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Power is defined exactly like in the wiki article, and the units are also as in the wiki article:

The dimension of power is energy divided by time.

Breathing is largely composed, as far as my understanding goes, of four parts:

  1. inhale
  2. exhale
  3. the moment between the inhale and the exhale
  4. the moment between the exhale and the inhale

So, first, at which point in this cycle can I generate the most power for a strike?

Breathing can be done, at its most basic, in two ways. There are many more ways, which is of course why I am asking this question - if there were only two, I would have already gone through all the variations and figured this out myself.

  1. belly/diaphragm breathing (which involves raising/lowering the diaphragm when you breathe in/out)
  2. chest breathing (which involves expanding the upper chest when breathing in and contracting it when you breathe out).

Other kinds of breathing involve back breathing, reverse breathing, embryonic breathing, etc. Many methods can be found quite easily by googling, if you only know the name.

I also understand that breathing, in a vacuum (no pun intended) is completely useless. It must be done within the context of the body, but if we make abstraction of the body movements, relaxation, etc, the question remains:

Which kind of breath allows one to generate the most power for striking?

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Interesting. I don't know if this can be conclusively proven... You'd have to control all factors as constant, changing only the breathing to have a proper experiment. – stslavik Apr 5 '12 at 22:11
Could you define the methods of breathing that you refer to? In particular, I've seen it argued that "diaphragm breathing" is a nonsensical term, due to the fact that all breathing in the absence of outside help is caused by the diaphragm. – Dave Liepmann Apr 5 '12 at 23:29
In that case I recommend deleting everything after "can I generate the most power?" The second question isn't really the same as the first and the terms are poorly defined. – Dave Liepmann Apr 6 '12 at 4:06
"No, I can't define the methods of breathing that I refer to" - if the terms aren't defined, then this is not an answerable question. – Bob Cross Apr 8 '12 at 1:15
I think the full answer (as stated below) really is affected by the martial art you study. I provided general principles for a still pretty general question that will point you in the right direction. – Berin Loritsch Apr 9 '12 at 16:20

Before discussing what type of breathing generates power, you have to discuss how the body generates power. And even more importantly, how martial artists apply the principles of power.

Martial arts is less interested in the physics definition of power--mainly because it is of little practical use. Typically, a martial artist is interested in the force transferred to a target. Crushing a coconut requires roughly 1600 psi (pounds per square inch), which is 100 psi more than it takes to crush a skull. The martial artist isn't interested in the physics that cause the kick or the punch to generate the transfer of force, although that is done with power.

In the realm of physics:

  • Power is force over time.
  • Moving a 400lb object 2 feet in 5 seconds requires less power than moving a 400lb object 5 feet in 0.5 seconds

In the realm of martial arts:

  • Power is how much force is transferred to the target
  • Knocking a 300lb man on his butt requires more power than knocking an 80lb child

How the Body Transfers Power

This is the short summary as applies to martial arts. You can have two martial artists that can move their hands and feet with the same amount of power as defined by physicists, but the impact on the target is different. There's a few reasons to explain this, but if we eliminate external factors and focus on the budoka (martial arts students) the difference is the stability of the budoka's base. The target has force, even if it is stationary. The target absorbs some of the force, but due to surface tension, and how stable that object is, some of the force is pushed back. The budoka with the most stable connection with the ground is going to be in a better position to overcome that push back.

There is a concept that power flows from the earth through you into the target. It sounds mystical, but also has application in a physical description. When a budoka is in a solid stance, any force applied to him will be transferred to the earth. The earth has a greater surface tension than any of us, so assuming the body is rigid, the earth in essence pushes back.

The same applies when transferring the physical power of a punch or kick to a target. The more rigid the rest of the body is, the less the push back from the target is going to overcome the force applied for all the same reasons that a good stance helps the budoka. If any of the muscles used in the technique are not tense, then it absorbs some of the push back and diminishes the force applied to the target.

How this Relates to Breathing

There is a reason why we are instructed to kiya when we strike. In order to form the kiya, our core needs to tighten quickly and force an exhale. When our core tightens, it is more rigid and it becomes a strong component in our stance. This applies to both receiving and delivering a punch. Even if you don't make an audible noise, tightening the core at the moment of impact provides a good balance between stability and freely getting the breath you need.

Different arts have slightly different emphasis, with different focus on breathing and how it applies in the spirit of the art. I'll only provide a couple of examples that I'm aware of, as I wouldn't know where to find out all the answers.

