That Sinking Feeling

In order to improve your overall technique, you need to introduce the concept of “sinking” into your training. You must feel as if you are dropping into the ground, as well as adopting a dead-weight feeling in your striking limbs and a dropping/sinking feeling while throwing. With the combination of these concepts added to your technique, you will develop a centered, solid body capable of powerful movement.

The journey to achieving these concepts always begins with proper breathing. You must learn to breath into your tanden (located approximately two inches beneath you navel, in the centre of your body) and then feel as if you are dropping your breath through your legs into the ground and out your arms.

When Matt stands with stiff muscles, he’s easy to lift up.

When Matt stands with stiff muscles, he’s easy to lift up.

This concept is not usually introduced at the beginning stages of karate, because it can make your technique sloppy and lack focus. There is also a risk of injury if you start off striking something with a soft body (which you need to have to sink your weight). Once you do start to practise proper tanden breathing and sinking your weight, you should do your techniques slowly at first and then speed things up bit by bit as you get the correct feeling. You’ll eventually see a drastic increase in the power of your techniques.

As I have discovered, it takes years before you can start to understand the importance of sinking. It requires you to change your whole breathing pattern from chest breathing to breathing into your lower abdomen. In North America we tend to breath from our chest and rely heavily our muscles. The soft, sinking feeling so important to East Asian martial arts also depends on using your body, but the muscles are involved in a different way than we are used to.

How do you teach sinking? When you show someone how to punch or kick, you can physically move their limbs to help them understand, or they can watch you perform the technique. To teach sinking requires the student to listen to your words and know what feeling they are striving for. There are also some exercises that you can do to achieve this, such as:

  1. Standing/sitting zen
  2. With a partner, stand in a stance like uchi-hachijidachi and let them try to pick you up from behind. As they lift try to have a “dead weight” feeling and see  how much harder it is to lift you than when your muscles are tense.
  3. Again working with a partner, adopt a stance and let them put a fist against your tanden area, from front and behind, and then gently push, to test how rooted your stance is.
  4. Practise Sanchin kata, whose slow, deliberate movements let you concentrate on the proper breathing and sinking your weight.

Once you start to achieve the sinking feeling, you should try to put it into everything you do. Remember also that your hips have to snap the technique out. Your body should be like a whip, with your hips as the handle that controls the body’s four whips (our limbs). As you sink into the ground, your hip and breath explode and your striking limbs are supple, delivering a powerful strike.

Matthew Mannerow
3rd Dan
Grey-Bruce Ryusei Karate-Do