The Importance of Breathing

A healthy diet and regular exercise are both key components to a healthy lifestyle. However, the way we breathe is equally important in maintaining our health, perhaps even more so than diet and exercise.

There is no cost for the air around us, and therein lies part of the problem. Because we work hard to earn our food and struggle through pain to exercise, we naturally see eating and working out as having intrinsic value. We see these two activities as the core of our health, two components of a system that work in tandem to keep us in shape and feeling great. Some of us even devote an incredible amount of time and money to optimize the synergy between the two – following specific, and often costly, diets and exercise regimens designed to enhance performance in the gym, in the ring, or on the mat.

But since air is free, we forget about its importance, take it for granted. It is telling that we can live for days without food or water, and many people go years without regular exercise, but we die very quickly without air. Therefore learning to breathe properly and training our breath is something that should be practiced as much as we exercise.

There are many breathing techniques for improving health and cultivating a deeper connection between mind and body. The techniques listed below are Taoist techniques that can be used in meditation, martial arts, or daily life.

Natural Breathing (breathing as we do our everyday life): This type of breathing should pull downward as we inhale into the diaphragm, pushing the stomach out and expanding our lungs. As we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, the air leaves the body and the stomach contracts inwards. Breathing should be slow, relaxed, and deep.
Reverse Breathing: Find a comfortable place to sit with your spine in the upright position. Close your eyes and bring your attention to the breath. Inhale deeply, contract the stomach and fill your lungs with air. As you exhale, push you stomach out and release the breath from youbody. Reverse Breathing tends to infuse breathing with power.
Dantien Breathing: This breathing method is based on traditional qigong techniques. The dantien is roughly located in the lower abdomen. When inhaling, allow the lower abdomen area to expand, let it bulge out, making sure that the abdomen and pelvic muscles relax. As you exhale, contract the muscles in the lower abdomen and pelvic areas. Do this in a relaxed and slow way, so rather than concentrating on the areas, just be aware of how they feel and any tension.
Embryonic Breathing: This is part of a meditation process. The practitioner will hold the breath and allow it to circulate around the body. This doesn’t actually mean holding the breath in the western sense, however its more about breathing effortlessly, as infants do. Not using energy to breathe. Rather than using the mind to focus on the breath, which can over emphasise the breathing, you learn to make breathing totally calm and subtle. To do this type of breathing I try to make sure my chest does not move or feel no air moving into my body.

The state of our breath is reflective of our state of mind. If we think about our somatic responses to our emotions, we realize very quickly how much out breath is tied to our emotions. Anger is characterized by rapid breaths with forced inhalations and exhalations. Anxiety is displayed by erratic and fast breathing patterns, generally breathing high from the chest. With such a close relationship between our bodies and our emotions, it makes sense that changing our breathing can have a dramatic effect on our state of mind. With practice and proper training, our breathing can usefully be used to bring us down from a heightened emotional state to a state of calm within seconds. For a martial artist of any other active person, paying proper attention to the breath has major benefits. Its keeps the mind calm and focused in the present moment. Try becoming angry while taking in slow and deep breaths – it is virtually impossible. In confrontational situations, becoming angry wastes an enormous amount of energy. Proper breathing allows one to respond to a threat appropriately rather than reacting anxiously and making the wrong decision.

But the connection between breath and body begins with how we think of the breath and where it originates in the body. We are typically taught to breathe from our chest, as we are supposed to hold a posture characterized by standing puffing our chests out. A good deal of energy is actually used to maintain this structure, and if this position is held for a length of time, it’s easy to notice how much tension and fatigue this creates within our bodies.

Martial arts takes a different approach to breathing. Rather than focusing on breathing from our chests, it trains us to breathe from our abdomen, which is seen as traditional source of power and stability within the body. Any one of the above Taoist breathing techniques can be used during training to keep the body relaxed as well as to generate power for explosive movement. Breathing from the abdomen keeps the center of gravity low for improved balance. Breathing from the abdomen compared to breathing from the chest provides more efficient oxygen delivery to the body, increasing capacity by as much as four times, thus creating more potential for physical action.

