Monthly Archives: April 2013
Monthly Archives: April 2013
What is Ki?
(If you have not read Part 1 please read it first before you read Part 2.)
OK so you may wonder why the development of Ki has to come with breathing and particularly deep breathing. First, let’s see if deep breathing is considered as beneficial in the western world. Believe it or not, if you google you will see many related articles and sites. One site is by the motivation and awareness site called One Powerful Word and it lists 18 benefits of deep breathing:
1. Breathing Detoxifies and Releases Toxins 2. Breathing Releases Tension 3. Breathing Relaxes the Mind/Body and Brings Clarity 4. Breathing Relieves Emotional Problems 5. Breathing Relieves Pain.
6. Breathing Massages Your Organs 7. Breathing Increases Muscle
8. Breathing Strengthens the Immune System
9. Breathing Improves Posture
10. Breathing Improves Quality of the Blood 11. Breathing Increases Digestion and
12. Breathing Improves the Nervous System
13. Breathing Strengthen the Lungs. 14. Proper breathing makes the Heart Stronger.
15. Proper Breathing assists in Weight Control.
16. Breathing Boosts Energy levels and Improves Stamina 17. Breathing Improves Cellular Regeneration 18. Breathing Elevates Moods
Enough benefits? For the full article access here: http://www.onepowerfulword.com/2010/10/18-benefits-of-deep-breathing-and-how.html
It is true that the editor of this site is not a medical person. Then let’s check what the medical experts say about deep breathing. I am posting only one of them here but you can check the internet and find many other similar sites. The site I am referring to is called “Women to women”; Changing women’s health – naturally by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP. In one page she wrote, “In a 2005 review and analysis of several studies, Richard Brown, MD and Patricia Gerbarg, MD reported that yogic deep-breathing techniques were extremely effective in handling depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. These techniques can serve as an excellent adjunct to conventional medical treatment — or in some cases as a suitable substitute — in treating myriad psychological disorders, as well as eating disorders and obesity.”
If you are interested you can read the entire article here: http://www.womentowomen.com/fatigueandstress/deepbreathing.aspx
So, the modern medical society also acknowledges the benefits of deep breathing. It is a shame that it is not popular among the average people including the athletes. It is more shame that not many karate instructors emphasize the importance of deep breathing and incorporate it in their syllabus.Anyway, the Asian people knew these benefits for centuries and incorporated deep breathing in different training methods. We believe that the Ki energy must be activated and circulated throughout our body to produce the positive results and this is why the deep breathing method was used to energize the circulation. It is like when you boil the water in a tea kettle. As you heat the kettle from the bottom the water circulates up then it rotates and comes down. You can have that image with your Ki in your body. Breathing does two things. One is to assist the Ki energy to circulate (internal). The other is to give the energy source (air) to the remote parts of your body (external). The latter is done by the blood circulation but deep breathing will help it by increasing the intake of oxygen and the discharge of carbon dioxide.
OK then you would wonder where the Ki energy would travel in our body. The Chinese experts developed a meridian chart called Keiraku (経絡,) to show the exact paths and the system (see the illustration). There is much debate among the western medical personnel about the existence of such paths or routes because no physical organs are visible or detectable while the circulatory system and nervous system are. The Keiraku chart was developed by the physical experiences by the experts of acupuncture and the moxa over thousands of years.
The smooth flowing of your Ki is the key to your health and the life strength. The slow and deep breathing that is coordinated with the slow physical movement will aid and promote the circulation. I repeat that this is the reason why I have mentioned that Tai Chi chuan is one of the best methods out of all the martial arts systems (provided that you agree to include it into this category) to develop your Ki. Then you will naturally want to know about karate. Yes, it is about time to talk about our karate training but what do you think? Unfortunately, the training syllabus includes specific breathing exercise or special training for breathing only at a few Shotokan dojo. If so, then, you would think of the training that you do with your kata. Sadly again, none of the kata is taught with proper instruction pertaining to breathing and few instructors know how to harmonize breathing with the kata movements. The only visible breathing kata we have in Shotokan, namely Hangetsu, has lost its breathing method teaching for many years. Only Kanazawa sensei and I are the ones who do such teaching. n addition, this kata not only almost lost its breathing method but also the most important key point of Hangetsu dachi. I wrote about this in Shotokan Myths (Hangetsu chapter) so the readers may remember. I plan to put an instructional video of Hangetsu at Karate Coaching video site (www.karatecoaching.com) where I will explain how it should be done including a few different breathing methods.
