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West LA Martial Arts

3rd form kiai emotional contentThe question of the week in the dojo is, “What is the secret to inner strength?” This got me thinking about a few things. For one, the breath. Whether you’re doing specific energy work like Qigong and Tai Chi, breathing exercises to relax or feel energized, trying to get more power in your strikes in Kung Fu or stay calm and flow in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the breath is key. In class this week we are talking about emotional content and this intersects with the breath in a very important way.


If during a punch you hold your breath or just breathe normally, you’ll notice there’s a cap on the power you can generate. If you breathe out with an explosive quality like opening a can of soda, you’ll notice you can generate more power. This is something that martial artists have known for centuries but science has more recently begun to understand. For example, studies have shown that on an inhale (which should always be through the nose) our pupils widen and our brains actually take in more information. When we exhale, we are better able to coordinate the motion of our bodies. Breathing effectively throughout class will also help us with stamina and to relax between counts.


Emotional content – tapping into and releasing energy

Exhaling forcefully also has interesting emotional aspect. In a recent episode of his podcast Huberman Lab, neuroscientist Andrew Huberman talked about some of the above concepts, as well as the idea that people with Tourette’s may swear to relieve emotional tension. You’ll notice most swear words are short and can have the same kind of explosive feeling as a good exhale (please don’t swear in the dojo). The idea here is that by vocalizing or just giving an explosive exhale, we tap into emotional energy and release it.


This emotional energy or emotional content is not only useful in class, but in any physical activity. We may find the concept of emotional content is a powerful way to process and harness emotions in everyday life. If we think of emotion as pure energy, it’s almost like the sun. Sunlight contains all colors, and if we filter it through a prism it will separate out the colors into a rainbow. Emotional energy filtered through the prism of our mind turns into specific emotions. Often we have a physical feeling and interpret it with our logical mind; “the last time I felt this I was in a scary situation, so this must be fear.” Yet we can pause or even reverse that process and turn emotion back into energy. We can just feel that vibration in our body and channel it into physical or mental activity.


We should not repress or ignore emotions. Labeling emotions can help us process them and recognize what they are directing our attention toward. The concept of emotional content is a way of channeling emotion into energy when we need it. 


Rise to the challenge

Correct technique is the most important way of getting power. Think of that as methodically squeezing every bit of toothpaste out of the tube. At the end of the tube, there is still a little left that you have to jam out with your thumb using some force. Think of that as emotional content. There’s a little extra power you can get that is beyond technique.


We have to let go of mental constructs and constraints to get the extra power. You may find that in other areas of life, being methodical will get you only so far. Training for a marathon every day will get you ready, but on race day you’ll have to dig deep to get your best performance. To rise to the challenge, you’ll need to channel that emotion into energy. At work, you may prepare for an important presentation for weeks but on the day of, your emotions are swirling. Try channeling that into pure energy!

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As a lifetime student and instructor, Sifu Ryan Scott has seen the same transformation in the lives of his students as he has experienced in his own life. His passion for practice is surpassed only by his love for teaching martial arts. From young children to full-grown adults, his teachings of Kung Fu and Tai Chi have given many individuals the opportunity to become better martial artists, spiritual seekers, and just better people.

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