Yoga Philosophy and Yoshukai

Someone once asked me how many sparring matches I’ve won.  By most methods of reckoning, this number would be zero.  By my own reckoning, every time I’m willing to spar at all, I’ve won.  Sparring is extremely emotionally difficult to me, so the very act of being willing to step into the ring is a victory.


There are a few different aspects of the yoga philosophy that overlap with Yoshukai, including meditation and focus.  In my view, most of these aspects can be summarized in the concept of jai, which roughly translates to victory, and I’ve often heard it used to represent victory over ego.  One cannot strive for excellence or continue to improve without victory over ego.  If one allows oneself to be defeated by one’s ego, one would never continue with anything difficult.  By definition, continuing to train represents a victory over ego.


There are various other ways in which our ego can defeat us: our ego might cause us to push ourselves beyond our limit, resulting in injury.  We might unfairly compare ourselves to others rather than focusing on our own improvements, resulting in poor spirit.  Overall, I believe victory over ego reminds us to compete only or primarily against ourselves, focusing on our own improvement.  With this focus on our own improvement, rather than external rewards or validation, we can more completely strive for excellence.

Yoga for Hip Stretches

With all the power and strength that comes from our hips in Yoshukai, it’s important to take some time to release those muscles.  These are big muscle groups, and continuing to strengthen them without spending time on flexibility may limit your kicks and stance transitions.  There’s also wide variability in how each individual will respond to hip stretches, which is why I’ve provided several different options.  It’s suggested you try various poses to find something that works, but recall that each of these may not be more difficult than any of the others; they’re simply provided to give you lots of options to find what works best for you.

Seated position:

Sit with one heel in front of your groin, the other heel directly in line with that.  If this is enough, stay here.


If you need more, begin to extend forward with a flat spine until you do find a stretch in your hips.


Once your reach that point, round forward to release your spine and neck.


Hold for five to ten breaths[1], then switch the cross of the feet and repeat on the other side.  Remember that you may not go as far or may go farther on the other side (true of all these hip stretches). 

Bull seat:

Sitting on the floor, bring your right knee forward, with your right heel alongside your left hip.  If possible, bring your left hip alongside your right heel.


If your left knee floats high above your right, stay here for your five to ten breaths and let gravity slowly pull the right knee down.

If your left knee easily stacks on the right and you need more of a stretch, begin to walk your fingertips forward with a flat spine until you feel your stretch.


After you find this stretch, round the spine for your five to ten breaths.


Repeat on the other side.

Firelog pose:

From a seated pose, bring your right shin parallel on the floor in front of you, foot flexed.  Stack your left ankle on your right knee, letting your left knee stack or float over your right ankle.


If this knee is floating, hold here and let gravity increase the stretch.


If you need more of a stretch, extend forward until you feel the stretch in your hips.


From here, round your spine for your five to ten breaths.  Repeat on the other side.


Keyhole pose:

Lay on your back, planting both feet on the floor.


Flex your right foot and place your right ankle over your left knee.


Bring your legs toward your chest and hold behind your left thigh or in front of your left shin.  Hold for five to ten breaths, then repeat on the other side.


PIgeon pose:

Start in downward-facing dog.  Bring your right leg up behind you into three-legged dog.


From here, bring the leg forward and place your right knee behind your right hand.


The farther forward your right foot, the more intense the stretch; be sure to keep the foot flexed and go slowly into the stretch to avoid injury or muscle tightening.  Lower your left knee onto the floor.


Extend your arms forward and lower your chest as far as you can.


Hold for five to ten breaths.  To release, press in with your hands to come back to downward-facing dog.  Make any movements here to release the muscles.  Repeat on the other side.

Butterfly pose:

The previous stretches focused on the outside of the hips; this pose focuses on the inside of the hips and groin muscles.

Sit on the floor with your feet together and knees falling open.  Pull your heels in as close to your hips as possible.  From here, lie back onto the floor and let gravity pull your knees down.


This is a restorative pose; that is, you shouldn’t be using a lot of muscular effort here.  Hold for five to ten breaths.


