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Inyo, Yin and Yang, and The Active and The Passive



Inyo in the context of martial arts.....

From the ten elements of kata;

  • 2. INYO - the active and passive. Always keep in mind both attack and defence.

  • 6. KOKYU - breathing. Breath control related to the posture and movement in Kata.

From the inception of our birth, in that first moment nature causes us to take our first breath. The importance of that step cannot be disputed. Likewise, the breathing Techniques we use in karate do are as important as an integral part of martial arts.

Traditionally, three methods of breathing were taught, two with two variations. The “Proper breathing” method is actually very simple but, as with many other things, can be over complicated.

In this method, the breath it is from the lower abdomen, which is expanded first. The natural way an infant would breathe. If you watch babies breathe, as we become adults we learn to 'breathe with the chest.' In karate do, if faced with an opponent, breathe in such a way that the opponent cannot see you breathe at all. This is extremely important when engaged in combat. The body is most vulnerable when breathing in, strongest when breathing out. If your opponent is aware of your respiration, they have the opportunity to strike when you are at your weakest. Usually, when performing kata, inhalation takes place when 'chambering' and exhalation when attacking, making movement more natural, easier and faster. Breathing out stabilizes the body.

Making this obvious can make your weakened state become more obvious to the enemy. An example of difference would be a kitten taken by surprise and an older, wise cat. When a young cat is startled, it breathes in and arches its back, a startle response, which places it in a more vulnerable position. It has increased its height, making a larger target, exposing more vital points and raising its centre of gravity, making it easier to topple over. When the old cat is threatened, it flattens itself and breathes out -- combat mode, in which it has lessened vital areas of attack and lowered the centre of gravity, giving more stability. The first method can instigate confusion; the second to focused intent. Coincident with breathing is meditation. Although meditation is good for reaching a settled state, its primary use is to centre the body, and the spirit using the diaphragm , there is also a proper placement of the tongue. It should lightly touch the back of the upper teeth against the upper palate. There should be little or no pressure used.

Traditional Chinese Medicine shows that this placement closes the meridians of the Governing Vessel and Conception Vessel, in turn lessens the chance of a knockout blow to a kyusho point, or vital point.

In Aikido...

In this art form as Ueshiba Sensei stated, “Breath control is practiced in the form of kokyu rokyu (breath power) where the concept of breath is not limited to the nose and the mouth. It encompasses the whole body ,every pore of the skin, and it originates in the power of nature.Kokyu can also be interpreted as proper timing.”

In Karate Do...

There are other methods of breathing, such as the 2 developed in the Kyokushin ryu by Oyama Sensei, derived from Goju Ryu methods of breathing .

IBUKI translates to “breath” in English, but the combination of the characters to form Ibuki 息吹 means 'inner strength'.

Nogare (In – Ibuki) or “Slow/Soft Breathing”, is the soft but firm type of breathing which starts from deep within the abdomen.

This is similar to the type of breathing which is practiced in Yoga and Zen meditation, and is usually directed towards spiritual and meditative matters when practiced. This is the normal way a baby breathes. If you watch a baby breathing, it will naturally breath from the stomach. It is only when we get older that we 'learn' to breathe from our chest, more shallow. The goal is to return to the 'baby breath'.


This method is also known as “combat breathing“. Nogare should be used during free fighting. By breathing slowly the lungs fill more deeply, without tiring out, and by pausing we allow the air in our lungs to fall still for the crucial time for osmosis to take place.

There are many benefits of both forms of ibuki, but the second is definitely easier to learn and perhaps more beneficial to your training and health long term.

To experience the benefits of simple Ibuki first hand, try breathing in slowly and out sharply as you strike a pad. It is easy to see the benefits of sharp outward breaths when striking. Or the controlled breathing of Nogare to slow your heart rate.

Today, we see the benefits of breath as it relates to stress, anxiety and sports performance. No longer just a “theory”. It is a proven measure of athleticism and mind/body control.


Is used as a training method and is a strong exhalation sound which aids in dynamic tension training. It is the hard style of breathing, a noisy breathing technique, with the aim of absorbing any opposing force; it is made with a long exhalation and ends with a short breath and voiced. This technique uses the hara (Tanden – pronounced dan-ten in Chinese) aims to connect the spirit to the body, through Ki (internal energy).

This technique serves to contract the muscles of the body in a single moment aiming to absorb a blow without suffering much harm, or at least a small part. This contraction, which takes place through the Yō ibuki breathing, we know as kime. Yō ibuki (the “heavy” breathing method used in sanchin and other kata) is not actually forced, as some people may describe it. As forced breathing would indicate you’re using the throat to throttle the airflow. You are not to constrict the airflow or throat muscles. Instead, Yō ibuki is the measured but powerful controlled pressure of the abdomen. Heavy abdominal breathing, concentrating in collapsing your diaphragm (and thus your lungs) down instead of inflating them outwards (the breathing movement should be seen in your lower abdomen, not in your ribcage), then breathe out by slowly contracting (with or without tension) the abdominal wall (like a stomach vacuum but without holding your breath), which will then push the diaphragm and lungs back up, compressing them and pushing the air out again.

