Breathing & It’s Importance In Kung Fu – What are we talking about?
In Kung Fu and other martial arts of almost any type (especially those who openly connect their lineage to Buddhist meditative practices throughout China, India, & Japan) breath signifies the beginning and ending. It is a connection to the most basic needs of our bodies as well as our minds. When we first awake our body reaches out for that first gasp of life giving oxygen and as we expire we release that final breath. In fact the breath is so
important that even after we outwardly expire the life sustaining oxygen is inwardly available in our blood to perpetuate our survival in extreme cases (CPR is an example of it’s use on the technically deceased).
It was the significance of the breath and it’s influence on the body that ancient masters of Kung fu would focus exercise on and hone over time. Testing and changing how to breathe in order to find the most effective action to best influence overall health and strength of the body. These masters saw early on that exercises done without breathing did not have the same value and effectiveness they were designed to have.
These martial masters realized that breathing connects the conscious with the unconscious parts of self. They theorized this based on breath’s dual ability to operate within both the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. We can all understand that our heart will continue to beat regardless of how much attempt to will it to do otherwise. This being nature’s natural defense to man’s momentary laps of judgment regarding self survival. However, equally important to life is the act of breathing. A fact that was not lost on original martial arts masters. Thus they found a bridge between the parts of their mind that are instinctual and reactionary and those thoughts that are purposeful and voluntarily induced. Breath not only unites the body and the mind but nourishes the brain and it’s connected extremities.
It is the purposeful breathing combined with specific stances and motion that martial arts masters have focused on for hundreds of years. These same techniques of controlling breath that also expanded to other forms of exercise as well. Having had large influences in such activities as Yoga, Pilates, meditation, and prayer.
Breathing & It’s Importance In Kung Fu – Martial Purpose
To understand the martial purpose of breathing in Kung Fu we first have to analyze how we breathe. Both in what we do day to day and what we are to focus on as we train.
Ever watch a baby breathe? Take time and see how they cry. Stomach expanding fully for each deep life giving breath. As we age, this natural involuntary breathing is exchanged for deep chest cavity heaving. It is this latent stage of confined breath (as the ribs act like an iron cage around the lungs) that we strive to avoid when training. Instead the focus is on inhaling through the abdomen and expanding outward before contracting from top to bottom during exhaling.
This is a key component in the accumulation of internal forces. The intent in our breath is to strengthen the core/midsection with the purpose of creating a more healthy foundation to train. Healthy/strong core aids in the a Kung Fu practitioners balance, power, and defense. It should be the goal of the student to constantly train their breathing until such time as they have a set of “armor” around their vital organs. The act of training the midsection through breathing can even replace modern abdominal exercise if done correctly and consistently.
This attention to controlling the breath is also what connects the conscious acts of training to the unconscious or reactive part of the brain. By correctly breathing (combative breathing when applying techniques) while training our brain is more intently involved into assimilating motions into our memory. Thus making reactions automatic rather than voluntary. Increasing a martial artist’s speed and as such making them more apt at self defense should a real situation present itself.
Breathing correctly provides a martial artist with all of the foundation necessary to be healthier in body, faster in reaction, and more in control of their techniques. It is for this reason that any student serious about performance and health should focus intently on melding the movements of martial arts with the act of correct breathing. For the best results all breathing exercises for such a purpose should be by the direction of a trained teacher as there are physical pitfalls to doing such intense training incorrectly.
Breathing & It’s Importance In Kung Fu – The True Goals of Health
For the student who has no martial intent there is still much to be gained by practicing Kung Fu and learning it’s breathing techniques. The motions in martial arts are not to be transferred literally to self defense. This is the falsehoods created in Shaw Brothers type films during the golden age of Kung Fu Cinema. As fun as those fantasies are – the true application of motions differs from the training.
The slow, long motions that we teach at Seattle White Tiger Kung Fu are what could be considered foundation motions of internal styles of Tai Chi. Developed with martial application in mind but with the true goal of strengthening muscles and tendons. Increasing the bodies blood flow to aid in healing and repair as we age. They are not solely for fighting but can help assist in preventing decay with age and increasing flexibility. Proper breathing and movement provides added blood flow to vital organs and aids in digestion, incontinence, bladder and prostate problems can be benefited greatly by the increased circulation induced by correct breathing.
For the New Practitioner of Kung Fu & it’s Breathing Techniques
Remember that it will take time to master any program/set/form. Developing skill takes time and with it a lesson of patience and perseverance. Do not punish the body immediately with training. Do so slowly and enjoy each step on the path to greater health so that you may be able to train and still practice in the days that follow a long session.