Was it the oppressive tropical summer heat in Rio, or was I just out of shape? 4th Degree Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Rodrigo Antunes and I were rolling on the mat in the morning for my private lesson. He of course was just toying with me, tapping me right and left, but I was so tired I was just sucking eggs. All of a sudden he stopped, looked at me, and said “Matt, you are holding your breath. You need to breathe”. I started thinking about it. Maybe that was my problem.
Jean Jacques Machado was having a friendly roll with many of the students who attended his seminar in Sydney. He was merely playing with all comers, and sliced through them like butter, tapping all without much apparent effort. I knew he was good, but how could he go against so many guys in a row without even BREATHING HARD? It occurred to me all of a sudden. His breathing was loud, so loud the whole class could hear it. It was also deep, and slow. It was a revelation for me. He would breathe in for a couple of seconds very deeply, and then release it slowly and loudly. He seemed to possess unlimited energy.
In yoga they tell us that you must focus on the breath. After two years of this I am starting to understand the wisdom of it. If you focus on the breath, and control your breathing, not only does it slow your heart rate down, but it also takes your mind off any uncomfortable position you might be in. Another benefit—by bringing your focus on your breath, it helps you to relax, which is what you need to avoid gassing out.
I started to practice a deep breathing method while working out at home. A big fan of body weight exercises, I would breathe in for two reps and then breathe out for three. I concentrated on focusing on the breath, not on the total number of reps. A very interesting thing started to happen. I usually did about three sets of twenty. But I now found myself counting to 36, 37, 38 without even realising it. I was so focused on the breathing I forgot about the discomfort of the exercise or even that I had to stop when I reached twenty.
I am finally learning how to slow my breath down in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes. Believe me, I am now having much more fun on the mats. I wish I would have learned this years ago. Thanks Rodrigo, thanks J.J. Machado, and thanks especially to my yoga instructors who finally drove this point home. What are your secrets for breathing correctly in the martial arts?