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Ibuki is karate’s “hard” breathing method. Ibuki breathing is sometimes referred to as power breathing (for obvious reasons) or sanchin breathing (for its prominent role in the kata Sanchin). Ibuki breathing is a study of tension, which is necessary to truly understand relaxation. While ibuki breathing serves as a dynamic tension exercise, its true value is ki development, since it teaches the breathing control necessary for kiai.

Since ibuki breathing is not a regular part of other physical activities, it must be learned early in one's martial arts career. Ibuki breathing is performed in two ways, one long, and one short.

Long ibuki

Long ibuki develops your lung capacity, and teaches how to use your existing lung capacity to its fullest extent. In addition to being a muscle-building dynamic tension exercise, long ibuki is a necessary evil to teach students the more-practical short ibuki. To perform long ibuki breathing:

  1. Enter a sanchin dachi and cross your arms, like a downward X-block. Quickly and sharply inhale through your nose; this should be full and deep enough to cause your abdomen to expand.
  2. Slowly and audibly exhale through your mouth while you rotate your forearms up in rising arcs. Tighten all of your muscles, with an emphasis on your abdominals; tensing your abs does not require sucking your gut in. Do not ignore tensing your pectorals and thighs. Continuously exhale until you empty your lungs of air. Ideally, this breath maintains a constant volume and tone.
  3. When you feel that you are out of air, continue exhaling, to expel the last of your air. Only stop once you have fully and completely exhausted your air supply, which is indicated by a gasping, gurgling, or choking sound.
  4. Use nogare breathing as a recovery mechanism.

[ibuki breathing, from the front and side]

It is helpful to have a partner test your tension by pushing, pulling, and lightly striking you as you exhale. When performed correctly, your stone-like tensed body will be unaffected by your partner’s efforts. Beginners are initially intimidated by this test, but it ultimately proves to be a confidence booster.

[partnered ibuki breathing, from the front and side]

Long ibuki should only be practiced in short sessions, because extended practice can cause some individuals to become dizzy, light-headed, or even pass out. Since practice has a cumulative effect, daily short sessions will prove to be more fruitful than infrequent binges.

Always remember to practice long ibuki in private, because it looks silly to non-karateka.

Short Ibuki

Short ibuki is an implied part of every karate technique. As such, when kata directions refer to “ibuki breathing,” they are calling for long ibuki. Short ibuki is a quick energy breath used during punches, kicks, and blocks to generate snap. With practice, you can develop your sense of timing to optimize snap by coinciding the end of your short ibuki breath with the instant that a technique makes impact.

From a ready stance, enter a state of near-total relaxation. (Only the unconscious are completely relaxed.) Sharply and audibly exhale as you simultaneously tense every muscle, then immediately return to near-total relaxation an instant later. Short ibuki is quite literally, the 1-second version of long ibuki.

[video of short ibuki from the fronts ans side]

Short ibuki is has defensive applications, and it should be trained until it becomes a reflex action whenever an opponent hits you, or when you complete a breakfall. By exhaling at the moment of impact, you can’t have the wind knocked out of you, because the wind isn’t there. Likewise, tensed muscles act as natural armor plating, which offers some degree protection to your squishy internal organs. This is the basis behind Iron Shirt Qigong, and the Western boxer’s conditioning regimen.