View Full Version : Role of Tension and Body Conditioning in Aikido
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11-05-2007, 02:23 PM
The karate practitioner relies upon generating incredible tension in their own bodies in order to power their blows and blocks; in Goju ryu karate (and I'm sure others), there even exists a "high-level" practice called sanchin kata, in which the practitioner focuses on maintaining a high level of tension throughout their bodies.
Here's a youtube link of sanchin kata: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5xD2Ph9CPo
The systema practitioner focuses on tension control as well, but in order to eliminate it: they use conditioning drills to learn to both relax and feel the tension in their partners, and use "slow motion sparring" to remain relaxed and develop sensitivity to the energy of attacks.
Here's some youtube links of solo systema conditioning:
And here's one of Vladimir Vasiliev being Gumby:
I personally feel that I understand the point of karate's sanchin kata more than I do the slow motion of systema: for a striking art, tension = better transfer of energy, and having studied more physics than I'd like to, that makes perfect sense to me. Some of the "relaxed" strikes of systema I find questionable: I can see how a relaxed strike could result in an inelastic collision (your hand doesn't bounce, say), and the end result is less energy being redirected back into your striking arm, but some from the youtube clips I've seen of systema striking, it looks a little bit too much of preconditioned uke's responding out of habit rather than an actual, powerful, relaxed blow.
Of course, being relaxed for the grappling and throwing aspects of systema make perfect sense, since it aids in your sensitivity to attack energy. This is what (I believe) we wish to attain in aikido as well.
However, as a noobie I don't really know of any specific exercises per se that teaches an aikidoka how to manage or control their own tension other than perhaps kokyu dosa. I know when I'm on the mat most of the yudansha working with me always remind me to relax when I do any technique, which I try to do as best I can, but do you think that aikido could benefit from more "tension management" exercises, such as karate's sanchin kata or systema's tension conditioning?
For Goju ryu, sanchin kata is the bedrock of their training. Apparently systema practitioners devote much of their training time to these tension conditioning exercises. Do you think tension management and basic conditioning exercises (other than just kokyu ho or tai no henko) should play a larger role in aikido training, or should we just continue focusing on the "learn technique, learn to break out of technique, learn to create your own technique" methodology?
11-05-2007, 03:55 PM
I don't want to derail your thread, but what you're starting to get at is "internal" movement and training, such as is developed in high level chinese arts like Taiji (and hopefully in Aikido, though its debatable how many Aikido teachers have this type of skill).
One of the goals of internal training is to develop and utilize the connective tissues of the body, especially the fascia. This is what gives high level martial artists (like O-Sensei) such "supernatural" strength.
Sanchin is certainly an important kata, but I think you may misunderstand its purpose. The goal of the Sanchin kata is specifically to develop this type of "internal" strength. By tensing the body so much, the kata stresses both the muscles AND the connective tissues. But the goal, overtime, should be to let go of this tension. Or more specifically, overtime the practitioner should learn how to relax the tension in the muscles but maintain the tension in the connective tissues. Look up Kenji Ushiro, as seen in [this video performing Sanchin] (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbiN5IerC00). He's not all tensed up.
The methods in Systema, though less developed, I believe have the same effect. I believe the combination of awkward conditioning exercises (you should google some of their warm-up exercises) and emphasis on relaxation in movement, builds up the connective tissues while relaxing the muscles.
You can get more info over in the "Non-Aikido Martial Traditions" forum.
11-05-2007, 05:23 PM
Thank you for the informative response. I never thought about the role of connective tissue in all this, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Anyway, do you think that this kind of conditioning is beneficial for aikido? Or do you think it is unnecessary? And do you know of any analog in aikido training?
11-06-2007, 04:32 AM
For a place to start you can have a closer look at the warm up exercises done in aikido. You can use them to train moving in a relaxed way, moving from your center, keeping in touch with the ground, connecting different body part to each other.
For a simple example of what I mean: you know the exercise where you bend forward and backward with your hands somewhere vaguely above your head? Try that one with your hands clasped behind your head and see how it feels. It should make it more difficult to move from the shoulders, and help you make the movement more with your center. Once you've got that, you can keep your hands, still clasped together, just above your head, and try to do the whole movement without letting them drift away, but still keeping your shoulders relaxed.
