Internal aspects of traditional Karate Do

Many of my friends in Gojukai Karate Do wondered why I left the Karate Do, in order  to further study  the internal art of Taiji. I worked, as many of my friends know, for four decades within the Gojukai Organization and I was  graded years ago as a Shihan Kyoshi 7 th. Dan within the International Karate Do Gojukai Association. 

Also, since almost three decades, I have been researching the roots of Gojukai Karate Do and in consequence, I started to study about chinese martial arts; for almost one decade I have been fully engaged in  Taiji Training and stopped to do my Karate Do training. 

 Even though I don’t regularly practice Karate anymore, my aim is to share some of my results and conclusions, after a long time of researching the internal aspects in martial arts. 

I had to research many years to get to those results, which I will  present now in this essay. 

Open and Close 

To open and close a movement is an almost lost treasure of  karate-do. In order to explain it in detail, I have to start with a well known symbol, because it includes more, than you can say with words and I have to ask you to keep the Yin/Yang Symbol in mind and to guide your intention and awareness towards the understanding and the meaning of it, even then, if you think, you might have already understood it, to some degree.

The Yin/Yang Symbol is the base of the nature as well as it expresses a contrastive relationship that obtains between two or more things and therefore also about the function of a movement in Karate Do or other moving arts.

There is no „Yin“ (Ju) without „Yang“ (Go), there is no „Yang“ (Go) without „Yin“ (Ju), „Yin“ (Ju) and „Yang“ (Go) are smoothly exchanged in each motion. Interesting is to see, that the Japanese Karate Do starts with „Go“ followed by „Ju“. In China, the „Yin“ (Ju) is mentioned always before „Yang“ (Go). That is maybe also a hint, what is more emphasized… “Yin“ is the receptive (dark)  and „Yang“ (bright)  the active principle

 

 Just like the development of the everlasting universe, in which we find the harmony of „Go“ (positive) and „Ju“ (negative), the way of Goju School Karate Do should be a development of the splendid harmony of free endless Martial Arts and elegant spirit“ 
 Gogen Yamaguchi Kaisso                                                    

 

Before I’m able to give you some of the above-mentioned traditional details, you have to be sure that the following information about reverse breathing is well understood.

Reverse breathing

First of all, we have to learn about the reverse breathing. In Karate it is essential to learn it. Maybe you know it already, but I would like to ask you, to be 100% sure, that you really understand it and that you can apply it in motion, otherwise you miss the whole point. 

Don’t expect a sudden change, it is a process to get used to it. At first, it seems like it needs strength to compress and lift the Dantien, when you breath inn, but this is just because we are not used to breathe like this. After a while, it will be a normal way to breathe and you will be able to switch from normal to reverse breathing instantly. 

Please also refer to the below drawing. 

 

Breathe in: 

  • You lift up the energy from the ground and from the perineum slightly.
  • You lift up the dantien slightly
  • You pull in the abdomen
  • You round the lower back, by compressing the abdomen backwards to the Mingmen point, which is located on the spine, opposite the navel. (in between L2 / L3)
  • While breathing inn, the energy of the abdomen (prebirth Chi) combines, with the oxygen (postbirth chi), which you breath in at the diaphragm. 

Breathe out: 

  • You release the compressed abdomen.
  • You lower the diaphragm
  • Your abdomen is releasing to the normal position.
  • The dantien is pressed downwards. (it depends in what situation. You can just release it, when you do soft breathing exercises, but you push it downwards, when you do for instance a strike and a kiai)
  • The sudden lowering of the dantien sends the energy to the sole of the feet and bounce back to the dantien and the opening channels.

Be careful, that you don’t use too much strength. After regular practice, it will be an almost natural way to breathe. The intention to do it, will be enough to start to breathe like this

Once you are familiar with the reverse breathing, you can start to connect this breathing to the closing and opening of each movement. 

Basically, you can say, that everybody does to a certain degree the opening and closing (because the positions in Goju Ryu Karate Do are made for it), but without a conscious training and step by step learning, you will not fully understand the value of it.

In the past, the Sanchin Danchi showed, how the closing and opening is done.  Today in modern Karate, the Sanchin Dachi is done mostly in such a way, that it looks strong from the outside.

But in Sanchin Dach,  you have two opposite functions, close and open, only a few karate masters understand  the deeper meaning of it. 

Traditional karate training could bring back these bits of informations into the current karate practices. The generated power of a correct opening and closing is using internal forces (pressures) rather than muscles strength.

You close the movement, when you breathe inn, and you open the movement, when you breathe out. 

 

 

Now you can connect the breathing to the internal closing and opening,

Most important will be, that you start the closing and the opening with the Dantien area. It means, that you pull with the movement of the Dantien the whole body through the elastic chi tissue, which will be formed more and more, when you do it with you consiousness. 

