You may notice that I generally conclude my articles with something along the lines of “happy training, and don’t forget to breathe,” or a variation thereof. The Implied message is both as simple as, yet deeper than, it sounds. Taken at its most basic meaning, it is a simple reminder to breathe. It is through breath that we function, physically and emotionally. Our breath is a means to control ourselves, for if we cannot first control ourselves, how can we expect to control our opponents?
You may observe that strikers use their breath, exhaling with each punch, kick, knee or elbow. Exhaling with your strikes adds power. Just as weightlifters exhale when they lift, and inhale when they reset. Wrestlers exhale as they blast powerful double leg takedowns. Distance runners control their breathing in order to maintain their heart rate and better pace themselves. Jiu Jitsu practitioners use breath control to remain focused in bad situations, and exhale when it’s time to explode into a move. We breathe as we ease into our stretches. Even outside of martial or athletic contexts, we use breathing to control our feelings: a deep breath to regain composure and avoid becoming flustered; square breathing to control our anxiety or maintain clarity in stressful situations; a deep sigh of relief when a problem is solved or a crisis is averted.
Although I am not as well versed in internal martial art styles such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong, for example, I do know enough to assert that breathwork is integral to these practices. Even Yoga – which I do not consider a martial art, but it is very similar to internal styles – reminds its practitioners to control their breaths. I sometimes do hot yoga for muscle and joint recovery, and it’s pretty intense. Breathing correctly with the stretches is essential. Pretty sure in “Dune” Paul Atreides controlled his breathing to withstand the excruciating pain of the Gom Jabbar. I dunno, been a while since I’ve read the book. The new movie looks cool but I digress.
I am also reminding you, per the cover of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” in big friendly letters, DON’T PANIC. I’ve mentioned this observation in a previous post, but it pertains to this topic so here it is again: in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – and I suspect this is true in other martial arts as well – a difference between a white belt and a colored belt, is their ability to stay calm under pressure. If I start to pass a white belt’s guard or otherwise put them in a bad position, you can hear them panic under their breath. Sometimes they vocalize their panic: “oh shit… why did I do that?” Sometimes they spaz out in a desperate attempt to escape, sometimes they just give up. Either way, you can hear the panic in their breathing, either breathing too hard, or not breathing enough. It’s been my experience that people who have graduated from white to blue belt in BJJ do not panic. Instead they breathe nice and evenly, and they begin working methodically towards improving their position.
In a sense, that whole previous paragraph is a metaphor for life. Some people panic, and spaz out in an attempt to avoid impending doom. Some people simply give up when things get tough. Others control their breathing, thus mitigating their panic, and work towards improving their position. I would also point out that some times on our paths to become better humans, it’s okay to be the spaz, or the quitter, or a third or fourth thing. It’s okay to make mistakes along the way. Just remember to breathe, take the losses life gives you, and focus on your wins. This is how life is, and our breath is a tool we can use to help control ourselves so that we may better figure out how to control our situation. Hell, Rickson Gracie, legendary grandmaster of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, went so far as to name his Autobiography “Breathe,” that should tell you something. Good read, by the way, totally recommend.
So, as always, remember to breathe, and happy training.