Kyoshi's Technique of the Week

June 16th, 2013

From Kyoshi Robert Baker,Chief Administrator,
Ueshiro Shorin-Ryu Karate USA

Relax and breathe (shoulders down)


Relax and breathe:
The body is relaxed and erect in all our movements. The shoulders hang down as if on a hanger held aloft by the straight spine. Overall, the body remains relaxed throughout the technique, but for the muscles executing it. After which, you should immediately relax all muscles again.

[The exceptions to being “relaxed throughout” are that the fingers are always together, the feet grip the deck, and the eyes “are alert, opened wide then narrowed by drawing up the lower lids creating a spirited glare.” – from Building Warrior Spirit (the “green book”), page 18.]


Overall relaxation of the body is important for maximum speed of the technique, because force cannot be applied effectively if the muscles doing the work are opposed by ones that are needlessly tense. The body moves more efficiently when only those muscles required for a given technique “fire”. And no others.

Breathe in a relaxed manner, deep and naturally, throughout training; with full inhalation and full exhalation. And at the end of each kata, take a moment to oxygenate the lungs by filling them a couple times.

Shoulders down:
Many people hold tension in their trapezius muscles, which keeps their shoulders raised, thereby limiting the force available for arm techniques. Instead, keep those muscles relaxed, with the shoulders low, toward the deck. And consciously pull them down from time to time to stretch and lengthen the muscles.

As an analogy, the shoulders are like the clutch in a manual transmission of an automobile. If your shoulders are up (if the clutch is engaged), the hip (engine) can create as much force as you want, but it won’t transfer to the arms (wheels). Instead, the engine will just rev pointlessly. That’s because the force created by the hips cannot transfer through body parts that are not aligned with each other, such as shoulders held high.

To identify which muscles hold the shoulders high, you can, 1) have someone press downward into your traps with their fingertips, or 2) purposefully lift the shoulders yourself, as if to cover your ears with maximum contraction until the muscles fatigue. Then pull the shoulders downward toward the deck to stretch and relax them. (Repeat several times.)

Because, by tiring them and then stretching them, you’ll begin to identify them on your own. Then, once you know which muscles to relax, you should make it your habit.

Of course, the most effective way to drop your shoulders is to fatigue them by training in a series of “killer” classes. Because, after a time in each class, your shoulders will drop naturally from exhaustion as the body conserves energy for actual techniques. And once you lower the shoulders, you should feel a new pulling strain in the arm joints when you punch as confirmation that the hip (rather than the smaller triceps, pecs and/or deltoids) is now throwing the hand, because the shoulders are properly aligned.

Less effort, more speed.

Massage and stretching exercises relax the traps too.

Final thoughts:
In karate, full breathing keeps you stronger longer and helps you maintain a consistent cadence to your kata techniques, thereby slowing the natural tendency to rush through the kata. Relaxed shoulders also help transfer the full force of your hip movement through the target.

And, in life, full breathing and relaxed shoulders make you more relaxed overall, more confident, and therefore less appealing to predators. While also better able to defend yourself, if they do attack.