[1] These poses should be held for longer than the other poses because the hips are such a large muscle group, and should be given a longer period of time to get full release.


Yoga for Stances

To start in downward-facing dog, begin on your hands and knees.  Walk your knees back a few inches and press in with your hands to lift your knees a couple inches above the floor.  Continue pressing your hands into the floor and send your hips back and up, keeping your knees bent.  Work on maintaining a flat back and slowly straighten your knees.  You can walk your feet forward or back in order to make this pose easier.


Zenkutsudachi: Warrior 1

From downward-facing dog, bring your right foot up and behind you, then forward in between your hands.  Plant your left foot on the floor with the toes pointed forward; this should be similar to zenkutsudachi, but try bringing your left foot in line with right (it’s okay if you don’t quite make it).  Keep your hips square to the front of the room, and move your back foot forward or back as necessary to accomplish this with the toes still pointed forward.  Bring your arms forward and up to come into the full warrior 1 pose.

Warrior 1

Hold for three to five breaths, then plant your hands on either side of the front foot.  Bring the front foot back to meet the left, then repeat on the other side.  This should open the hips and hamstrings and, over time, allow you to maintain deeper stances.


Zenkutsudachi to boubi shikodachi: flow between warrior 1 and goddess pose.

Come into warrior 1 once again.  From here, bend the back knee and turn the back toes out at 90 degrees, bending the elbows to a 90-degree angle and bring the elbows in line with the shoulders coming into goddess pose.


Inhale back to warrior 1, then exhale back to goddess pose.  Repeat for three to five breaths, then switch to the other side.  This should help train the muscles for the quick changes between warrior 1 and boubi shikodachi in kata like Seisan.


Shoulder stance: warrior 2

From downward-facing dog, bring your left foot forward in between your hands.  Place your right foot on the floor, toes at a 90 degree angle or slightly forward.  Bend the left knee and come up into a standing position and bring your arms parallel to the floor.  Square your hips to the side and bring your gaze over the front fingertips.


After three to five breaths, cartwheel your hands down to frame the front foot.  Bring the left foot back to meet the front, then repeat on the other side.

Uchihachijidachi: wide-legged forward fold

Step your feet wide apart, then walk the toes in a bit.  They don’t have to be as far in as for uchihachijidachi, but walk them in as far as you can manage with this wide-legged pose.


With your hand on your hips, extend your spine long, then fold forward toward the floor.  Place your hands under the shoulders and begin to bend forward so your head starts to come toward the floor.


If you can place your head comfortably on the floor, walk your feet in a bit until your experience a stretch through the inside and backs of your legs.

Yoga for Intermediate/Advanced Kicks

For forward or back spin kicks, the ability to twist is important.  A lot of us have trouble targeting in a back spin kick, so these twisting poses will help us get our upper body around in time to spot our target before kicking.

Start in a comfortable seated or kneeling pose.  We’ll start with some gentle twisting flows to warm up the spine, similar to the cat-cow warm-up from the beginner/intermediate kick series.

On an inhale, bring your arms up and overhead.  As you exhale, twist gently to one side, placing your fingertips on either side of your knee (or anywhere that’s comfortable).


Note: we’re not placing too much effort in these beginning twists; this is more for warming up.  On your next inhale, bring your arms overhead again, then twist in the other direction on an exhale.  Continue at the pace of your own breathing for four to eight more breaths, so that you go in each direction three to five times total.

Bring your left foot by your right hip so that your knee is pointing directly forward.  Place your right foot just to the outside of your left knee so that the right knee is pointed toward the ceiling.


Hug your right knee into the chest with your left arm.  If this is enough, stay here.  If this is too much, extend your left leg.  Otherwise, place your right fingertips at the base of the spine behind you.  With a deep inhale, extend your left fingertips toward the ceiling and draw your spine long.


On your exhale, twist to the right and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee.