When practicing forms, one can begin by breathing from as low in the body as possible, using a combination of natural, dantien, and embryonic breathing. The aim is to let the body feel relaxed and to fill with energy while moving through the forms. For any action that requires energy such as a strike, push, or block, use reverse breathing to generate more power, as this allows the whole body to tense without sacrificing the fullness of breath, ultimately allowing us generate power.

 

Authors:

Jeremy Gallion is a writer, martial artist, yoga practitioner,and club member at Wing Chun Brotherhood in NYC. A believer in the benefits of meditation, he has practiced Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques for the past 8 years.

Nicholas Gregory is the instructor for Wing Chun Brotherhood in NYC. Nick completed the Wing Chun system under Leo Au Yeung and has trained in a variety of martial arts, including Muay Thai, Tai Chi,and Brazilian Jiujitsu; he is also professional scuba diver.

Wise men don’t need to debate

By Nicholas Gregory –

“Wise men don’t need to debate; men who need to debate are not wise” –Tao Te Ching

“Men argue, nature acts” — Voltaire

“It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue” — Oscar Wilde

The web these days is full of online debate regarding martial arts or anything else for that matter.  One of the common themes one is that if something is posted, one should be able to take constructive criticism.  But is that really the case?  Does constructive criticism really help, or is the person criticizing really just fueling his or her own ego, fueling a carnal desire to always win a debate?

Sometimes one has to wonder how much we can actually learn from debate, and more importantly, how much time and energy we waste debating. It seems the source of issues in our community come from linage wars, which are ultimately seeded from debate.

Watching martial arts sparring and training clips online is both entertaining and educational, but does every clip have to be the subject of debate? Or should clips be limited to watching and enjoying for what they are? Granted, if someone is practicing in a dangerous manner, he or she may benefit from some friendly advice from fellow martial arts brothers. But when there’s simply a difference in approach, is heated debate really the way to progress our art further?

Of course, not saying that all debate, disagreements, and intellectual discussions regarding martial arts are negative — seeing different perspectives with an open mind can help anyone grow in any field. But the vitriolic nature that stems from most debate’s passive aggression, intellectual superiority, and personal attacks may be doing more harm than good.

Consider this: many martial artists have lives outside of their kwoon or dojo, so having a target on their backs could affect their livelihood. The inevitably negative feedback they will receive upon posting a sparring or training clip may actually be preventing them from sharing their art with the world. In this case, having a “thick skin” or being “able to take constructive criticism” has nothing to do with practicing privately. The fear of being lashed out by the martial arts community may be preventing amazing practitioners from sharing a piece of themselves, and this fear can stunt martial arts’ growth as a whole.

When Nicholas Gregory first met up to train with Danny Horgan last fall for a Chi Sau session in NYC, his impression of him was that he was a headless chicken with no skill, someone who just used his reach and aggression to dominate opponents in push hands. I simply wanted someone taller to spar with. Horgan’s reasons for meeting me were different.

“I didn’t know much about Nick before we met up to train, but I wasn’t expecting much,” said Horgan. “Men who live in Manhattan are generally hipster frauds who have given up on their manhood by listening to bands like Mumford and Sons and Bon Iver.”

Interestingly, both Gregory and Horgan had experiences where training without debate had been the norm.  Gregory had trained intensely for a month in Shaolin in 2008 training in Chinese kickboxing and then the following year in Guilin studying Tai Chi.  In both places, Gregory could not speak the local language and the coaches had a weak dialect of English, eliminating any type of verbal debate from the training.

Horgan’s training had consisted of sparring martial artists from a variety of disciplines, including Muay Thai, Karate, and other Wing Chun practitioners. There was never any need to debate the ins and outs of fighting; Horgan and his sparring partners would discuss with their fists.

As we have stated on this blog before, it was that fall meeting between Horgan and myself that started the Brotherhood. We gained a new-found respect for each other, and we discovered characteristics in each other we never would have found through the Internet alone.

Gregory and Horgan both had a different approach than the norm to improve our fighting skills. Gregory became a worldwide traveller in combat, from training Muay thai in Thailand, Chinese kick boxing in Shaolin, Tai chi in Guilin and Wing Chun in Hong Kong. Horgan’s approach was similar yet different. Horgan decided to use his journalism skills to create the Wing Chun Blast channel which allowed him to touch hands with many of the top Wing Chun practitioners in the US.