You are familiar with Ki-ai (気合) which you do frequently in your training. It literally means to gather or collect Ki. Doesn’t this help develop Ki? How ironic it can be! The consistent or an excessive use of ki-ai, believe it or not, prevents Ki from flowing. It may be a shocking statement but it is true. A loud ki-ai means a loss of energy and it disrupts the flow of Ki as your body needs to tense. It is like a loud sound when a bomb explodes. Such sound does not aid the power but the energy is wasted as it is an escaped energy. So, if a sound comes out from a powerful technique then that is ok (like a loud sound from a dynamite explosion), but making loud ki-ai for its own sake, you are simply wasting your energy. Maybe it is ok for the children’s class so that they can learn the spirit or let their energy out as they are full of energy. I wrote this also in Shotokan Myths (Ki-ai chapter) that there was no ki-ai in ancient kata and during the training in Okinawa prior to 20th century. Even Funakoshi did not emphasize ki-ai and doing one or two ki-ai in kata was optional (you may want to re-read Karatedo Kyohan). It all changed when kata became a tournament event where some strict rules are needed to judge. Is all ki-ai bad? No, as I said earlier, it is all right if it is done correctly. It can bring an extraordinary power to a technique and I do not mean by a magical power. It is difficult to explain with the words but a correct ki-ai will act as a connecting point that brings all the muscle energy together harmoniously from the different parts of the body. This is why the tension of the body or kime must be one hundredth or even thousandth of a second. This is the true kime and it can be seen in Hakkei (発剄) which is translated only as explosive power which is supposed to be a secret or an ultimate technique of kung fu training. This is the energy used in one inch or zero inch punch. You can see my demonstration of one inch punch at Karate Coaching video.
Then, how about ibuki (息吹き) breathing used in Goju-ryu and other Okinawan styles? I have only a limited experience with Goju-ryu training so I am not an expert in this style so I welcome inputs from Goju experts. My understanding is that there are two parts to the objectives of ibuki breathing. One is used in sanchin kata which aims to coordinate body movements with the breathing. The concept is similar to Tai Chi but there is a big difference that in Tai chi the idea is to relax the muscles but in Goju a practitioner learns how to tense his body. So the blocking and punching arms in Sanchin (三戦)kata move slowly but there seems to be too much tension throughout the body that would slow the circulation of the Ki in your body. The purpose of this kata and original Hangetsu was not to aid to the circulation but maybe only to strengthen the local Ki. The other training of ibuki breathing is done while a practitioner is standing still while doing heavy ibuki breathing (fast inhaling and slow and forced exhaling). The instructor will check the practitioner’s tension by punching and kicking him pretty hard. The idea I understand is that Goju practitioner will turn the body to withstand the hits and kicks of an opponent. Obviously this concept comes from a close distance fighting method and based on the situation of fist to fist only fight. In Okinawa all weapons (swords, knives, etc.) were banned for hundreds of years so this concept could be considered. Shurite including Shorin-ryu and Shotokan was based on a long distance fighting method which means fighting against an opponent with a weapon. This is one of the reasons why Funakoshi did not adopt ibuki breathing training and de-emphasized in Hangetsu kata. The other reason was the way it is being practiced; upper body naked. Funakoshi knew that this does not go with the Japanese culture too well as only the manual labors would take their top off. He wanted to introduce karate to Japan as the martial arts of samurai or gentleman. One great benefit of ibuki breathing, however, is its training of diaphragm. During ibuki you have to pay much attention to your diaphragm and its actions. You will learn how to “push down” and “pull up” the diaphragm while you control and manage the breathing. However, this exercise is also being practiced in Yoga. I like their exercise better as it is done with much less tension. In addition, its training is incorporated with moving the internal organs (up and down or in a circular direction) along with the deep breathing. This exercise is excellent for circulating your Ki and it will help you with your health. I recommend this exercise strongly and I hope the readers will try it.
Back to kime. The extended kime or tension of the muscles is not good for the Ki flow and you can about this in Kime chapter of Shotokan Myths. To develop the Ki flow in your karate training you need to learn how to relax more while you are training. If you enjoy the tensions in your training then I recommend that you will have a separate session of breathing exercise. I explained how to do the long and deep breathing in my previous blog. There are other ways to develop Ki and I will include them in my longer version of the subject.
