Luciano Pavarotti. 

This is Luciano Pavarotti. You may perhaps be wondering why there is a picture of Luciano Pavarotti on this Kendo blog? 

Read on to find out why!

Recently I was told by a visiting Sensei to be more mindful of my breathing. We had just finished kihon practice before jigeiko and I was breathing heavily through my mouth to catch my breath. M. Sensei noticed this and told me to be careful to always breathe in through my nose and not through my mouth.

This is not new to me of course, but I was breathing like a bull at the time! Our breathing in kendo should be calm. We should try not to take big gulping breaths that show our opponent that we are tired and give him a chance to attack us. In both seiza and in keiko, and even out side the dojo, we should aim to breath calmly. In through the nose and out through the mouth. 

So, your still asking what has this got to do with Pavarotti, right??

When I was in my fourth year of secondary school (that's about 16 years old) I was, like many folks at that age, in a band. I had been playing the guitar for a few years and I began to take singing lessons with the aim of becoming the worlds next big thing. 

The first and most important thing when learning to sing is breathing. And I'd like to share the breathing exercise I learned which I believe can be useful in learning how to breath in Kendo. 

Inhale quickly and deeply, into the lower lungs. 

The key to breathing in singing and in kendo is inhaling quickly and deeply into the lower lungs. As we all know we should breath into our gut or tanden during kendo practice. I have said before in another post, which can be found here, that by breathing into our upper lungs we end up making our shoulders stiff and restrict our movements. 

The first step is to take a breath. Go ahead, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Which part of your body moved, did your chest swell or did your stomach? If it was your chest, then you are breathing incorrectly. 

The next step is to lie down on the floor on your back and try the same thing again. Chances are that your stomach will rise and fall as your breathe. Its usually easier to breathe correctly while lying down. Take a few minutes to lie on the floor and relax, breath in deeply through your nose, and out through your mouth. Get used to the feeling of breathing down into your stomach and not just into your chest. 

Ok, lets start improving our breathing!!

Stand up straight, no slouching please! Spread your feet about shoulder width apart. Relax your body, let your arms hang loose at your sides and release the tension from your shoulders (hey, that's just like kendo!!).

Imagine that the air that you are about to breathe is extremely heavy and that when you breathe in, it will sink down into your body.

First, take a few deep breaths in through your nose, holding it in your tummy (tanden, whatever) for a few seconds and release it through your mouth. Focus on the breath going down low, past your belly button and filling your lungs from the bottom up. Your chest should not move at all, but your stomach (and lower back) should swell out and in as your breathe. Keep doing this until you feel like you are breathing fully and deeply into your lower lungs. 

Second, we need to increase the speed in which we inhale. Do the same as above, but breath in quicker through your nose. Make sure that your breath is still going down to your belly button. Most will breathe into their chest when they try to breathe quickly. Keep practicing until you feel like you are getting a good amount of air into your lungs in just 1 or 2 seconds. 

Finally we need to increase the volume of air that is coming into our lungs. Singers, like our pal Pavarotti, need to fill their lungs to capacity very quickly, giving themselves enough breath to belt out that chorus. Kendo players also need sufficient breath to maneuver, strike, kiai and return to a ready position.

This is the exercise I started every lesson with.

  1. Stand as above, feet shoulder width apart and body relaxed. 
  2. Breathe in once sharply through your nose, filling your whole lung.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth, making a "shhhhhhhhhh" sound. 
  4. Keep breathing out, push every last bit of air out.
  5. Keep breathing out!!! Go until you literally have nothing in your lungs and have to take a breath. 
  6. With the idea of breathing down into your stomach, past your belly button, breath in sharply through your nose. 
  7. Breathe with the feeling of filling the lungs from the bottom. 
  8. Try to fill up your lung with just this one quick breath. 
  9. Hold the breath down in your tanden for 3-5 seconds and breathe out making a "shhhhhhhhhh" sound.
  10. Continue breathing out untill you cant possibly breathe out any more. Take a sharp breath through your nose and repeat the process. 
When breathing out try to breathe at first for at least than 10 seconds, keep increasing this number as your get better. 

I practiced this for about 5 minutes at the beginning of each singing lesson, and at home before going to bed too. 

By practicing in this way, I think we can learn the correct method of breathing in Kendo. Breathe in sharply through the nose, hold the breath in the tanden, release some of the breath in an attacking kiai, strike and release your breath while kiai-ing the name of the target.

By breathing this way we limit the chances for our opponent to attack us at our weakest, when we inhale. Try striking one of your dojo mates next time he or she takes a big lurching breath, they wont be able to react. We also remove the bad habit of breathing as we raise our hands to strike.

I think this exercise could be thought to beginners to help them to learn the correct way of breathing in. And could also be thought to more advanced students to help correct bad habits.

Once this method is mastered, we can move on to improving lung capacity and stamina, through endless Kirikaeshi and kakarigeiko sessions! Hurray!

There are many other things about breathing in Kendo that I haven't talked about in this post. If you would like some more content on breathing, let me know in the comments below, or on facebook or twitter.

So, there you have it. Pavaortti and Kendo, they do have something in common after all!

Thanks as always for reading, If you like the content of this blog please share it! Comments and discussion are always welcome!




  1. I really liked reading this. I haven't been playing kendo all that long, and I'm not that fit, but I still have what I am told is a reasonably potent kiai. It all comes down to the things you mentioned above - and some experience as a singer in a band as well ;) I've tried to express this to some of the other beginners I train with in the hopes that we can all latch onto the same ideas you've shared here. It's really nice knowing I'm somewhat on the right track :)