  • Tae kwan do, and similar arts focus on one-hit-one-kill. Even a block is a strike. To that end, the kiya happens with the strikes and the blocks.
  • Go Ju Ryu, and some similar arts focus on prolonging your energy to fight. Breathing becomes an important part of practice. It's blocks are more of a parry to deliver a counter attack. On the block, the budoka breaths in, and on the counter strike the budoka kiyas.
  • Jujitsu, and some similar arts focus more on grappling than strikes. The budoka needs to learn how to breath while they are under pressure, as well as how to apply the techniques.

Just to throw something else in the mix, several martial arts teach the student how to fall. Typically, when the student hits the ground then need to exhale. That exhale releases tension from the body and helps prevent injury. It is also a normal reaction to the impact of hitting the earth, so it is best to learn how to control it so that when the body hits it is not too relaxed.

Regarding where the breath comes from, and all the different methods you referenced, that is highly dependent on which martial art you are studying. There are different philosophies regarding combat, and how best to survive. Applying the breathing techniques from tae kwan do in go ju ryu will leave you in a disadvantage if the fight goes longer than you expect.

With that disclaimer, breathing through the chest (chest rises and falls when you breath) is the least ideal way to breath when we need to control force. The same thing applies with singing. If your breath comes from your gut (same as diaphragm but more descriptive of how the body feels when doing it) you will usually do much better.

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I like your answer over there. It explains rather nicely what I tried to cover as background to the real answer. I have found the more you think about different aspects of technique the less likely you will be able to do them. Active thought is much slower than muscle memory. Also, the concept of "proprioception" (understanding our own body's position) helps to make a connection of the feel of your body position with the actual techniques. Making both power (speed aspect) and technique simply automatic. – Berin Loritsch Apr 6 '12 at 16:52
This is incorrect: "Power is force over time." You're thinking of work: The correct definition is "Power = Force times velocity = Work over time." Power is also a poor choice as a physical principle due to it's lack of conservation. Try kinetic energy instead = 1/2 * mass * velocity^2. – Bob Cross Apr 10 '12 at 12:15
"Power is how much force is transferred to the target": again, you're thinking of energy. – Bob Cross Apr 10 '12 at 12:17
@BobCross, It's clear I'm not a physics student. I have slightly better understanding than a lay person, so the terms I use may be muddled from a pure physics standpoint. But from a lay person's viewpoint of what "power" means to a martial artist, I think I captured the intent well. – Berin Loritsch Apr 10 '12 at 12:30

Which kind of breath provides the most striking power?


The crucial thing for striking is coordinating a transfer of energy between the legs/hips and shoulders/arms (even when kicking, as you're trying to use the inertia/momentum of the upper body to help the hips/legs accelerate). That transfer always involves the "gut" muscles. Whether they're twisting or crunching or just adding rigidity, they must be tensed explosively to transfer maximum power... doing so will inevitably force the diaphragm up and thereby deflate the lungs - in other words, force you to exhale.

You might reasonably ask "what if you strike immediately after exhaling - you can tense the gut without the diaphragm position rising even higher - would it be as strong? Is exhaling really part of the power equation?" No it wouldn't be as strong, not so much because exhaling is itself producing power, but because relaxing muscles and letting them stretch allows a distance over which they contract - a contraction adds power most effectively if it's pulling the surrounding body parts further - there's more motion in which any slack in the system is taken up and an efficient transfer of force made, and a longer period of acceleration leading to greater eventual speed, so the contrast in body-part positions between post-inhale and tensed post-exhale is relevant.

So - to address the "which kind of breathing" part of your question... that's a bit cart-before-horse, as the important thing is the tension and power generation, and as you refine that it'll squeeze the breath out of you however it needs to, but it'll definitely involve a relaxation/tensing expanding/contracting of your core muscles around the stomach area.

Something vaguely related - I recall TKD/HP Grandmaster Sung Soo Lee, in Sydney, mentioning research that had quantified the increase in power from actually "kihapping" (yelling) at 30%. Don't take that number too literally as measuring striking power is notoriously difficult to do meaningfully, but it's presumably vaguely indicative. I personally can't explain the physiological distinctions that make yelling relevant to power... couldn't even guess where to start... but do find a yell now and then helps me move more explosively and strike harder or even tense up to withstand a strike.

Or garlic...?

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Getsugatensho? But in all seriousness, a long, controlled expelling of air from the lungs is better than a sudden puff. The reason is that you need relaxed muscles that snap like a whip on impact, rather than tensed muscles, and a sound that constricts your air passage and makes the air move faster promotes that. Which is why a "Kiai" or "Hei" is better than "Ha".

Coincidentally, it's the same rule that applies to vehicles' intake and exhaust manifolds: short and fat breaths for torque(strength) and long and thin for power(torque X RPM). I don't think the science is necessarily the same, but it's always cool to learn new things.

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