Hen and Ha Sounds

Superficially, hen is the gentle, rather drawn out sound you make when inhaling through your nose to "activate" (I prefer that term to "inflate," which implies that you are too much like a rubber ball) the abdomen and tan-tien. For self-healing purposes, the resulting sound should be relatively quiet, slow and even—like the breath itself. In normal respiration, the diaphragm goes down and causes the lower abdomen to swell during inhalation.

For martial purposes, the ha sound escapes through your mouth and is sharp, sudden, and triggers an explosive expiration while the abdominal area expands suddenly. There are several reasons for using the ha sound. It loosens and focuses the abdominal area (muscles and connective tissue) to provide stability and aid in the absorption of blows to the torso. It can increase the power and speed of your strikes significantly, and the sound itself has shock value against your opponent—often even if he or she is half-expecting you to yell.

The use of breathing to increase your focus is nothing new—ask any weight lifter. Using a vocalisation to increase your striking power is nothing new either—ask professional tennis players. However, most modern martial artists no longer are exposed to such concepts or, if they are, do not take it seriously, so they only make a perfunctory use of sound to accompany techniques.

Real martial sound has to slightly lead the physical expression of the ha, not just accompany it. If you make the sound before or after the martial action, you have lost much of its ability to focus your muscles and weight in support of the martial action. Traditionally, the voice, like the eyes, acts as a mediator between your intention (Yi) and the Qi, to lead the hands to the target.

When first exposed to this aspect of training, I found it very difficult to get used to the concept of making noise as part of my martial methods. In general, women and men both tend to resist really letting go of their fear of being noisy in a group setting. The initial strangled squeaks and grunts tend to provoke laughter more than anything else in a training room.

However, with a little practice, eventually the letting go process will include being able to ha from the very centre of the tan-tien. The difference it makes to the speed and power of your movement can be quite spectacular. Like any other aspect of your training, you will only be able to understand the martial usage of this by practising under competent supervision.

While learning this skill, you should practise with some volume, but eventually the sounds can be as effective without being loud (or even audible) unless you choose to use volume to provide an element of startle to your tactics. Make sure that the shouts are short and sharp, and come from the lower torso and the tan-tien rather than from the upper chest or throat. In the beginning don't do too many at one time, as your throat may get hoarse if you overdo the volume of the shouting and don't get it right.

Perhaps, the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu was thinking partially of this kind of training when he wrote in his famous philosophical treatise Tao Te-Ching that a baby can scream all day without getting hoarse because it breathes naturally and, by implication, without tension. Anyone who has been around infants and toddlers will know the truth of this____

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