As you continue with three to five more breaths, use your inhales to extend the spine long, exhales to twist from your core and deepen the twist.  Continue looking over your right shoulder.  The twist should come from deep in your core, rather than cranking from your shoulders.

If you still have a little more space, you can bind the twist by bringing your left arm under your right knee and reaching your right arm behind your back for your left hip or fingertips.


When you’ve completed your breaths on this side, bring your head around first to release the twist.  Gently bring your arms to the other side for a couple breaths for a counter twist.  Repeat on the other side.

Come back to hands and knees.  Place your hands one hand’s length forward and place your right foot in between your hands.  Tuck your left toes under and lift your left knee off the floor, coming into a high lunge.


Plant your left hand on the floor and your right hand on your right thigh, twisting your left ribs toward your thigh.


If you feel stable here, bring your right fingertips toward the ceiling and stack your right shoulders over your left.  If it feels okay, you can bring your gaze up toward the ceiling to intensify the twist.


Hold for three to five breaths.  To release the twist, bring your right hand back to the floor.  Place your opposite hand on the floor and walk your right foot back beside the left, then bring your left foot forward.  Repeat on the other side.

For a variation on pigeon pose (see Yoga for Hip Stretching), start in downward facing dog.


Plant your palms on the floor and, with your knees bent, bring your hips back and up.  Come into three-legged dog: lift your right heel up toward the ceiling with your toes pointed toward the floor.


From here, bring your right knee in between your hands, bringing your right foot towards your left hip.  Make sure to keep your right foot flexed to protect your knee joint.


Start slowly lowering your hips and upper body down as far as is tolerable.  Hold for at least five breaths.  To reverse, plant your hands and push back into downward facing dog.  Do whatever feels necessary to release your hips and right leg.  Repeat on the other side.


Yoga for Beginner/Intermediate Kicks

The poses below help with hip strength and overall flexibility of leg muscles, and I’ve found them especially helpful for the kicks listed below. For some kicks, I’ve given alternate poses; I suggest you try not to think of these poses as more or less difficult than the original pose. I’ve found that some poses work better for individuals, regardless of ability or experience.

Start out in table pose: on hand and knees, with wrists directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.


Before moving on to the other poses, we’ll begin with some cat-cow poses.  While not working on the kicks per se, this will warm up and lubricate the spine: always beneficial before beginning practice.

Inhale to cow pose: arch the spine, drop the belly towards the floor and look up.


Exhale to cat pose: round the spine towards the ceiling, bring the belly button in and drop the chin towards the chest.


Continue at the pace of your own breathing for three to five of your breaths.

Front kicks: obviously, anything that opens the hamstrings will help with front kicks.  I like these poses because they also open the front of the hip of the standing leg.

Monkey pose: Walk your hands one hand’s length forward; that is, place the heel of your palm where the tip of your middle finger just was. Bring your right foot in between your hands and walk the foot forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip.  The left foot can be flat on the floor, or you can tuck those toes under.


NOTE: if this pose bothers your left knee, place a folded-up blanket under your shin so the knee floats off the floor.  If it still hurts, you can tuck your toes and bring the knee off the floor for this pose and these motions.


From here, on your next exhale, send the hips back towards your left heel.  Right toes can be on the floor or flexed towards the ceiling, whichever you prefer.


On your next inhale, come back forward into monkey pose.  Continue this flow at your own pace for the next three to five breaths, then bring the right knee back beside the left and bring the left foot forward.  Repeat on this side.

Standing alternative: Pyramid pose

Bring your left foot about three feet behind your right.  Adjust as necessary so that you can have your left toes forward and your hips square to the front.


From here, with your hands on your hips to keep them squared forward, extend forward with a flat spine until you feel a stretch in the back of your right leg.


From here, round forward to release your spine and neck.


If your hands are close enough, you can place them on the floor or on your right leg.

You can also place a blanket or some blocks on the floor for your hands to lessen the intensity of this pose.  Hold this pose for three to five breaths, then repeat on the other side.

Side kicks:

From hands and knees, bring your left toes out a few inches, keeping your knee in place.  With your left shin at a slight angle, extend the arch of your right foot on the floor behind you.


