Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Only Things I Really Teach Are How to Breathe And How To Walk

I spend a lot of time writing about the more philosophical aspects of budo, but there is a concrete area that I believe is close to universal in the martial arts.


So you’ve decided to learn a martial art, and by some cosmic mischance you end up in my dojo.  You’ll probably be disappointed when I tell tell you that the only things I really teach are how to walk and how to breath.  This is ridiculous, since everyone over the age of 18 months can do both, and by the time you wander into my dojo you’ve probably got 20+ years of experience doing them, right?


You probably think you’re pretty good at both. I beg to differ.  You’re probably lousy at them.  Breathing and walking are the foundations of all movement in the martial arts, but almost nobody spends enough time practicing them.   The only people I know who spend time practicing breathing correctly are wind musicians and vocalists.  I don’t know anybody who practices walking properly.  Everyone just assumes that they walk and breathe properly because they do both all day long.


The truth is that most of us have no clue how to breathe properly, and we walk like gorillas with leg cramps.  Good breathing is fundamental to everything we do, and yet most of us have no idea how to do it.   Ask a tuba player or flautist how to breath and you will get a simple but valuable education.  Breath comes from moving the diaphragm but I can’t tell you how many martial artists I see breathing by moving their shoulders up and down or flexing their chests.  That’s bad technique, and if you can’t breathe properly you wind up out of breath and unable to do much of anything.  You certainly won’t be able to coordinate and integrate your body into a single unit.  It will stay a disparate bunch of parts until you learn to breath.


You can’t really be balanced if you’re not breathing properly.  And if you’re not balanced, you’re not walking and moving properly.  And if you you’re not walking and moving properly, you won’t be able to do anything that is taught in the dojo.


Musicians spend a lot of time working on proper breathing.  I teach students to understand what proper breathing feels like by having them lie on the floor on their backs.   In this position you cannot breathe with your shoulders or your chest.  You have to breathe with your diaphragm.  Lying on their backs, students can put their hands on the stomachs and really know what it feels like to breath properly from the diaphragm.  Then they can get up and practice replicating the experience while standing.  At first they have to feel with their hands if they are using their diaphragm and stomach properly, and after awhile they will know the feeling well enough to recognize it without sticking their hands on their bellies.  To check for shoulder breathing they can look in a mirror. If they see their shoulders move when they breathe, they know they are doing it wrong.  


It takes quite a while for this method of breathing to become habitual.  After decades of bad breathing habits, proper breathing does not come naturally.  The body will default to whatever habits it has developed over the years, so it will take conscious intervention to correct and ultimately change the habits.   Initially someone learning to breathe won’t notice they are breathing wrong except in class when it is consciously called to their attention.  Over time, as they become more familiar with the exercise and comfortable with the feeling, they will start to notice outside of practice when they aren’t breathing properly and self-correct.  Eventually proper breathing will become their default breathing method.


That’s a lot of work just to learn a different way of breathing than the one that has served just fine since you were born.  So why bother?  First, diaphragmatic breathing is more efficient than chest breathing or shoulder breathing.  Your lungs expand more so you can take in more oxygen with each breath.  Second, diaphragmatic breathing keeps the body together in a single unit.  To breathe from your shoulders or chest you have to loosen the connections between your shoulders and chest to the muscles in your back and abdomen so they can float up and out to let your lungs expand and take in oxygen.  In doing so you are shifting your balance up and out.  Breathing from your diaphragm doesn’t involve shifting chunks of your body around.  Your stomach is built to expand and contract without changing your balance or rearranging big pieces of you around.  


Once you can breathe properly, you’ll be able to relax into your body more effectively.  When you stop throwing your chest and shoulders around with each breath you can learn to connect with the ground through your legs and feet.  As I said above, you can’t really be balanced if you’re not breathing properly.  And if you’re not balanced, you’re not walking and moving properly.  And if you you’re not walking and moving properly, you won’t be able to do anything else that is taught in the dojo.


So now you’ve learned to breathe properly, and hopefully we’ve got you standing still in a nice, relaxed, stable posture.  Now it’s time for the tough part: learning to walk.  Just because you can get from place to place without falling over every third step does not mean you are good at walking.  Breathing can be done while lying down and standing still.  Walking requires coordinating everything you’ve learned about breathing while actually moving your whole body.  This is tougher than it sounds, and since even the Mayo Clinic has a page about it, I’ve discovered I’m not the only one concerned about this.


