is often transferred on to PTs.

PTs can create bespoke programmes to help with injury recovery and prevention. PT’s have tools to improve balance, strength, mobility and the neuromuscular system.  With correct forms of action a PTs can help clients regain mobility of the joints. If our body is lacking in a range of motion it starts compensating and overloading tissues. A good example of this is lower back pain triggered by a limited range of motion in the hip.


My clients mostly work with functional movements through the use of plyometric exercises and kettlebells. We can classify movement patterns as:

  • Lifting
  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Squatting
  • Rotating
  • Walking

Restoring mobility, agility, strength and balance in those patterns brings relief and reduction of pain.

A fully mobile, strong and agile body deals better with daily stresses, works more efficiently and is more resistant to injury, just like well-oiled and maintained machinery.



*Data taken from

Register of Exercise Professionals journal.


About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.

Art in Martial Arts

​Found on Facebook,  very interesting read, From author Jonathan Bluestein’s groundbreaking book, Research of Martial Arts:
//  The Art in Martial Arts  //
There are many forms of publicly acknowledged arts in this world, such as painting, sculpting, music, theatre, poetry, etc. There are also those who claim their lifestyle or hobby to be a form of art, although it is evident that the mainstream will not deem theirs as acceptable as others.
Whether something is an art or not may be dependent on the person who is engaging in it. Professional sports are one example we can observe. These are activities where the main motivation is winning. This by itself is not an art. An athlete, however, may pursue his sport of choice in an artistic manner. Such is the case with great basketball players, whom in their symbolic movement patterns when reaching for the basket express themselves artistically in motion, also influencing the emotions of the audience. Bodybuilders can look upon their sport as a mere beauty contest, which happens to involve lifting weights as preparation.  For many of them nonetheless, Bodybuilding is a lifestyle and an art-form. One might often hear or read about bodybuilders referring to their profession as “sculpting in their own flesh”; achieving total control over the development of their muscles’ size and shape, they use resistance training, diet, and other methods to sculpt their inner-selves into their external appearance, and then expose their masterpieces for the world to see.
Traditional Martial Arts are a different animal. Instead of encouraging one to push-forth his Ego by curving its image externally, they celebrate the fall of that Ego, and promote the creation of an improved human being. It has been my observation that in sports, personality changes are often a by-product of training. Traits such as determination, fellowship, courage, patience and others may result from hard, prolonged training. In Traditional Martial Arts, one is not simply altered by practice – one constantly changes his life and personality, in a conscious endeavor, so he or she could become better martial artists. Changing oneself for the better is not merely an outcome, but a necessity posed by training in order to improve your skills physically – to attain more of one’s inborn capacity and talent.
How does such a thing come about? Simply enough, the process is rather technical, even quite physical in the beginning. (Traditional) Martial Arts are a lifelong process where one has to constantly question himself. This starts on the physical level, but is inherently rooted in our minds. I will therefore give a glimpse as to the theoretical thinking process that may accompany a martial artist.
Nothing confronts us better with ourselves than being forced to be on our own, concentrating on a single task. Such is, for instance, the practice of Zhan Zhuang. When ordered by yourself or your teacher to stand in a fixed position for a long period of time, you initially make some effort to focus on your physical body, trying to align and engage all the technicalities that are part of the stance. Soon enough though, your mind drifts to faraway places, for it takes many years of practice to truly achieve lasting focus & concentration. As you carelessly allow yourself to contain thoughts and emotions, they immediately manifest in your physical being. You were angry at the woman who left you, which has now resulted in your breath being stuck in your chest. You find the kids that mock you on the sideway annoying and wish to hit them, causing your shoulders to become tense, stopping your blood from reaching the fingers and warming your palm. You are too bothered and anxious because of your tasks at work, which shifts your attention from dealing with the pain in your legs, to thinking about your boss. You recall a loved one who had passed away, causing your facial muscles to express your sadness, preventing them from relaxing. 
All of those things which inhibit flaws in your posture are flaws in your own personality. Had you forgiven the woman who left you, cleared your heart and moved on, you could have breathed more easily, relaxing your chest and dropping your breath to the Dan Tian area. Were you more understanding towards the children who were mocking you when you were training at the park (with them doing what children tend to do), you could have loosened your shoulders, and allow for better blood-flow. Had you taken the difficulties in your professional life more lightly, you could have shifted your focus from your boss to your aching legs, and have enough concentration to loosen them up and avoid the pain. Finally making peace with the reality of your loved one having passed away would have expressed itself on your face, which could now be calm & tranquil, not revealing of your thoughts and intentions.
The only way to overcome your physical handicaps is therefore digging into the very essence of your psyche, and dealing with everything that is unpleasant. Only coming in-terms with your true being can drive improvement on the physical front (Diepersloot calls it155: “breaking up psychosomatic blockages”). In the martial arts a man can be naturally skilled to a great extent, but all possess the same limit to their natural capacity – the ability to deal with themselves. Given that one is healthy and capable, the main limiting factor for skill development will always remain the mind. For this reason, the sages of martial arts of old have realized this one truth ages ago – the art in martial arts is not found in physical confrontation – it is the art of cultivating oneself. Thus, real masters of the martial arts do not express themselves in motion, but rather their achievement of conquering that which they once were.
“When you see the Single Whip posture of an old Taiji master, what is inside of that movement? All of his life is inside…” – Master He Jinghan


