Martial Arts: Martial Arts Teaching and Learning
Koshi / Yao: An Introduction
By George Donahue
The Koshi area of the body
All good martial techniques arise from the koshi.
The most important component of any martial technique is the koshi, whether physical or psychological. To gain the optimum advantage from koshi use, we have to know exactly, or fully, what it is and how to develop and use it effectively.
The ideograph is read in Chinese as yao and in Japanese as yo (easy to see that it derives from the Chinese) or koshi. In martial arts literature, koshi / yo is usually translated as “hips” and yao as “waist.” These translations are woefully incomplete and misleading, however. Because the ideograph is rather general, it can be used to mean a lot of related, but discrete things. It can also be easily mistranslated or misunderstood.
In the West, the seat of being is generally considered to be in the heart region. When we say something like “He lost heart and gave up,” we don’t mean that he had his cardiovascular system compromised and had to give up because he was dead or being kept alive on a ventilator, but that he lost his will. In most of Asia, the self is thought to reside lower in the abdomen, at the body’s center of gravity. Therefore, when a martial arts instructor says to put more koshi or yao in your technique, she might be saying to use your body’s center of gravity more efficiently or she might just be admonishing you to stop being such a (spineless) wimp. The confusion only begins there.
To give you an idea of the range of meaning of , here are a few examples from Japanese usage:
yobu = pelvis, pelvic region, hips, loins, waist
koshi o orosu = to sit down. (But in martial arts venues, this could also mean to lower your body’s center of gravity as you stand.
koshi kakeru = to sit down
koshitsuki = gait; posture
koshi ga tsuyoi = firm character, strong morals. (But in martial arts venues, this could also describe good technique.)
koshiyowa = lack of perseverance, lack of resolve. (But in martial arts venues, this could mean weak technique as well as weak spirit.)
koshi ga yowai = weak, vacillating
koshinuke = coward, cowardice
So what do we mean when we speak of using the (physical) koshi?
A good starting point is to avoid trying to translate the term into your native language. Any translation will inevitably lead to a limitation of our understanding. (That’s why it’s good to read any literature in the original language, even if you have to resort to the dictionary for every other word.) In this case, it’s best just to adopt the Japanese or Chinese term, gradually learning more about its meaning with experience. It helps to begin with a working understanding of koshi / yao as:
the pelvic region, including the hips, the pelvic carriage, and the lower spine, comprising the five lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum, and the coccyx;
the lower abdomen up to about the navel, including the waist;
the upper thighs;
the point within your lower abdomen that is your body’s center of gravity (this is not the same for everyone, as it depends on individual physique, or lack thereof); as well as
all the muscle, fat, glands, loose change, miscellaneous soft tissue and other stuff in and around these parts.
When we refer to koshi / yao, we are almost always referring to ALL of the above. Usually, though, only one coin is involved.
In subsequent articles, we’ll discuss how to develop and use koshi / yao, which, for brevity, from this point I’ll just call koshi.
About The Author:
George Donahue has been on the board of FightingArts.com since its inception. He is a freelance writer and editor, providing literary and consulting services to writers, literary agents, and publishers, as well to advertising agencies. He has worked in publishing for more than three decades, beginning as a journal and legal editor. Among his positions have been editorial stints at Random House; Tuttle Publishing, where he was the executive editor, martial arts editor, and Asian Studies editor; and Lyons Press, where he was the senior acquisitions editor and where he established a martial arts publishing program. He is a 6th dan student of karate and kobujutsu—as well as Yamane Ryu Bojutsu—of Shinzato Katsuhiko in Okinawa Karatedo Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku. He was also a student of Kishaba Chokei and Nakamura Seigi until their deaths. He teaches Kishaba Juku in New York and Connecticut, as well as traveling to provide seminars and special training in karate, weapons, and self-defense. His early training was in judo and jujutsu, primarily with Ando Shunnosuke in Tokyo. He also studied kyujutsu (archery), sojutsu (spear), and kenjutsu (swordsmanship) in Japan as a youth. Following his move to the US, he continued to practice judo and jujutsu, as well as marksmanship with bow and gun, and began the study of Matsubayashi Ryu karate in his late teens. Subsequently, he has studied aikido and taiji and cross trained in ying jow pai kung fu.