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Nate Tam
Nate Tam's picture
Intra-abdominal Pressure

Hey all, 

So I read a book from Dr. J.D Swanson "Karate Science: Dynamic Movement" about a year ago. He's got lots of interesting material that breaks down aspects of the mechanics of karate (in a shotokan style). I don't necessarily agree with everything in that book, but the vast majority of it is useful. One of consistently mentioned topics in that book is intra-abdonimal pressure (IAP) and how it can be implimented to increase power through compression and connection between your abdominal area, your core structure, the floor, and your target.

My question is, if anyone else has experience trying to work IAP into their technqiue. Please note, I'm not just talking about core compressing/tightening, but the technique of using air pressure to briefly hold a strengthened internal core structure for the purposes of kinnetic linkage.

I have a singing background and have spent a lot of time learning how to use my diaphram for air pressure but never thought about using that for karate. My experience leads me to believe that creating IAP works best (and is typically referred to) when inhaling. What Swanson talks about is using IAP as part of creating kime, exhaling, for just the moment of impact- which makes sense, but the idea that you use it when exhaling is hard to grasp, let alone practice for generating more kime.

Since implimenting this technique, I've tried my best to always inhale focusing on IAP, and use the residual pressure and core muscle activation in order to create a better connection and kime. Is this wrong? Am I missing something here?

Kiwikarateka's picture

I can't provide much insight myself as I'm not especially familiar with how IAP works and how it is applied, however I recently read something which drew a connection between IAP and Sanchin.  

4. Power Breathing 用力(深度)呼吸 Apparently, Bruce Lee used to say that martial arts rely more on “breath strength” than “body strength”. Indeed, cranking up the “breath strength” will boost the “body strength” pretty effectively. Enter the pneumo-muscular reflex (Zatsiorsky, 1995). The effect of breathing patterns and the intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) on strength is oddly ignored by most Western strength training authorities, yet compressed breathing or “power breathing” is one of the most powerful ways of increasing muscular strength in existence! Hey, did I mention Sanchin yet? Here’s a thought experiment for you: Think of your brain as a music player. Now think of your muscles as speakers. Where do you think the amplifier is? In your stomach. Special “baroreceptors” in your body measure the intra-abdominal pressure and act as the volume control knob. When the IAP bottoms out, the tension in all your muscles drops off. So use your breathing to heighten the internal pressure, making your nervous system more excited. This will make the nerve cells (of your muscles) become “superconductors” of the commands from your brain. So by cranking up the IAP volume knob you automatically get noticeably stronger, in every muscle of your body - in any exercise! That’s the power of breathing. Ever done the zercher squat? I used to do them ass to grass. When I did my heaviest attempts (~100% RM), the pressure sometimes made me feel like my stomach was about to pop like a balloon. If I hadn’t used Sanchin breathing (“power breathing“), I would quickly have become a pool of meat and blood under that bar. Scary, yet so fascinating… Of course, breathing can be done in different ways. Hissing, grunting… it’s pretty individual. Another Russian maniac experimenter, Vorobyev (1977), determined that both holding one’s breath and groaning increases strength. Screaming is not bad either. According to research by Ikai and Steinhaus (1961), subjects who shouted during exertion got a respectable 12.2% strength boost! Kiai, anyone? Remember that if you are serious about your power breathing, work on you inhalation as well as exhalation. Most people forget that part. Always inhale through your nose rather than mouth and attempt to draw the air low into your belly.

That said, high tension and power-breathing techniques are still not appropriate for people with heart problems or high blood pressure. Consult a physician

The rest of the post mentions various other things from modern science and links them to traditional Karate practise, it can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/8645596153/permalink/10152293854891154/  

Philios's picture

Hi Nate,

I just happen to have the book Karate Science sitting in front of me.

