Posted by: B Gourley | April 25, 2012

Call it Tanden, Tan T’ien, or Dan Tian: It’s the Focal Point in Martial Arts

There is a spot about three inches below the navel that all martial artists learn to concentrate upon. As the title implies, there are many different romanized spellings and pronunciations for it, but it’s the same location. Throughout this post I will call it the tanden (the Japanese romanization/pronunciation).

The tanden is significant for several reasons. We’ll start with the ethereal and work toward the  concrete. In Chinese medicine, it is considered the primary source of the internal life force (i.e. chi or ki). Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tells us that if we want to build a fire in our tanden, we need to foster strong and stable kidney-chi. For one thing, this means we need to control fear and its influence in our lives, as fear is associated with the kidney-bladder network. I won’t get into what else it means because it gets into how often we should flog proverbial dolphins and how we should go about hanky-panky. Suffice it to say, a vibrant kidney channel is said to facilitate strength in the tanden.

Practitioners of Zen Buddhism will note that the tanden is a familiar concept in their domain as well. This brings one to a second point, and that is the importance of pulling one’s breath down toward one’s tanden. Anyone who has engaged in sparring knows the dangers of shallow breathing that extends one’s chest only. This can happen when one’s body tenses up. Therefore, one must train to habitually bring one’s breath deep into the abdomen in order to prevent embarrassing situations like passing out without one’s opponent actually physically touching one.

A third important point is that one’s center of gravity (center of mass) is approximately at the tanden when one’s posture is good. For those who’ve forgotten high school physics class, the center of gravity is the point at which a body behaves as if all its mass is concentrated at one spot no matter how unevenly  the mass is distributed. We know that the center of gravity need not be on or inside the body (but when it isn’t one is off-balance and has to maintain a lot of extra energy to remain upright.)  Center of gravity is a fundamental concept in grappling. One must be aware that if one’s torso is not upright one is off-balance, but, by the same token, if one can inflict this condition on the opponent, they will be off-balance.

It is worth putting some effort into developing one’s tanden, and in thinking of it as one’s focal point in the practice of martial arts.


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