What is Ibuki- The Art of Breathing

What is Ibuki – The Art of Breathing, how can I use Ibuki and more. The application in your martial arts journey and how you can use it in your life outside of the dojo.

What Is Ibuki? Put simply Ibuki is breathing to a certain pattern or rhythm that changes depending on what you are trying to achieve. In all Karate is the concept of Kime, the use of spirit or body energy, and Kime includes breathing, posture, muscular tension, body movement, and mental focus. Ibuki could be considered purely the breathing aspect of Kime, and the techniques used to develop the breathing aspect of Kime. So when we talk about Ibuki we talk about the correct breathing for any given situation, as well as about training exercises, and training methods to help us develop our breathing into what it should be. What Is Ibuki For? Well put simply Ibuki is for everything.

Using Ibuki correctly allows us to generate force when attacking or defending, recover energy or keep energy levels high during fighting, it allows us to recover after fighting, and helps us to focus, some even suggest that Ibuki is great during illness to help us feel better and to relieve some of the discomfort associated with certain illnesses. Ibuki techniques however are for training and practice  the techniques taught under the name Ibuki, are ones used to help us encourage our body and teach our body to breathe properly and to teach our mind when to breathe to use our body to its fullest potential. The Basics Of Ibuki. When we talk about the basics of Ibuki we talk about the very simplest elements, the things that we should focus on at the very beginning of learning Ibuki.

Firstly we must look at the way we breathe, all over the western and even the eastern world today people are breathing in a way referred to as “superficial” and what this means is that when they breathe they use mainly their chest and intercostals muscles (between the ribs). This leads to a very shallow breath and to a very “weak” breath, with very few muscles taking up the act of breathing, and with less of the lung refreshed with each breath (A lower “Tidal Volume”).

When we look at how babies, children, some sleeping adults or trained people breathe, they breathe much more “deeply”, which means they bring their diaphragm and stomach muscles into the act of breathing on top of the chest and intercostals muscles. This increases the amount of air taken in, the speed it is taken in and increases the “strength” of the breath.

The very basic element of Ibuki is learning to push our breath down into our stomachs, allowing our stomach muscles and Diaphragm to move when we breathe, this takes a little practice for those of us who are used to breathing from our chests in superficial breaths, but it is not tiring, uncomfortable, or awkward and so practice can be maintained for a long period with little conscious effort. The second basic element of Ibuki is rhythm; unfortunately it is a slightly harder element to grasp as it can change not only from situation to situation but also person to person.

The basic element of rhythm is that every human being has their own, it is dictated by every little physical and mental element of that person and it is something that is rarely ever in perfect time with anyone else. When we use Ibuki techniques to practise our breathing, and to train our breathing we often refer to slow and fast Ibuki movement, and in general terms each slow movement takes three times as long to complete as each fast movement, but how long these movements take is controlled by the individual rhythm of the person training.

When we teach Ibuki to others we often use a drum or a taped track to set up a rhythm that the whole class can share in, and this often confuses students into thinking that the rhythm given is the one they should always use, it isn’t. When teaching a class Ibuki we use a rhythm of about 1 beat every second simply so everyone is breathing at the same time, and so we can teach the lesson effectively without having to learn every student’s internal rhythm, when a student leaves an Ibuki class they should forget the pre-determined rhythm and look for their own rhythm.

Third and final of the basic elements of Ibuki are filling and emptying the lungs. If you imagine the lungs are a sponge, if you drop them on top of a bowl of water they absorb it very slowly, but if you squeeze them tight push them into the water and release they absorb the water very rapidly. The emptying of the lungs and filling of them as completely as you can is an important part of Ibuki and Ibuki training because it forces your lung muscles to work, helping to build you up during training and helping you to gain the benefits of Ibuki during combat and recovery.