Autism and Martial arts

Can martial arts help used as physical therapy for those with Autism?

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Dr. E. Paul Zehr in his article writes about the study supporting martial arts training as a great tool to improve communications.

“Training in traditional martial arts requires physical and mental focus. As contrasted with martial arts that that focus exclusively on competition and fighting, traditional here  means those practices emphasizing overall skill and character development with movement patterning. Such training is essentially a holistic synergy of mind-body coordination. Habitual practice in martial arts, particularly when structured patterns of attack and defence are repeated, can serve as an excellent tool for physical and mental training.”

full article Martial Arts Training Can Help Autism

A Simple Way to Improve Kata Understanding

For a traditional martial artist the word ‘Kata’ has a defined meaning, but for those outside of martial arts it can be a confusing term.  Kata is a Japanese word that means ‘form’.  In Karate this form is a set of movements that are performed in a sequence.  All of the movements replicate self-defence techniques without the need for an attacker to be present.

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Kata represents a codified platform of possible self-defence applications.  The process of analysing these applications is known as Bunkai.

In most Karate schools students learn Kata in order to progress through a grading system.  The most common teaching mechanism is to learn the Kata pattern first, master it, and then move onto the analysis of the movements by breaking the form up into its constituent applications.  This is a very quick way of teaching the pattern and works on the principle of “monkey see, monkey do”.

This method of teaching results in students learning very crisp moves with the consequence that their flawless techniques look more like a dance than a martial art.  It is beautiful to watch, but often you can see that they really do not appreciate or understand the Kata.  The reason for this is that when you have engraved a pattern in your brain and muscle memory without a practical application it is very difficult to then adapt those moves to a self-defence situation that would work on a resisting opponent.

This is because our brain is unable to easily make the leap from the perfectly performed technique to one that takes account of variation in the moves of an attacker.  I have found that for those students that have been taught Kata without the applications struggle to make the switch to performing a Kata that is effective in reality.


In my Dojo (another Japanese word that literally means ‘place of the way’ and is commonly used for a place of training) I adopt a different approach to teaching Kata.  I start by teaching the application so that students are shown how and why the techniques work, then we move onto the pattern.  In this way it is easier for students to visualise what they are doing at any given point in the Kata.  In this way I try to involve students in the practice of an application on a partner so that they can understand why Kata is important, which is aligned to the following Chinese proverb:

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

A drawback to this method of teaching is that the performed Kata is not always so sharp, as the techniques do not need to be perfectly executed in order to be effective.

Once students understand the Kata we can then work on polishing their techniques.  In order to do this we have three ways of performing a Kata, which are interchangeable.

