Nafas is the term “to breath” in Indonesian. Sometimes specific breathing methods are termed Pernafasan. (The pre and post “nafas” letters are what convert the verb to a noun in Indonesian.)
Most breathing patterns found within the martial arts, focus around the idea of having the practitioner exhaling upon impact, sometimes accompanied by a short yell or scream often called a “kiai” in Japanese Martial Arts. However, this type of breathing is not exclusive to Japanese arts and can be found in many martial disciplines throughout the world.
The main purpose of the exhaling/yell approach, when performed explosively, is to tighten the abdomen of the person performing the strike, kick or other technique. When done well, this will coordinate the contraction of many of your body’s core muscles when striking and increase your power, however, unless you exhale/yell explosively, no contraction of the abdomen takes place and no power is developed.
As well, there are additional effects of this type of methodology that are also touted such as the ability to distract the attacker, weaken their resolve and even their strength, and provide courage to you and those who might be engaged in battle alongside of you.
In Pencak Silat Pertempuran we are not overly concerned with spending a lot of time training the specific topic of breathing, especially as it concerns our martial practice. The basic premise can be summed up in this: When striking, hold your breath, and upon contact, release your breath. This is sometimes confusing to people who have studied other arts prior to studying pencak silat Pertempuran.
As a result, it raises questions in the minds of the practitioner as to why we do it essentially the opposite of everyone else. It’s a good question and one that needs to be addressed in depth so here then is my attempt to do just that.
Let’s start with some fundamentals. Air is comprised of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% of several other gases including Argon, Helium, Carbon Dioxide, etcetera, when it goes into our lungs and contains about 14-16% oxygen when it is exhaled. On average, every time we breathe we are using only about 1/3 of the oxygen that we inhale.