The basic walking method for naked house apes like us is to extend a foot and then fall forward onto it.  Watch a toddler who has just learned how to walk and this becomes very clear.  They really are falling forward and catching themselves with every step.  This is fine if you are 18 months old and just figuring out how to get around on 2 legs, but if you want to do anything more than that you’ll need to refine the technique a bit.


The two basic walking movements in the arts I do are ayumiashi and suriashi (roughly walking feet and sliding feet).  Both of them require moving as a connected whole without throwing your balance into the air with each step.  Start with the balanced, relaxed posture you have when breathing properly.  Your head is up (the Tai Chi guys describe it as feeling like it is hanging from a thread, which is such a good description that I’m stealing it).Your back is straight and relaxed, your shoulders are not slumped forward and your back isn’t pulled into an excessive arch.  Everything sits naturally above your hips and your hips sit comfortably atop your legs without any tension required to stay there.


Now move your leg forward driving it from the hips and without swinging your hips forward.  You’re hips should stay under your shoulders.  Shoulders and hips should stay square and not rock from side to side or swing forward from right to left with each step.  Your foot should not be so far forward that your weight comes crashing down on it.  The transfer of weight should be smooth as the foot rolls from heel to toe.  This is ayumiashi, regular walking, and just like breathing, it can take a bit of practice to make consistent even when you’re not thinking about it.


Suriashi is a sliding foot movement where the ball of the foot never comes more than a hair’s breadth off the floor (I was going to talk about the thickness of a sheet of rice paper, but that’s been done).  This is not normal walking.  This method of walking has an important place in training and learning to move for budo though.  To manage it, bend your knees slightly, sink your hips a little and extend your right foot forward a bit.  This time, instead of reaching out with the front foot as in ayumiashi, drive your whole body forward as one unit by pushing with the left leg and the ball and toes of the left foot while keeping your body stable and balance over the right leg.  Do this all the way across the room.  No do it with the left foot forward.


Now, since I know you were holding your breath while you focused on doing the movements properly, try doing them while breathing.  Once you can breath properly and walk correctly you’ll be ready to start learning budo.  When you move and breath well your body becomes a single whole, with every part of you supporting every other part in accomplishing whatever you set out to do.    If you aren’t breathing and walking well, you aren’t balanced and you don’t have a solid platform upon which to build techniques.  Instead you have a base like a pile of sand.  You can’t learn to do anything budo related until you have a solid foundation that doesn’t rock like a sailboat in high seas.


Now that you now longer move like a pregnant musk ox we can start doing fun stuff like swinging swords and sticks and throwing people.  None of these work when you are off balance and huffing to get a breath.  All of them require a body and breath that are fully integrated and working to support each other. If any part of the body or breath are out of whack it will be readily apparent to your teacher, and eventually to you to.





26 comments:

Unknown said...

> The only people I know who spend time practicing breathing correctly are wind musicians and vocalists. I don’t know anybody who practices walking properly.

Dancers and acrobats, perhaps - for the same reason singers and wind musicians practice breathing.

-E-

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

Hello. Nice article but you're generalizing if you think you're the only one that have been practicing true walking and breathing in martial arts. I haven't seen your video of your definition of walking and breathing in action in regard to martial arts. I've been training in the martial arts for 30 years. Walking is in essence the simplest and misunderstood part of human movement in relation to martial arts, which are one and the same instead of posture stepping or doing some kind of special stepping and sliding method. Here is what "true natural walking" in martial arts looks like to share with you and the world since I'm from St Louis,MO...a "Show Me State": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9B8vVrON7A&list=UUJ4b-Gx2PbCTSP9-FeMWcnQ

The Budo Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

You realize this is my teacher right ;) and is the head of Fudoshin ninpo ryu dojo?

Tim said...

The one who did the clip is none other than mr. rogers or fudoshin ninpo ryu dojo that you site for you example. of what you are talking about in application ;)

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

Hello. Thank you for the clip. Btw...that's me on the link you're sharing. Please with respect give credit on your article where it's due. Thank you.

The Budo Bum said...

Sorry about that. I copied the wrong link in. It should have been this one

The Budo Bum said...

And, trying for the third time
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NsrGI8AQP4&list=PLF20891AED8E8E014

The Budo Bum said...

Clearly my blogger-Do needs some work. Sorry about the mix-up with the links.

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

No harm done. ;). Just give credit where it's due. Thank you. My name is Llermo Rogers.

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

That link to a clip you just put up....is posture stepping. It's a good start to walking but it's not walking.. A poor example.

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

Personally, the first link you just removed was the exact clip you should be using in regard to walking and martial arts...just give credit where it's due is all. The kenjutsu clip you're showing does in no way give any example in walking, except posture stepping with slide steps.