Begin to stack your right hip over your left and place your right hand on your hip.  If this is enough, stay here.  If you need more strengthening, begin to flex your right foot and bring it in line with your right hip.  If you have enough balance, begin to lift your right arm to the ceiling and bring your gaze up.


Stay here for three to five breaths.  Once you’re done, reverse the process to come back down on to hands and knees.  Take a moment to work out any remaining muscle tension, then repeat on the other side.

Standing alternative: Half-moon pose

This pose can be done away from the wall, but placing your base foot about six inches away from the wall is recommended in order to train your muscles to hold the form.

Place your right foot parallel to the wall.  Bring your left foot a few feet behind, toes perpendicular.  Extend your arms parallel to the floor, then bring the left foot a few feet closer until you can push off and bring your right fingertips towards the floor.


Again, use a block or blanket if you can’t get your hand close enough to the floor.  Left toes should be flexed and in line with the hip.  From here, work towards letting your left hip and shoulder fall against the wall.  If you’re working with a partner, they can give a gentle push on the top hip to help your muscles open.

Round kick/hook kick:

Similar to our first side kick pose, we’ll start on hands and knees.  Again, bring the left toes out to the left a couple inches.  Tuck your right knee into your chest and wrap your right fingertips around your right ankle or over the top of the foot.


Bring your knee back in line with your hip or a bit behind, pressing in with your right foot into your hand to open into a quadricep stretch and backbend.  In addition to opening the quadriceps, this also opens the front of the top hip to help with hook kicks.


Stay here for three to five breaths, then reverse the process to come down.  Repeat on the other side.

Standing alternative: Warrior 3

This is a pretty intense pose, but may be worth a try if you’d like more work after the first pose.  Again, this can be done against a wall for balance.  Come into a zenkutsudachi stance with your right foot forward.  Bring your fingertips up overhead and bring your left foot in a bit, until you can push off with your left toes.  Bring your arms forward and leg back until you’re parallel with the floor, flexing your back foot.


From here, bring your left fingertips to the floor and bend your left knee, reaching for your left foot behind your back with your right hand.  Hold for three to five breaths, then repeat on the other side.


Chambering for kicks: balancing pose

Stand with your feet together.  Bring weight into your left foot.  Bring the right heel off the floor, bending the right knee.  Bend forward and bring your right elbow to the inside of your knee.  Place your hand over the top of the foot and bring your fingertips around the outside edge.


Focus your gaze on a point on the floor in front of you for your balance, then flex your right foot and begin to lift that foot off the floor.  Come as high as you can; ideally, you’ll be standing on your left foot with your right knee pointed toward the ceiling, right heel pointed toward the floor.



Yoga & Karate

By Susan Elrod

My first time teaching yoga was to Sensei Hofmeister’s karate students.  This was years before I started training in karate myself, and I assumed the students would find my curriculum unchallenging and even boring.  Thirty minutes into class, these extremely capable martial artists where puffing, sweating and in serious need of a break.

Once I started training in Yoshukai myself, I was surprised at how much my yoga practice had prepared me for traditional karate.  As I continued teaching yoga in our dojo, I began to select particular poses and stretches that I found to be especially helpful to karate training.  The series of posts below are some of those poses, grouped by the karate techniques I find they best correspond to.

Yoga for Beginner/Intermediate Kicks

Yoga for Intermediate/Advanced Kicks

Yoga for Stances

Yoga for Hip Stretches

Yoga Philosophy and Yoshukai

A couple things to remember if you decide to try these poses for yourself: 1. If anything you try causes sharp pain, especially in the joints, stop.  Every body is different, and some of these poses might not be helpful for you.  2. These poses are by no means comprehensive.  If you’re interested in trying yoga on your own, you’ll find almost all yoga practices develop the strength, flexibility, and body control that are beneficial to martial arts.  Finally, if you have any questions or want any more information, please feel free to contact me through the website or find me at our next Yoshukai event.  Osu and namaste!