This contraction of the abdominal muscles also pulls the ribcage and hips a bit together, and aids in the development of correct posture for sanchin dachi (gluteal and abdominal muscles contracted, without excessive pelvic tilt caused by using only the gluteus and hip flexors).

Alternatively, use Ibuki when blocking a strike or delivering a strike, exhale with force and kiai – or shout. Observe weight lifting training or competition or other martial arts training and you will see that they also use this form of breathing. Weight lifters shout as they exhale, pushing heavy weights. Many athletes, including baseball and football players, even tennis players grunt, groan, or shout during practice or competition. They have been trained to realize that forceful exhaling makes their effort more effective and their body stronger.

Nogare Breathing:

  • Stand straight up with the feet shoulder width apart, and with the arms hanging relaxed at the sides.

  • Take a deep breath in through the nose and raise the arms up to chest level keeping the hands open.

  • Bring the hands alongside the chest and force air into the abdomen. Set the breath in the lower abdomen for a moment.

  • With the tongue relaxed behind the upper teeth, exhale slowly.

  • Maintain the tongue behind the upper teeth to help to quiet the breathing.

  • This is repeated several times until one’s breath is calm and one’s heartbeat is pacified.

This is an exceptional skill for any Karateka to cultivate, especially the novice who will become overwhelmed with the lack of air from not breathing within the movement, which can take years to learn.

In Karate Saho (etiquette)...

When performing rei, the formal bow, even after gohon kumite, breath control is paramount. For example in gohon kumite, after the defender has completed his counter, both attacker and defender return to shizentai yoi, inhaling while returning the leg that had been moved to perform their respective techniques. Both karateka exhale while tightening their abdomen, concentrating their focus in the lower abdomen in preparation of the movements to follow.

In Karate Waza (technique)...

In karate jutsu the hand that has blocked is called shinite, the dying hand, mete, the female hand, or yo, the yang of yin yang.(pronounced inyo in Japanese) The hand ready to counter is referred to as ikite, living hand, ote,male hand or pronounced as yin.

There are several forms of breathing used;

  • Long exhalation, short inhalation as used in choku zuki

  • Long exhalation, short inhalation as used in mae geri

  • Long inhalation, long exhalation as used in oi zuki

  • Long exhalation, regular inhalation as used in uraken uchi

  • Long inhalation, long exhalation as used in uchi ude uke

  • Long inhalation, short divided exhalation as used in sanbon zuki

Mokuso (Deep breathing and control of the mind)...

In mokuso assume seiza kneeling with the hands on the lap. The nose must be in line with the navel . The back straight and the eyes half open staring at a point on the ground approximately 18 inches in front. Inhaling slowly when seated in seiza, inhaling imagining the path the air takes,via forehead and crown, down the back of the neck and through the spinal column. The flow continues under the base of the body, then upward to the hara(lower abdomen). On entering the hara, it coils round in decreasing circles until reaching the smallest coil point at the extremity of inhalation. Begin to exhale slowly imagining the coil of air unwinding, in the opposite direction travelling upward through the abdomen, solar plexus, chest and throat, then finally through the mouth. On inhalation, the abdomen is relaxed, on exhalation contracted.

A culmination of power, focus and spirit can be recalled from the records of Okinawan karate, where students using combined weight and strength, were forcibly trying to break a makiwara during one dojo session. Ohta Sensei, who was overshadowed by his students standing a mere 5ft 6inches, broke the makiwara with a single blow, playing down the feat in typical modesty, stating there is no magic but angle of attack and intent (ikken isatsu) must be correct to avoid injury to one's hand.

Inyo in daily life...

The inyo is presently used as the symbol of the Japan Karate Association, although other corporations have used this symbol as well.

The inyo is the Japanese equivalent to the Chinese yin yang symbol. Both of these symbols represent the universe as a circle. Inside the circle, the two colours co-exist, together yet separate. The colours represent the two types of energies, positive and negative. In (yin in Chinese) represents the negative element. It is passive, weak, empty, dark, feminine, cold, etc. Yo (yang in Chinese) signifies the positive element. It is active, strong, full, light, masculine, hot, etc. Although these forces are opposites, each one cannot exist without its counterpart.

When viewing the yin yang symbol, the S-shaped curve in the centre should give the feeling of movement or blending. When viewing the inyo, one should have the feeling of the red circle actually rising, again giving the feeling that all is not static. Sometimes, the inyo is referred to as 'the symbol of the rising sun.' If you look at the Japanese flag, you'll see that it is very similar to the inyo. Both are simply images of a red circle on a white background. The Japanese flag is known as Nisshoki, which means 'sun flag' or Hinomaru, meaning 'sun disc.' When compared to the Japanese flag, the similarities can be seen, if you were to view to the inyo as a rising sun. As for the Okinawan flag, it has quite the inyo-like appearance. The inyo used by the JKA may simply symbolize the Okinawan flag, paying respect to the land where karate was born but that is merely my subjective view.



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