In details, the closing is done, by pulling your connectiv tissues, such as 

  • the faszias, but also
  • the tendons and
  • the muscles,
  • the Yin Meridians as well as
  • the chi tissues

towards the dantien, which is slightly lifted up. The channel for the closing starts at the big toe and ends at the thumb. The channels for closing are mainly in front of the body.

You have 3 Bows to use, the arms, the legs, and the spine.

  • The bow controlling the feet are connected at the base chakra (Perineum),
  • The bow of the arms are connected at the chakra of the chest. (heart chakra)
  • The bow  controlling the spine is connected to the mingmen point/Dantien.
  • Big toe
  •  inside the leg 
  • perineum
  • lower dantien
  • chest
  • inside the arms
  • thumb. 

While you breathe inn, you pull the whole connective tissue from the big toe to the thumb towards the dantien, as you would wear a suit and as you could suck inn energy to the Dantien. At the time, when you breath in and lift the dantien slightly and try to make the lower back flexible through the mingmen point. The whole suit reacts at the same time. (at first, you have to visualize it, later the breathing will more and more pull on the suit)

Important fact: try to feel your body as a mass of elastic tissue, rather than a solid body with bones and muscles.


On the pictures, the closing and opening are shown as inside (close) – outside (open)  force, but by using the closing/opening correctly,  the energy is a spiraling force as you see on this traditional drawing.

After having closed the movement correctly, you have to shift the awareness to the Yang Channels as described below. While you breathe out, you shift internally the intention to the connection of the little toe to the little finger. Before you really open the whole Channel, your intention goes from the Dantien to the sole of the feet, from where the force, due to the pushing down of the dantien, is rebounced back to the Dantien and from there to the opening channels, which are connected on the back as well as outside the legs.

  • Little toe
  • outside the legs
  • perineum
  • dantien
  • lower back
  • point between the shoulder blades
  • outside the arms
  • little fingers.
                                                                                                                                                                                 From „Go“ to „Ju“ or from „Ju“ to „Go“ there should be freedom and ease of change in movement.    
 Gogen Yamaguchi, Kaisso

At the beginning, to work in such a way seems very complicate, but after a while you will feel it as very simple, after being used to the new way of breathing and when you can apply the understanding of how you activate the closing and opening channels.

In order to learn the new way, you must switch the intention and the awareness to the breathing and the closing and opening channels and not simply repeat motions.

Like that, the quality of the motion will be changed. Each motion must follow that process of closing and opening. If you don’t do it, of course you can still do fast and powerful technics, but those technics will always rely on the power of your muscles and the motion will not be as smooth as when you do the closing and the opening.

In older age, it’s more and more difficult to use the muscles in the way, as you can do it, when you are young. With the closing/opening, you can do smooth and powerful motions, also when you get older….

Sanchin Kata and Tensho Kata are the tools to learn it.

Don’t rush, because it is a completely different movement from what you probably do now.

The first step is to be sure of the reverse breathing, then you can shift the awareness to the body suit – the channels to close and open, then you connect the Yin and Yang, as you see it on the Taiji Symbol, there is a constant change, without interruption!
Each opening will have a closing within and each closing will have an opening within.

The change of power is generated just with the Dantien, but the forces are transmitted with the expansion of the whole-body suit.

What it means to work with forces, rather than working with muscles, you can clearly see on animals. There movements seems to be so easy and effortless. This has mainly to do, because they work with the forces, they contract by closing and expand with the opening the whole elastic body suit.

There are many more aspects of a harmonized motion, but those aspects, like the state of mind, the mind intention, the awareness or the internal energy, are subjects to other articles….

Questions / Seminars:

© Walter Seeholzer / www.walter-seeholzer.ch / walter.seeholzer@icloud.com

Photos:

  • Yamaguchi Gogen, Kaisso by Walter Seeholzer
  • Walter Seeholzer, Kyoshi Shihan

Illustrations:

  • per instructions of the autor ©

References and Illustration of the leopard: •

  • Mike Sigman, Colorado

Eine Antwort auf „Internal aspects of traditional Karate Do“

  1. Thank you for such an interesting and unique article. However I have a few questions, if I may. The first is about reverse breathing. From the breathing diagram (with yellow being inhale, and blue being exhale), when the abdominal is contracted during inhalation, how do we know that the diaphragm won’t be pushing up, instead of down as shown in the diagram, and limit the air intake? I feel that when contracting the abdominal, the internal organs would be squashed and the diaphragm would be pushed up since the squashed internal organs would have to go somewhere, hence the lung capacity would be lessen, making breathing less efficient? The second question is when you refer to the animal movement, how do we know that they don’t think about using muscles and focus on the „force“ instead? Moreover, do animals do reverse breathing when they run? Thank you for your time.

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