When Gregory and Horgan met in the fall of 2013, we quickly went into pushing hands and then to sparring. No debate happened. When we were tired we stopped and agreed that it was fun and to do it again. Nothing was posted online and no debate on forums happened. After some time they spoke again and realised this is the way training should be and WC Brotherhood was formed. The idea was to create a community where people from different backgrounds/lineage could meet and train/spar without a ceremony or forums fighting coming after.  Gregory had followed Nicholas Gabriel from the Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood and felt this is what Wing Chun needed and is essentially where the name came from. Horgan, challenging the mainstream thinking of the community with his Blast channel, was the perfect person to work with on this project.

We live in a world where opinions seem more important than facts. Between media and the endless debate we see online, being “right” in a debate is becoming more important than actually getting to the truth.

The truth is we don’t know whose Wing Chun skill is the best. Even in professional sports where athletes consistently compete for money, debate on “who is the best” still runs rampant. The constant debating really does fuel our egos and takes us away from training and doing the things we enjoy.

This article will inevitably inspire debate. And that’s fine. We are all free to follow our own path. But know that there is alternative path to follow.

Its about the journey,

WC Brotherhood

Wing Chun – The Art of Longevity

By Danny Horgan –

Last fall I picked up a book called “The Sports Gene” by David Epstein. The book delves into the laws of success and the science behind exceptional athletes in a variety of sports.

Wing Chun (and self defense in general) is very far from sport. But as Wing Chun practitioners, there is much to be gained from studying the human body and the patterns of success that create high-level skill. Examining sport is just one of many means to learn about how to make any skill-based practice more efficient.

While “The Sports Gene” is full of interesting tidbits that have significantly helped my Wing Chun training, there was one fact that absolutely blew my mind and reminded why I’m practicing this art in the first place:

Visual acuity, which humans rely on to pick up on incoming stimuli, starts to deteriorate at the age of 29.

We will get to the significance of this fact to Wing Chun practitioners later in the article. But first, let’s examine it closely in terms of sport.

From boxing and kickboxing distance, fighters need to see punches and kicks coming in order to block them, move, or counter. This ability stems from visual acuity, or the acuteness or clarity of vision.

Not unlike figthing is baseball, where athletes are required to pick up 95 MPH fastballs from 60 feet away. According to “The Sports Gene”, the world’s best baseball players aren’t exceptional because of their strength or reflexes; rather, they simply have amazing eye sight, which helps them pick up on incoming balls.

In 1992, Los Angeles Dodgers opthalmolgist Louis J Rosenmaum tested the visual acuity of 87 players within in his organization. According to the book, “nearly all of the 87 players in the organization he tested exceeded the 20/15 visual acuity test,” and “in each eye test, pro baseball players were better than non-athletes, and major league players were better than minor league players.”Half the players on the Dodgers pro roster exceeded 20/10 vision.

If you’ve ever wondered why professional boxers and MMA fighters start to decline in their early-to-mid thirties, visual acuity is your answer. The world’s best strikers rise to the top of their sport through incredible eye sight, which allows to pick up on their opponent’s feints and tells and see openings the average fighter simply can’t. But when that eye sight starts to go, so does their ability to win. They’re so used to relying on eye sight that they don’t know how to fight without it. You see past-their-prime boxers commenting on this phenomena time and time again:

“I could see the openings, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger.”

In reality, these boxers are simply seeing the openings a split second later than they used to, no longer allowing them to be one step ahead of their opponent.

So what does all this have to do with Wing Chun? Thankfully, our art is one of the few that doesn’t rely on visual acuity. We train to feel our opponent’s movements through contact rather than see them from a distance. Chi Sau varies very much from school to school, but regardless of how it’s performed, the benefits of training from the touch allow us to transcend the limitations of the human eye.

In many martial arts, the goal is peak in your mid twenties, a time when your eye sight and athleticism are at a high. But Wing Chun is different. From my experience in touching hands with men in their late 30s to mid 40s, sensitivity actually increases over time. So by putting in years of Chi Sau, Wing Chun practitioners can actually get better at their craft with age.

