I had conversation with one of the advanced students in our dojo and he strongly suggested when I'm blocking (being uke) I should take one deep breath before I attack the nage and as soon as I have contact, I should be slowly and continuously exhaling. Then our sensei pitched in and said that I should leave little bit of breath in, but I was not sure what a little bit was. This is suppose to apply in reverse as well.

Please let me know if you have any other suggestions on how to handle breath while training, especially when falling hard to the ground and rolling (and if there is something you can do by yourself to develop better breathing habits).

  • I think the last part of your question ('and if there is something...') makes it rather broad (list question). What exactly are you looking for?
    – THelper
    Jan 13, 2014 at 8:34
  • Back when I read the Bruce Tegner books as a kid, they recommended about a third of your capacity as the "little bit" to hold onto. Seems a decent starting point to me. Mar 6, 2014 at 13:33

4 Answers 4


Well you're talking about the specifics of when and how to breathe, but maybe you really should be asking about why one breathes and what are you trying to do with it.

Generally speaking, when one exhales, this creates tension in the abdominal area. At the same time that your abdomen is tensing, you will also create tension in the entire core (the abdomen, the obliques, the lower back, the lats, etc.). A tense, strong core holds the back in place, which in turn connects the upper body with the lower body and allows them work together so that you can put your entire body into your punch, block, or whatever other technique you're doing.

This doesn't come naturally. This is something you're training to do. Over time, it will feel like it's natural.

Breathing out serves another purpose as well. It allows you to take hits to your solar plexus. If you've ever been hit there, you know that it's serious stuff. If you get hit there right as you're inhaling, it can cause you to stop breathing altogether, fall down, and go into the fetal position, helpless and in pain. It's what we know as "getting the wind knocked out of you".

So you learn to exhale whenever you're in a particularly risky situation. Anytime you're performing a strike or a block, you're generally more vulnerable to strikes to your abdomen. Why? Because 1) you're closer to your opponent now (he can reach you), and 2) because your hand is now occupied instead of being free to protect your abdomen.

Another time you exhale is when you're performing a breakfall. There are rolling breakfalls and there are slapping breakfalls. When you hit the ground, even if you're attempting a rolling breakfall, you risk hitting so hard that it feels like a hit to the abdomen.

Having some tension in the core along with breathing out just as you're impacting will prevent getting your wind knocked out during a breakfall. You can have your wind knocked out even if you land on your back, by the way, because the impact sends a shock wave through your entire body. Tightening your core muscles can also prevent damage to your bones and especially your neck and spine in most breakfalls. In some breakfalls, however, you'll need to loosen parts of your core, but that's a different subject.

As far as "holding back" some air while you exhale rather than exhaling all the way, that's generally a good idea. You often don't need to exhale completely to gain all or most of the protective effect. And your body needs that precious oxygen during a fight.

So you can experiment a bit to see what happens when you exhale all the way vs. exhaling part of the way. Find the point at which you're most comfortable. You just need someone to slap or punch your solar plexus for you (you tell him how hard to hit of course). It's unpleasant, but enlightening.

Another thing to factor into your overall fighting game plan is that you can't just take quick inhales and long exhales. Doing that will drain your oxygen levels, and that will cause you to get tired quickly. So you try to breathe in and out slowly and continuously, and only exhale in short, strong bursts when you need to.

This is harder than it sounds, because fighting causes you to panic a little, and your adrenaline will surge, causing your heart rate to increase and your breathing to get choppy. You need to get control over your emotions and calm down a bit first. Then you'll have more success.

Hope that helps.


In short, exhaling relaxes your muscles, giving you more of a "snap" to your techniques. But the main reason you exhale during defensive techniques is that your lungs act as shock absorbers in much the same way as a car's airbags release air in a controlled way to minimize the impact of a crash.

Also, if you are inhaling or are out of breath at the moment your opponent hits you, you will have the wind knocked out of you, leaving you gasping for breath and open to a powerful follow-up attack.


When you are breathing on strikes or blocks, you should never full commit your entire breath or energy until you are ready to deliver a debilitating or killing strike. To fully commit all of your breath or energy is a full yang technique, but some should always be held back in cause you need a follow up strike or for defense.

Thus make your breaths quick and short and save some air and chi for defense and so that you don't lose your endurance either. Learning to breath with each strike can increase your endurance and power, sometimes significantly so when the right techniques are done, most of which are little known today.

This is why in advanced chi-gung, breathing, meditation and learning to control the chi with the mind alone is critical to getting to the higher levels of cultivation, strength, endurance and power.

  • I don't mean to de-rail this question (and since it's already answered, I'm not super worried), but I'm curious: if fully commit[ting] all of your breath or energy is a full yang technique, what constitutes a 'full yin technique'?
    – BenCole
    Jan 27, 2014 at 0:04
  • Full yin is often considered stillness, full yang is full movement, full power, full commitment to a strike or movement with total abandon. Jan 27, 2014 at 3:19

The simplest way of explaining how to do this is by emulating a cough.

During a cough, you tend to exhale abit of air, then hardening or tensing the abdominal mucles.

This is a good way to explain to junior members.

As for developing it, i could suggest a few particular way that helped be in the pass.

  1. Jogging.
    • 1 inhale for 1 step 1 exhale for 1 step. These inhale and exhale should be short and fast. Like when you are spitting.
    • 2 inhales for 1 step and 2 exhale for 1 step.

Increase the number of exhale and inhale of each step until your maximum.

After awhile you will get used to it and when a move ends, like when you fall or roll, you will automatically exhale.

When i am the uke, upon striking, i would let our a short and silent kiai, something like a "yoshhh" or "haitt". it helps alot in strengthening and straightening my final form.

The most important thing is to NEVER exhale completely. This causes the muscles around your body to relax and loosen. In this state, strikes or impact would not be absorbed or cushion properly.

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