Mill Bay Traditional Martial Arts Academy
Mill Bay Traditional Martial Arts Academy
Whenever someone new comes in the Dojo it is usual to have the first part of the class focus on learning about their center. Without knowing your center point it becomes very difficult to know where to begin with any of the movements or breathing concepts in traditional martial arts. This center point is just a couple inches below the navel or belly button. Called the dan tien in Chinese, hara in Japanese, and in Yoga known as the sacral chakra. This specific spot on the body is of supreme importance to Karate, Tai Chi Chuan, Jujutsu, Aikido, and every other traditional martial art. So why is this spot of such importance, well first it’s best to establish just what all these arts and exercises are designed to achieve.
The basic premise from a purely physical standpoint is to focus on the idea of achieving the maximum potential the human body is capable of in terms of balance, overall strength and endurance, as well as feats of awareness. This pursuit of achieving the perfection of the possibilities of the body is where Yoga, Tai Chi Chuan, and Karate all begin from. It is also why the hara/dan tein/sacral chakra is of such importance.
It sounds logical then to say that in order to achieve the highest potentials of the human body a person must develop all the movements and expressions of their body to it’s maximum levels, and to do that all the movements must be coordinated to work together as one powerful fluid whole. This is why the martial artist is constantly striving to connect the turning of their ankles with the twisting of their torso and to carry the movement through into the rotation of their forearm, and finally ending with the clenching/snapping/twisting/pushing/punching of their hand. It is an old saying that to have a strong punch you need a strong leg. What connects the legs to the arms is the torso and the hara is the center of exchange point between the two.
Throughout history there has been numerous warrior castes. The Sparta, Maori, Inca, and Norse peoples all had powerful warriors in a variety of expressions and fighting skills. Yet they all had the same basic body movements to work with. They all had to obey the limitations and dynamics of having two arms and two legs connected by a torso with a head on top. No other way is possible. This knowledge then, of how to properly transfer kinetic energy through the entire body via the hara must have been known by all highly trained warriors throughout time. It is simply the product of seeing things as they are. You can see this when a baseball pitcher throws their pitch, or a hockey player shoots a slapshot. They have to use the torquing of their hips in perfect coordination with their arms and legs. And whether they are aware of it or not they also have to coordinate those motions through their hara.
In Karate and other traditional martial arts this observation of the hara being the center of all powerful physical movements is only one facet of the importance of that spot. The hara is also considered to be the center of ones qi flow and therefore the center of ones entire being.
In all traditional martial arts the idea of qi, or chi or in Sanskrit prana all refer to a kind of energy that has numerous characteristics and descriptions. The most common theme however is to call it “life force energy” as it tries to identify the very energy of life itself. A person with great qi is healthy and full of vitality while a person who’s ki is low is likely ill or at risk of disease. The masters of old recognized the relationship between physical health and ki and so designed their arts to also increase a persons level of ki as it flows throughout the body. This increase of ki flow was found to also dramatically increased the power and abilities of the the person’s self defense. Something anyone can come to know personally but only as a result of ones own training and effort.
The increasing of ki as it flows through the body is done by a specific kind of breathing technique. In the total scope of what’s available there are dozens of various breathing techniques that all claim to increase vital energy but they all start with, and are based on, deep diaphragm breathing.
If you take your hands and connect the thumbs and align the fingers to cross over each other sort of triangle, then place yours thumbs in your belly button the place where the fingers cross (it should be straight below the navel) is your hara. Sit in a comfortable position or if standing make sure your feet are about shoulder distance apart, then breathe into this spot. Focus on keeping a straight spine in whatever position your in and breathe deeply into your belly or hara. Feel the incoming air expanding that area like a balloon while your exhalation contracts the stomach inwards with a mindful and subtle flexing of the abdominal muscles. Breath in through your nose and out through the mouth allowing the tongue to rise to the roof of your mouth on the inhalation and then lower to the floor of your mouth on the exhalation. Do this while releasing all tension in the body and you will begin to cultivate ki. This kind breathing is the starting point for all physical body-mind meditations like Karate or Yoga but also for the sitting meditations of Zen and Taoism and all the masters of these arts say to breathe like this all the time.
By breathing like this a person can develop the ability to alter their state of consciousness. Past studies have shown practitioners of Zen and Yoga display an alpha wave activity during periods of meditation. A martial artist develops the alpha wave state in the practice of Kata but all are linked to breathing with the hara. So we come full circle and see that this center point has many layers of purpose and meaning. It really is a critical concept for anyone seeking to develop themselves physically or spiritually.
By simply being aware of your center you gain a position to grasp the power of your total being and you then will have seen the goal of the martial arts practitioner. To seek for total perfection of their entire being is is an infinite path to follow as perfection cannot be achieved but only sought after. So Like the beautiful mandala art of Buddhism it all begins with the center point and spirals out to infinity suggesting that to develop a relationship with your center allows the universe to follow.
What’s In A Name; What Shorinji Ryu Karate Do Means In this article I will explain the full title of Shorinji Ryu Karate Do in its meaning and purpose. First a brief mention of how important the use of traditional calligraphy writing is when the names of martial arts are considered. Unlike western writing systems… Continue Reading
When the modern belt system was introduced to Martial Arts in the early 20th century two belt categories were developed. One was the colored belts from white to brown (called Kyu Belt ranks) and the other was the various levels of black belts (called Dan ranks). These terms in a basic sense simply refer to rank or… Continue Reading
“It is a self defense exercise that can make your body strong. In the use of this exercise, there are a hundred benefits without one harm. -Ts’ai Chueh-ming It is common these days to see pictures of people doing Tai Chi or Tai Chi inspired postures alongside advertisements and newsletters in various health publications. Tai Chi… Continue Reading
“Do not strike others, and do not allow others to strike you. The goal is peace without incident. – Chojun Miyagi In martial art training the question inevitably comes up of how teaching people to be so skilled at combat can be a method of instilling compassion and mindfulness. The idea can seem almost counter intuitive.… Continue Reading
Just over a week ago the years first new years buds poked their way out on the local ornamental cherry trees. This along with a few other flowers popping up has shown us that spring has just begun it’s cycle of growth. Spring has always been one of my favorite times of the year as I really… Continue Reading
” A jug fills drop by drop.” Gautama Buddha Many years ago I was brought by my Mother to a spiritual talk at a Dharma center in a small town on Vancouver Island called Duncan. My concerned and caring parent wanted to expose me to deep thinkers and sources of wisdom as I was a wee… Continue Reading
It can be reasoned that in our ancient past there were moments when our human sense of self-awareness was crystallized for the first time. It would have likely started with some sort concept of self and that which is not-self. From there it would have grown into other fundamental aspects of our experiential reality. There… Continue Reading
It was Aldous Huxley who once said “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” A quote often referred to when talking about music but really it is talking about something else. It is the idea of the silent and inexpressible. As Mr. Huxley cannot describe just what that indescribable thing… Continue Reading
A warrior must cultivate the feeling that he has everything needed for the extravagant journey that is his life. What counts for a warrior is being alive. Life in itself is sufficient, self-explanatory and complete. Carlos Castenada from the Teachings of Don Juan In Japanese Zen tradition there is a term called… Continue Reading