Don’t let turning 29 be a death sentence for your improvement as a Wing Chun practitioner. The science indicates that your best years as a martial artist are still ahead of you.

Wing Chun – The Thinking Man’s Art

By Danny Horgan –

DannyHorgan81.com

One overwhelming characteristic I’ve come across in my time traveling and training in the Wing Chun world is intelligence. It might sound hyperbolic, but I say with conviction that more than half of the smartest people I’ve ever met have been through Wing Chun.

Wing Chun has long been known as a thinking man’s art because of its emphasis on proper physics. By perfecting aligning the body, Wing Chun theory says, a practitioner can generate the most power with the least amount of effort. And the quickest path from point A to point B is a straight, direct line.

Many Wing Chun practitioners understand these physics on an almost frightening level. Decades of intense study and application have lead them to sublime mastery of the human body, allowing them to control both themselves and their opponents with complete ease.

But Wing Chun’s collective intelligence extends far beyond the knowledge of body mechanics. Many Wing Chun practitioners are right-brained thinkers, approaching everything they do conceptually and creatively. Watching the way these practitioners apply their art is like listening to a brilliant song — you can appreciate the artistry because its unique to its creator.

One reason I travel to meet Wing Chun practitioners across the country is to explore the distinctive intelligence each person brings to the art. Doing so has not only helped my Wing Chun, allowing me to get fresh perspectives on seemingly rudimentary concepts; it has amplified my life well beyond martial arts, giving me access to esoteric knowledge in all assets of living.

After I trained with Nick Gregory for the first time, he introduced me to the world of biohacking, which has helped his fitness and energy level immensely. After exploring new diets and exercise methods through biohacking blogs, I’m in better physical shape now than I’ve ever been. Nick and I have since kept a continuous dialogue about diet and healthy living, and I’ve been able to share with him tips that have worked for me. Nick now uses my trick of taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar right before sleeping to detoxify the brain’s Pineal gland, leading to more spiritual dreaming.

The Wing Chun Brotherhood is a network of Wing Chun practitioners, but more importantly, it’s a network of knowledge. While Wing Chun is growing in popularity, there are still countless Wing Chun practitioners who have no one to share their ideas with. So get in touch with your Wing Chun brothers, and open up a dialogue about fighting, meditation, or whatever you are passionate about. Reach out online, and if you’re able, travel to explore different branches of Wing Chun.

Ultimately, you’ll not only become a better martial artist, but a more intelligent, well-rounded person.

Image source: Greenyatrablog.com

On Being a Brother

By The Brotherhood –

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On a martial arts journey, one’s initial goals are simple: Learn to fight, toughen yourself up and be the bad arse on the street.

We have all been there. We watch movies like Jason Bourn and James Bond. We see how being the tough guys wins all. So we go to our local martial arts schools hoping to learn the skills and techniques that will get us to this level of immortality.

Where does it go wrong?

Most guys at local martial art schools are not as tough and cool as the fictional action heroes they set out to be; they are simply a collection of men and women trying to build their self confidence, to better their lives.

Toughness is not defined by how many punches you give or take; it’s defined by character. Neanderthals could throw punches. But could they endure pain and sacrifice their own well being for the benefit of others?

Many martial arts leaders seek a god-like presence, desiring to be revered and worshiped like a cult leader. They run their schools based on secrets and “superior” techniques, leading to closed off cliques in the greater martial arts world.

But toughness isn’t made through exclusivity.

Toughness is made from being one with a community, the opportunities to meet people from all walks of life. Fighting should not be done with the intention of raw aggression; you will get the most out of martial arts by using it as a tool to improve yourself through collaboration with others.

How to Continue Your Journey

Have you ever watched an England vs. Ireland rugby game? They go to war for 80 minutes, then after end up in the bar as friends. To improve as a martial artist, take a similar approach in your fighting. Open your mind to the concept that your martial art or combat skill isn’t “superior” to any other style or way of fighting. Treat the people you train with as brothers and sisters; they are your friends and are the reason you will improve.

The Buddha thanked people who treated him bad, so we should do the same. You will meet arseholes along the way, but you can control your ego and not let them disturb your path. Thank them for making you stronger.

Own your journey.