It does take a while to get used to how hard we have to breath in and out to force all of the breathe we can in and out of our lungs, but with some practice it starts to come much more naturally and we can hit the beat of the rhythm with more and more success. On a quick side note, whether we breathe through the mouth or nose is up to the individual, but it is generally accepted that in through the nose, out through the mouth, is more comfortable, and less messy than the other options. Ibuki Techniques.

Now we can discuss basic Ibuki techniques, and because Ibuki is simply the art of breathing right, when we talk about Ibuki techniques we are talking about training techniques to let us develop our Ibuki, to teach us how to use it, and to help build up our muscles so we can breathe deeper, faster, longer and harder.

The early Ibuki techniques are simply the rhythmic breathing following either a pre-set rhythm from a drum or tape during a class, or your own rhythm when training alone. And remember, in either situation, each slow movement takes three times as long as each fast movement. While doing any of the basic techniques we can be doing other things at the same time, like performing Kata, or other forms of training, as long as our body movements are in time to our breathing so they don’t throw us off. However to start with it is always best if you stay in a comfortable stance and simply practice the breaths.

Slow In, Slow Out The first basic technique is Slow in, Slow out, or Slow-Slow. This is one of the simplest and is very reminiscent of the old Martial Arts movies of the deep breathing while meditating and the master breathing before or after a fight. We first breath out and then we begin by breathing in slowly to the 3 beat count of a slow breath, filling our lungs from the stomach without bending or arching the body to exaggerate how much we are filling our lungs. Then we breathe out, slow and firm, tensing out stomach muscles and drawing our stomach in as we breath out, pushing all the air from our lungs that we can without leaning forward or curling the body to exaggerate the effect. We then continue this for several breaths, training like this can range from two or three breaths all the way to a whole hour or more, and this can also be incorporated into other training and situations.

On a final note, Slow-Slow Ibuki is the early basic for the “recovering breath” Ibuki that combines Slow-Slow with the more advanced paused breath techniques, to help us recover from exercise or exertion more rapidly. Slow in, Fast Out the second basic technique is slow in, fast out, or Slow-Fast. This is a slightly more stressful breathing technique and does tire out the muscles that work the lungs if done for long periods of time.

This technique can also be seen in old martial arts movies often performed during or just before a Tameshiwari (board breaking) event. We first breath out and then we begin by breathing in slowly to the 3 beat count of a slow breath, just as with the first technique and following the same rules, we fill our lungs and keep our posture. Then we breathe out to a single beat of the rhythm, sharp and fast. Again we have to make sure we empty our lungs completely and that we use our stomach muscles, this means we breathe out very sharply, like a Kiai without any noise.

This is continued for several breaths again, but tends to be used in shorter training bursts that the slow in slow out, however it can easily be incorporated into other training, especially slow technique based pad work or punch bag work, where we punch on the fast breath. On a final note, Slow-Fast Ibuki is the early basic for the “Striking breath” Ibuki that combines Slow-Fast with the paused breath techniques so that we are always breathing out when we hit someone, allowing us to hit harder and maintain our core connection.

Fast in, Slow Out The third basic technique is fast in, Slow out, or Fast-Slow. This is again a bit more stressful than the previous one, as we have to drag in enough breath for a slow breath out each time we breathe. Again we start by breathing out so we can get our first breath, then we breathe in sharply to a single beat of the rhythm, we have to make sure we don’t gasp or gape, and that we use our stomach muscles to literally drag in the breath. It is a hard thing to practice and for people with lung problems can cause some problems. Again we must keep our posture and our body position.

Then we breathe out, to the slow count of 3 beats of the rhythm, we must keep breathing out to the very end of the 3 beats, emptying our lungs, and readying ourselves to breath in sharply again. Just as before this is continued for several breaths or several minutes, however caution should be taken as someone breathing too shallow will not be able to finish the out breath on time to the rhythm and will potentially pass out from too little oxygen On a final note, Fast-Slow Ibuki is a great platform for developing our core strength, our Kata performances and force, as well as developing our grappling techniques.