Now that you know how to exercise a long and deep breathing method, let me conclude this article with the highest level of benefits that can come from the strong Ki and the healthy Ki flow developed by deep breathing exercises.
You will be able to control your heart beat and blood pressure. You will have a stronger immune system. What do these mean? The result is that you will have a very healthy life. Funakoshi boasted when he was in his 70’s and early 80’s that he never got sick. He credited to his karate training which I endorse. He lived till 88 years old which was an amazing longevity in that era. He even went through the war time in Tokyo where the food was scarce and sanitation was extremely poor in 1940’s. I agree with Master Funakoshi and I will write a separate article on how karate training can produce the good health. The more I practice karate I realize how amazingly human being is created and that our potential is almost unlimited. So, wouldn’t you be happy if you simply do not get sick even when you are in your 70’s and 80’s?You can achieve that health with deep breathing and karate training.
You will also be able to control your brain waves at your will and emotional states much better than the non-practiced people. Under the heavy stress or emergency situation don’t you want to have an ability to keep calm and collected? You can do this if you can keep your brain waves at relaxed mode? By having strong Ki you will not be depressed or influenced less by the bad or sad news or incidents. This will certainly enable you to have a happier life.
Your mental alertness will improve with better breathing and stronger Ki. What does this mean? You will be able to avoid the accidents while you walk, run, ride a bike, drive and whatever the activities you may have. Out of all the accidents you may encounter an automobile accident can be the most serious one which you want to avoid the most. I will write another article specifically on this subject and share it with you in the future. The title of the article is Jidosha Dojo (Automobile Dojo), how to practice karate while you are driving your car.
I hope I covered everything I wanted with Ki and its relationship to deep breathing. This article has become much longer than I anticipated so I will stop here.I will wait for the inputs and the questions from the readers.
What is Ki? Part 1
This is a deep and complex subject. There is a large number of books written in Japanese on this subject but unfortunately the articles and the books in English or other language (other than Chinese) are rare. I have thought about writing an article on this subject for a long time but I always hesitated as it is so involved. I plan to write a longer and more comprehensive article in the future, but for this blog I will cover mainly the part that is related to karate and its relationship to breathing.
OK let us start. For many of the readers, Ki may be a mysterious and possibly dubious concept of Asia but it really is not and I wish to put some light on the subject today. In essence Ki is “the source or the energy that gives life”. In other words, it is something that is enabling us to live. As long as you are alive you have Ki in you as a living being. When you die, your Ki is believed to return to the nature. All the living things such as animals, insects and plants that are alive have their own Ki. In fact, we Japanese believe even non-life matters and objects in the nature such as stones, mountains, lakes, rivers, rain, lightening, cloud, stars, etc. have their own Ki in them. This is why we have feng shui (風水), a Chinese system of geomancy believed to use the laws of both Heaven (Chinese astronomy) and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive qi or chi. The term feng shui literally translates as "wind-water" in English. If you are interested in this art you can look up in Wikipedia that explains the history and the theories. The basic concept comes from different natural factors such as directions and things such as mountains, rivers, etc. have different energies. Different combinations have positive or negative impact to the people. Asian particularly the Chinese take this very seriously and feng shui becomes one of the major deciding factors when they choose a house. This is very popular with the Chinese people even living in the US and probably in Europe too.
Anyway, we believe everything has its own energy and its unique vibration 波動called Ki氣. This is a profound concept as the modern physics (special and general relativity) came to realize only a century ago that everything in the universe is consisted from energy and the base construction is vibrations (waves) created by the energy. Even if you do not know quantum physics you know the famous Einstein’s energy formula; E=MC2 which he announced in 1905. Mass–energy equivalence is the concept that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content. In this concept, mass is a property of all energy; energy is a property of all mass; and the two properties are connected by a constant. So the 3000 years old Chinese concept cannot be considered totally groundless or unbelievable.
Though the concept of Ki extends to everything in the universe, let us look at only the Ki that is related to us, people here in this article.
When we look at our body we find different waves and patterns. The most obvious one that we all know is our brain waves. Another one is blood pressure which changes in the general patterns throughout a day. There are other not so visible or noticeable physical conditions such as body temperature and hormone level that also fluctuate during a day. A circadian rhythm is something you will notice only when you travel a long distance covering different time zones. According to Wikipedia, a circadian rhythm is any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrain-ableoscillation of about 24 hours. These rhythms are driven by a circadian clock, and rhythms have been widely observed in plants, animals, and cyanobacteria. One’s hormone level changes by the hours and it is tied to a circadian rhythm and you may need a help from the tablets of melatonin to be able to sleep during your overseas trips. Most of these cycles and waves are closely tied to the tides, and the fact of having day and night.