Page 196 first and second paragraphs:

An additional point to make here is that the use of IAP is not necessarily associated with an outward breath.  Recall that IAP is created by contracting the abdominals and the rectus (inward) and flexing the diaphragm.  Remember also that with an outward breath the diaphragm flexes down and creates pressure on the viscera.  It is also possible to create the same downard pressure by filling the lungs with air.  Therefore, IAP can be achieved on either inward or outward breaths.

It is also important to note that IAP does not require a full exhalation.  In the example of gedan barai to gyaku zuki, IAP can be employed twice on the same out-breath.  As the block is executed, the breath is exhaled and stopped using IAP as the technique makes contact with the opponent.  The diaphragm is immediately relaxed, and the exhalation is continued as the punch is executed, where again IAP is used as the punch makes contact.  This principle can be used to allow for multiple techniques in a single out-breath and can be used to string techniques together.

Put simply, if you have any air in your diaphragm you can employ IAP to varying degrees.  Although I can't measure how much my diaphragm exerts pressure on my viscera (lol), my feeling is that simply exhaling and allowing the air to leave the body is not optimal.  It's not the exhale itself that creates IAP, but the exhale which is stopped (or prevented from leaving the body).  I would agree that filling the diaphragm with air does a much better job of creating more IAP.

You are probably already subconsciously using IAP in karate, as we inately use it in our everyday lives.  People instinctively do it when lifting heavy objects.  They take a breath and hold it while lifting said heavy object.  The scientific term for this is the valsalva maneouver.  Weightlifters/Powerlifters do this in practice all the time.  It allows one to "get tight" in the trunk which allows for better power transfer.  By taking in a big belly breath you support the spine from the inside using IAP and contract the muscles in the torso. 

Of course, looseness when lifting heavy is bad.  However in karate, we typically want to be loose until the moment of impact to facilitate speed of technique and freedom of movement.  Being too tight restricts movement.  In Karate Science, author JD Swanson makes a few references to the teachings of Sensei Steve Ubl, who in my opinion is one of the top Shotokan masters of our time.  In my training with Sensei Ubl, he mentioned that you should lead your strikes with your breath.  Many people throw the technique first without breathing, and then contract the muscles and forcefully breathe out at the moment of impact, which he believes to be inefficient.  Instead what he describes is to start your technique by gradually squeezing air out of the diaphram.  By the time your technique is fully extended, your abdomen is contracted (by expelling some, not all, air) and you are braced for impacting.  Breathing this way gives you the benefit of relaxing the limbs in transit but also contracting and bracing on impact.  The breath draws the technique out.  I have experimented with this form of breathing and my techniques feel lighter but hit harder compared to how I used to do it (exhale at the end).

You see boxers doing similar things, when they punch.  I think this gentleman explains it quite well.

Hope that helps.

Nate Tam
Nate Tam's picture

Thanks for the responses!

Philios, I do indeed understand what you're talking about. I'm pretty familiar with incorporating IAP in my practice. I've also trained a bit with Ubl sensei. I believe he's referring to the order of actions nishiyama taught. Eyes first, breath second, feet/center third, then technique. Movement begins with breath.

I guess the focus of my post is related to the inhale/exhale "equation" if you will.

Much like yourself I believe IAP can exist to varying degrees depending on how efficiently you're using diaphramatic compression. I do however still believe you should exhale with every technique. I've tried routinely practicing inhaling during execution as Swanson and folks like Elmar Schmeisser have spoken of, but I just can't seem to scale the power up with it. For compression and structure it makes sense and works, but once you start throwing some real kime behind it, I can feel the connection getting weaker. I've had plenty of experiences knocking the wind out of myself trying to implement a strong, sharp inhale to generate power. Just not sure it's either A) working for me, B) working outside of pricinciple, or C) I simply haven't trained with it enough.

Steve Gombosi
Steve Gombosi's picture

I'd have to defer to someone who actually does Goju-ryu or Uechi-ryu about this, but isn't this one of the basic principles behind Sanchin as well as the some of the Chinese "iron shirt" drills?