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Tanden refers to the human body’s center of gravity, which is the lower abdominal are below the navel. According to traditional Asian beliefs, this is also the area from which the body relays a form of energy that is called ki in Japanese, the energy that moves and changes all things in the universe (see KIAI). Ki and tanden are essential elements in all forms of traditional East Asian medicine, from acupuncture and shiatsu to herbal medicine.

Tan refers to the essence of Asian medicine, and den means “rice field.” The tanden is not a single point but a field spread out across the lower abdomen which, like a rice paddy, can be divided into sections. The ideogram is a view of a rice paddy from above. People who actively develop their ki, whether doctors of Asian medicine or martial artists, often refer to various sections of the tanden.

A detailed description of the theories behind traditional Asian medicine is not within the scope of this book. It should be noted, however, that even if you are not a believer in ki, you should still be aware that any activity in karate, from breathing to spinning kicks, should originate in the tanden.

A simple straight punch, for example, would not be very effective if you only moved your arms and shoulders. When you launch a straight punch toward an opponent in front of you, you should step forward and lower your weight onto your front knee and fully extend your back leg for the greatest power. In other words, you should make certain that your tanden moves in coordination with your fist, arm, and shoulder. Even if you are punching from a stationary position, you must turn your upper body around the tanden, or the strike will have very little force behind it. Like everything in karate, the greatest power comes from the lower body, where the tanden is located.

Similarly, when you breathe, you should use your lower diaphragm rather than your chest and shoulders. Using your upper body to breathe tends to tense your shoulders which hinders movement. By focusing your breathing toward your tanden, your breaths will be deeper and your body more relaxed and limber.

You don’t need to believe in ki to apply your tanden in practice. In fact, the existence of ki and its effectiveness in combat is the subject of much discussion in martial arts circles. Some are believers; others are not. Most martial artists, however, will agree that regardless of their opinion of ki, an awareness of one’s center of gravity, the tanden, is essential in developing proper technique.

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