  • Technically correct – to the best of the students ability.
  • Slow – with maximum tension and strength.
  • Fast – without concentration on the technique but focusing on the pattern.

Combining these three approaches stimulates the body in different ways, which helps to improve all round technique, speed and strength.

As this is my preferred way of teaching my Kata is often described as ugly or technically inferior to other systems, but I don’t mind as I know that my Kata works🙂

Posture Modulates Action Perception

Have you ever wondered if your posture influences your actions?

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Marius Zimmermann, Ivan Toni, and Floris P. de Lange did, and published a paper on the subject of “Body Posture Modulates Action Perception” on 3rd of April 2013.  It is a fascinating read on the effects that our posture has on our brain and our ability to take action.

“Recent studies have highlighted cognitive and neural similarities between planning and perceiving actions. Given that action planning involves a simulation of potential action plans that depends on the actor’s body posture, we reasoned that perceiving actions may also be influenced by one’s body posture. Here, we test whether and how this influence occurs by measuring behavioral and cerebral (fMRI) responses in human participants predicting goals of observed actions, while manipulating postural congruency between their own body posture and postures of the observed agents. Behaviorally, predicting action goals is facilitated when the body posture of the observer matches the posture achieved by the observed agent at the end of his action (action’s goal posture). Cerebrally, this perceptual postural congruency effect modulates activity in a portion of the left intraparietal sulcus that has previously been shown to be involved in updating neural representations of one’s own limb posture during action planning. This intraparietal area showed stronger responses when the goal posture of the observed action did not match the current body posture of the observer. These results add two novel elements to the notion that perceiving actions relies on the same predictive mechanism as planning actions. First, the predictions implemented by this mechanism are based on the current physical configuration of the body. Second, during both action planning and action observation, these predictions pertain to the goal state of the action.”

The full paper is available at the link below.

Body Posture Modulates Action Perception

Is Sitting Harmful to Your Health?

Modern lifestyle has forced us into spending much of the time in a sitting position. Most of us sit a lot through the day. We sit to eat breakfast, travelling to and from work sitting in a car or train/bus, resting on the chair while working. After we have finished our day giving the best at work we come back and have a deserved rest in comfortable couch in front of the TV or relaxing with a computer.

All of this is accumulating to about 15hr of sitting. This is an awful lot and it definitely is not good for our health. But what is actually happening when we are sitting for long time and why this is bad for us?

  • Lack of stability provided by our hips position via glutes and torque from lower limbs while we stand, is creating an unstable base for the spine when sitting, and results in two possibilities while sitting. Flexion (hunching over) or extension (leaning forward) position in the search for stability.
  • Due to the lack of stability our body is starting to compensate in an attempt to keep our torso upright, tightening one of the quadriceps head (rectus femoris) in the effort to bring the pelvis forward and it becomes isometrically loaded and results with time in shortening that muscle,
  • Next muscles to help with the compensation are the hip flexors (Iliacus and psoas) which are running from the front of our spine to the pelvis and pelvis to thigh bone, tensing and shortening in order to support the stability of the spine.

This shortening of the muscles will reduce our mobility in the hips not allowing us to stand up properly and resulting in further compensations by the extending lower back which might cause back pain.

Reducing our time spent in a chair is a great way to help preventing this process, so we should move around and stretch every 30 minutes, also the way we sit can reduce the stress on these muscles. We can learn how to sit more efficiently from people who meditate in the lotus position on the floor, as this set up is creating far more stability for our spine than the European way of using a chair.

  • By taking the lotus position we are we are providing more stability to our pelvis through activating the hip capsule in the end range of flexion and rotation of thigh bones,
  • Rotating our hands palms up (supine) we are creating stable position for our shoulders providing a neutral positioning for our head.
  • This set up is providing support through the pelvis and lumbar region.

It is not always possible to sit cross legged at work or when traveling to and from, but we can use this position relaxing at home after work, helping our body to get out of the shortening pattern. This is not the solution to the modern day office worker problems. The best way is to keep moving as we are not designed to sit for so long.


About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing.