Breathing in VTK

I was asked to describe “how do you breathe?” in VTK. In fact, several times lately.

I thought to myself ,”This will be a short post,” so I thought I’d do it.

The short answer is, “How long have you been breathing? Then do it like that.” You know, in and out, regularly like.

WSL has often said, “Just breathe”, and left it at that for the most part. Barry said similar things, and for that matter, so do I, for the most part.

So that’s the short version.

The longer version isn’t much longer, but there is more to it than that. A little, anyway.

You should not pay attention to your breathing because you should be paying attention to your techniques, especially in SLT, which is why most of the time teachers should simply let the question go with something off the cuff, so people don’t focus on it.There’s enough to focus on, and anyway, people will pick it up without specifically focusing on it faster subconsciously and a lot slower if you do pay attention to it and try to do it consciously. And the techniques suffer as well. So we say something like the above quotes.


You should not let your enemy know when you breathe in and out, because if you can tell when someone will breathe in, it’s a good time to hit them. They will be less able to withstand the punch. They will also know if you are panicked or upset and other aspects like if you are exhausted or sick.

You should never “Kiai” or noticeably breathe out when you punch because the opponent will pick up on it, and gives him the opportunity to block it. Just before you kiai, you breathe in a bit, which gives them a clue, then you breathe out as you punch giving them the timing for blocking etc. Then you will have to breathe in, and your opponent knows you will be breathing in and can do more damage if he is good enough (or lucky enough) to time it right.

However, after all that, there are some principles of breathing in VTK.

You should strive to breathe calmly and regularly throughout your training, to encourage this behaviour in a fight.

Basically, breathe through your nose, and not your mouth (Fundamental to Chi Gong, interestingly). Keep your mouth shut at all times, since an open mouth invites broken teeth or a broken jaw. Hold your mouth and your face in the right way (I am pretty sure I’ve already posted on that in the introductory stuff on SLT).

No one should hear you breathe at all throughout SLT and preferably throughout your training, especially forms (this is especially hard during vigorous chi sau). The second section of SLT is often a part where you start to hear people breathe out when they do the strikes. Keep it quiet.

If you are about to get hit, breathe in. You will probably do it automatically anyway. You will resist the strike better. If you are hitting, breathe out, just a little, and it improves the power of the punch. (Part of Iron Shirt Chi Gong)

In SLT, breathe in with the inward movement of your hands and out with the outward or attacking movements of the hands in general, but obviously not in the slow part of the first section of SLT, if you do it slowly. It’s good for the rest of the form, or for fast forms even the first section can be done like that, but the breathing should be not able to be heard.

Never ever hold your breath while training or fighting. If you hold your breath, especially lock it in, as some students do when they are punching fast and hard, if you are hit hard on the body at that time, you can cause ruptures and embolisms. (The chi is trapped and seeks to escape, causing internal harm, heh.)

Correct breathing will happen naturally. The more you pay attention to it, the harder it is. In fact, the best way to understand breathing in VTK is to forget about it, and simply do long forms with the rest of the class, especially the seniors. You will subconsciously pick it up this way anyway.

So, VTK breathing.

Just breathe, guys. in and out. Quietly, but firmly. Regularly.

Funnily enough, this is also a lot of what people call Chi Gong.

I edited in a few things, including about holding your breath.

Note: The whole article could be rephrased in the terms of Chinese Medicine to make the same points. (e.g. don’t stagnate your chi through inactivity such as doing Siu Lim Tao passively – which means SLT isn’t just sitting there waving your hands – nor trap it by holding it in, in the wrong way, or it will injure you) I was asked a bit about it, so I added a couple to give people the idea. But since most readers are Westerners, I’m leaving it at the small hints. Besides, I prefer the scientifically based terminology. Too much mysticism is tied up in most people’s minds with the ideas of Chinese philosophy and  Traditional Chinese Medicine.


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