Some martial arts instructors advocate placing the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while fighting.

Reasons for this that they give vary but include:

  1. To avoid biting on the tounge
  2. To help with balance
  3. To join meridians and aid the flow of chi/ki

Is there any tangible benefit to this? Where did the idea really come from and what was it's purpose?

  • 1
    I suspect the first reason is the actual one, but love to be surprised by complete and unexpected answers hehe Dec 16, 2021 at 13:22
  • It's one of those questions that probably isn't answerable, because it's asking where it originally came from, and that's going to be impossible to answer. But #1 and #3 are the right answers: avoid biting the tongue, and join the conception and governing vessels in TCM theory. I would suggest there's a 4th answer, which is to remind the practitioner to stiffen the jaw while keeping the teeth from touching. Add that to #1, and you have a pretty good answer. The TCM stuff is kind of weird and more of an esoteric tangential thing. Dec 16, 2021 at 15:18
  • Yeah TCM is a bit weird... especially the bit with meridians.
    – Huw Evans
    Dec 16, 2021 at 15:24
  • 1
    It's a defense against no-touch martial arts: youtube.com/watch?v=_Z0_n7tGnK0 at 5:27. Along with "raising one big toe and putting the other down". It's science! Dec 16, 2021 at 17:51

1 Answer 1


It's where you put your tongue to keep your breathing unobstructed. In Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, the author James Nestor discusses at length the how the jaw and mouth size of modern humans has decreased due to the invention of cooking and how the this smaller aperture gets obstructed. In reference to this specific point:

He [a dentist] explained that the first step to improving airway obstruction wasn't orthodontics but instead involved maintaining "correct oral posture." Anyone could to this, and it was free.

It just meant holding the lips together, teeth lightly touching, with your tongue on the roof of the mouth. Hold the head up perpendicular to the body and don't kink the neck...

It should be straightforward to compare other tongue positions. You should find that other positions like tucking the tip into your lower jaw, for example, result in more tension, restricted breathing, or noisier breathing.

I am not aware of any specific link between the tongue position at the roof of the mouth behind the teeth and fighting; if someone gives this advice it's also the position they will suggest for resting.

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