Tim said...

Walking is total body weight in motion with no interruptions if one looks closely at the clip it is good posture stepping, but that is all it is. If it were walking it would be more fluid and the movements would be smaller more fluid. Also there is a difference in rhythm and timing.

The Budo Bum said...

Gentlemen, clearly I disagree with you. The kendo video is an excellent example of suriashi. In budo, I'm not a fan of "natural" movement. I prefer optimal movement, which is never natural. Neither suriashi nor ayumiashi are natural in their applications in budo. They lower the hips and help connect one to the ground, making you more stable and powerful.

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

You're clearly making my point without you realizing it. Anyways, their way isn't wrong...it's a very small part from walking. I've done the lowering of weight at the very moment of execution (whether it be weapon or natural body weapons) at a phase of my training...a vast sea full amount never leave that phase. I've fortunately transformed to natural walking where everyone should be. It's obvious that no one really knows the true power of natural walking. When you step..from a natural walking...your weight is already in motion..especially when you naturally step down from normal walking is all you need. If this hasn't sunk in, then you're not open to this possibility to the next great plateau. I may someday write about walking but for now my clips will speak for themselves. Good day.

chupacerveza said...

I would argue that you also teach something else that is even more often over-looked and under-appreciated: falling! I'm a firm believer that the world's aging population would benefit greatly from learning how to fall down better!

Best regards and thank for the lesson!
--Robert

kbs1138 said...

In the video from the Show Me state post, I didn't see much show me, just a brief description of "natual walking" whatever that's supposed to be and just stepping during technique that varied quite a bit and calling it "just walking" ... not an actual demonstration of walking. The Japanese have some very clearly defined methods of optimal walking including the two mentioned by Peter. They are not the only ones that think there are betters ways than "just walking" which is usually some form of heel to toe movement.

"That’s because walking isn’t just walking. There are ways of walking that are more or less effective, more or less efficient, more or less healthy and strong." How to walk barefoot

kbs1138 said...

and then this is rather interesting in terms of optimal walking methods in martial arts and in the culture...

"Some scholars here argue that from ancient times until perhaps 150 years ago, virtually all Japanese learned to walk in a special style called the namba, in which the right arm and leg swing forward at the same time, and then the left arm and leg swing forward."
Walk This Way, or How the Japanese Kept in Step

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

Yes...Namba isn't walking...just shows you how to coordinate your arms and legs together as one unit especially when you're executing techniques. Namba is a small part of walking. Feldenkrais system is a better route to go than namba.

Maybe you should make a video clip on walking in terms of your criticism about the walking I demonstrated. I demonstrated it quite clearly. If you don't know how to walk naturally in terms of combat than your comment alone indicate you have no clue about natural walking.

Btw...hiding behind a new blogger name to make your criticism isn't helping your point.

Make a natural walking video providing you understand what I was teaching on the clips and demonstrate walking in combat whether your doing locks,throws,punches as I've shown quite clearly with walking. If you can't do it and/or make another wise comment....then we all know you're just all talk and your support would be good.

kbs1138 said...

Btw .... Before you get off on paranoid track, I've a new blogger identity, because google forced it on me to comment instead of allowing me the use of my old youtube account.

The fact remains, in terms of walking, you didn't really illustrate anything. A better title would have been "Footwork in Budo Taijutsu".

but then apparently everything but what you advocate is "a small part of walking" even though you really haven't demonstrated anything but your typical technical footwork (while in between walking from point a to b fairly obviously off balance and sloppy).

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

You obviously didn't watch it all the way through for I was demonstrating between the two: posture stepping(the technical part) and walking..lol.

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

As being off balance and sloppy....do you have any youtube clip to show all of us walking?

kristin raine said...

Fudoshin...hello....i've watch your youtube clips numerous times. Personally, you're not off balance and definitely not sloppy. Idk what this guy's problem unless he's smoking something. You're definition and demonstration of walking is crystal clear. I've studied and practiced both namba and feldenkrais...you're right that both are a very small part of walking. The article above is okay but the clip don't go hand in hand with the article. Don't sweat thus guys.....he obviously have no clue. He's just blabbing his mouth and no youtube clip to back it up.

Fudoshin Ninpo Dojo said...

I agree. I wrote an article on being an uke and how important relaxation is in order to learn how to fall. I wrote it in 1995. I may do a youtube clip on it sometimes.

Aad de Danser said...

> I don’t know anybody who practices walking properly.

Welcome to the world of Argentine tango, where walking is the ultimate skill.

Here's a (highly rhythmical) example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cfYDpB_kOg