Fast in, Fast Out The final of the four basic techniques you can use for training your Ibuki is fast in, fast out, Or Fast-Fast Ibuki. This is the most stressful of the four basic training techniques and tires out the muscles in the lungs very rapidly; it is also the most fasted paced obviously. Again we start by breathing out, and then we breathe in sharply to a count of 1 beat, keeping our posture, filling our lungs to the very deepest depth we can, using our stomach muscles, letting our body breath deep.

Then straight after the first beat we breathe out sharply, keeping time with the beat as best we can, which for beginners is a big challenge. In a single beat we must empty our lungs as much as we can, maintain our posture and use our stomach muscles. This can easily give inexperienced practitioners a sore throat or dry throat so it is best to have a drink ready for after training. Following the pattern of before this is continued for several breaths, usually only a minute at most, though some will train in this breath for a long time attempting to prove how tough they are. Again this is a slightly more dangerous technique as it can lead to not enough oxygen reaching the brain and passing out if the practitioner is not breathing deeply enough.

On a final note, Fast-Fast Ibuki is a foundation training technique for true “Combat Ibuki” where we are snatching breaths in between attacks and defenses where we have to breath to survive but we can take a slow breath because that weakens our core and puts us at risk of not having enough strength to hit or block for a crucial second. Training yourself in basic Ibuki ideas, such as breathing from the stomach, breathing in deeply and out deeply and even breathing to a rhythm can be done anywhere at any time, during any activity. It is actually a good time to practice while you are using a computer or watching tv, after a little practice you’ll find yourself breathing in and out to a slow comfortable rhythm, breathing from your stomach and not thinking about it.

Training yourself in simple Ibuki techniques can be a bit hard because finding and sticking to your own internal rhythm at first can be a slight challenge, however you can get a 1 beat per second or 2 beats per second track quite easily, or make one your own with a synthesizer and at first focus on using the synthetic rhythm to manage your breaths. Training yourself in the techniques also doesn’t have to be done in a dojo, once you find your own rhythm you can train where ever you want, and even benefit from the core strength enhancing effects of breathing out deeply and properly when you use your core muscles. When training alone however it is important to remember that the training to the basic concepts is not as ridged as training to the techniques, so we can train to only one of the basics at a time, the most important being breathing from our stomachs, rather than breathing to a rhythm or breathing to fill and empty the lungs.


“Science or Experience that supports Ibuki?” While there have been few studies if any done on Ibuki a lot of common sense and common science principles support the ideas of Ibuki. Breathing out completely to breath in deeply is supported by basic anatomy, as we know a muscle contracts best when expanded fully, and expands best when contracted fully, and so we know that expanding and contracting our breathing muscles fully helps with the next phase of the movement. Most martial arts encourage breathing out when striking, and breathing out when striking is part of good Kime in karate.

Simply practice and simple anatomy also tells us that when breathing out our muscles are contracted which lets us transmit force from our legs and body to our arms much more easily, as well as lowering our center of gravity and letting is balance for more force from the legs. When it comes to the “Recovering Breath” of Ibuki which is Slow in, Multi Beat Pause, Slow out, Multi Beat Pause we have to look more to slightly less instinctive science. Our lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide by Osmosis; rapidly moving substances make it harder for Osmosis to occur.

By breathing slowly we help to fill our lungs more deeply without tiring out our lung muscles and by pausing we allow the air in our lungs to fall still for the crucial time for good Osmosis to take place. It is easy for any of us to experience the benefits of simple Ibuki, but breathing in slowly and out sharply as we strike a pad it allows us to feel the compression in the chest and when compared to breathing in during attacking, it is easy to see the benefits of sharp outward breaths when striking.

Oxygen is the bridge between the mind and the body. It turns emotional into rational and brings the subconscious to the conscious. Happy breathing!

Joshua Barbosa