So, Ki is the energy source in our body that can affect the waves and the cycles of our bodily functions. Everyone has his Ki then how do we increase it? In fact there are two ways to increase the energy in your body. One is what everyone does every day, eating and drinking. It is an outer source. This is why your diet is important to your health. The other source is internal and it is Ki that was discovered or recognized a few thousand years ago in China.. In the western world, Ki was not discovered or recognized. Instead, the area of mind was developed by the modern-day psychology notably by Freud and Jung. It came about only since mid-19th century. If you have a consistent depression your doctor will tell you that you are having some chemical malfunction in your head so he recommends you to take some medication (the upper) to lift your feelings up. On the other hand, Ki master or Ki doctor will tell you that your Ki is weak (and point out a specific area(s) of your body that is lacking the Ki or the Ki flow is slowed or blocked. He may suggest acupuncture or moxa treatment along with the breathing exercises. Those treatments will stimulate the local Ki and that results in better flow of Ki throughout your body. The Ki doctor may also give you some medication but not made of chemicals but mainly of the herbs and the natural ingredients. It is taken in a form of tea or soup.
The difference of treatments and diagnosis between two schools does not stop with mental and it is also into physical domain. When you have back pain or if you suffer from some type of allergy you can resort to the acupuncture, moxa and or herbal treatments. Acupuncture (針), is famous even in the western world. Moxa cautery or simply moxa (灸) is probably less known but it is a very popular medical treatment for many illnesses in Asia. I remember my grand-mother used to put a lot of moxa pieces on the shoulders and back to ease her headache, backache and arthritis pains. In case you do not know moxa, you put fire to the pieces that look like a bit from an incent stick. It burns very slowly and in fact it burns your skin and that stimuli gives a shock or an energy to the Ki spot that needed the energy, Ki. I tried it so I know it burns. I have also tried acupuncture and I like that better than moxa. Anyway, there is more radical medical treatment using Ki. One is Ki anesthesia and the other is Ki operation. You might have seen the video clips on these treatments. They are all related to Ki and its flow. I will not go into these particular treatments as I do not have any experience in them and my focus in this article is not Ki’s medical applications. There are some extra ordinary reports of such treatments so you can look for the video clips and other reports if you are interested.
I give a lot of credit to modern western medicine and medical accomplishments so I am not discounting or bad mouthing those treatments. To find a cancer symptom you must go to a hospital and take an X-ray. However, in the area of prevention, light illness and especially an early stage of the illness, I believe, natural treatments and Ki training may be a better choice and would make better sense. I want to emphasize that I am not a medical doctor so I am not qualified to give a medical advice or recommendation.
We believe that our body system is run by or filled with the waves and cycles. When they are off tuned or imbalanced we get in a situation or a condition called sickness or illness (both physical and mental). So the ancient people created various ways to strengthen the Ki and maintain the patterns steady and in balance. The methods include Chi-gong or Kiko (気功), Yoga, Zen meditation(座禅), Tai chi chuan or Taijiquan (太極拳) along with some kung fu styles and a few other martial arts like aikido (合気道).
I practiced Nishino style kiko in Tokyo for three years (1997 – 1999). I included the experiences I had at Nishino dojo in my recent book, Shotokan Mysteries so I will not repeat them here. I only say that the training was mainly to relax your muscles with deep breathing exercises. Let me point out that Tai Chi can be an excellent Ki building system but only when it is taught with its breathing method correctly. It is an internal martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits but moving slowly itself will not ensure the Ki building. It must be done with a proper breathing exercise in a harmonious way with the body movements. In fact, for Ki building alone Tai Chi is a better method than karate training. I will explain why I say this later.
Chi-gong, Yoga, Zen meditation and Tai chi chuan are in essence the slow-moving exercise that is closely tied to deep breathing. You may wonder why I include Zen meditation in Ki building. I can see why you wonder as there are no body actions in Zen meditation. It may seem no movements as the arms and legs are still. However, Zen meditation if done with deep breathing requires a lot of movements with your lung, diaphragm, abdominal and inner muscles. By breathing deeply you will strengthen the diaphragm and the inner muscles in the lower abdominal region which is called Tanden (丹田) which means the source of energy or storage of Ki.
(note: I will post the Part 2 tomorrow.)