11-06-2007, 04:58 AM
The issue of internal training is a huge one, and there's been an ongoing discussion for the last few years across various websites, including here at aikiweb, e-budo, and aikidojournal.
Like I said, check out the "Non-Aikido" forum here, that's where most of the "internal" discussion goes down. Check out Ellis Amdur's blog over at Aikido Journal, he has a couple things to say about the place of this type of training in Aikido. Look up stuff about Akuzawa and/or the Aunkai (there's a current thread about a recent seminar of his in the "Non-Aikido" forum). Lastly, look up threads by Mike Sigman and Dan Harden. They have some good things to say, but be warned that their threads are a mixed bag, they tend to run into a lot of "personality clashes".
There are a couple of threads you should look up:
How to teach and train relaxation (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11449)
Training the Body for Martial Movement (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10763) & Training the Body, Part2: Exercises (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?p=150346)
Baseline skillset (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=11629) (this one is a HUGE, mixed bag, it has a few really good things to say, but you have to wade through pages and pages of crap to get at it)
11-06-2007, 08:28 AM
Ushiro Sensei (if you do not know about him, look him up on google) emphasizes keeping the body soft during Sanchin Kata.Ushiro Sensei is one of the most amazing and dangerous people I have ever had the honor of training with. Ushiro Sensei emphasizes "zero power", very much in the same manner as done in Systema. Certainly another perspective to consider since Okinawan arts have both "soft" and "hard" proponents.
11-06-2007, 10:52 AM
I'm not familiar with Ushiro's own methodology, but it's obvious he doesn't perform Sanchin with any tension, that was my point. But I know some other karate groups that use Sanchin the way I described.
11-06-2007, 11:33 AM
For Goju ryu, sanchin kata is the bedrock of their training. Apparently systema practitioners devote much of their training time to these tension conditioning exercises. Do you think tension management and basic conditioning exercises (other than just kokyu ho or tai no henko) should play a larger role in aikido training, or should we just continue focusing on the "learn technique, learn to break out of technique, learn to create your own technique" methodology?I don't want to derail your thread, but what you're starting to get at is "internal" movement and training, such as is developed in high level chinese arts like Taiji (and hopefully in Aikido, though its debatable how many Aikido teachers have this type of skill).
Sanchin is certainly an important kata, but I think you may misunderstand its purpose. The goal of the Sanchin kata is specifically to develop this type of "internal" strength. By tensing the body so much, the kata stresses both the muscles AND the connective tissues. But the goal, overtime, should be to let go of this tension. Or more specifically, overtime the practitioner should learn how to relax the tension in the muscles but maintain the tension in the connective tissues. Look up Kenji Ushiro, as seen in [this video performing Sanchin] (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbiN5IerC00). He's not all tensed up. Traditional aikido has related training in the kokyu undo, properly performed, as well. Its significance is not as prominently emphasized in some quarters as it should be.
The ultimate point of sanchin is to make one perform in the same physical sensibility that, for example, tekubi furi (wrist shaking) kokyu undo is also aimed for, albeit from a different perspective. If you perform sanchin in the manner of tekubi furi you may have a better idea of what both are aiming towards. If tekubi furi is "wrong" toward the "loose" side then typical sanchin is "wrong" toward the "tight" side, as a terribly broad over-generalization. The secret is in the middle. Kenji Ushiro Sensei is, by all accounts much closer to that middle. Understanding, however that sanchin, properly done, is not really "tight," nor is tekubi furi, properly done, really "loose." They just look that way, respectively. Kind of like a rigid pencil looks highly flexible if you move it in JUST the right way. Hold that thought.
The basic physical problem is learning how to extend the limbs into a target/attack and how to withdraw them without using coupled compression/tension in the more commonplace push/pull leverage mechanics of the limbs. In sanchin you see the practitioner changing the operative length of his limbs. But not by pushing or by pulling. The relaxed limb is more like a rope or chain than a beam or rod. There are three ways to use a rope to alter the EFFECTIVE distance between things its connects. Theoretically, compression (pushing the rope) could be used extend the distance. Practically speaking, compression doesn't work too well on ropes. Linear tension reduces the distance, but practically, linear tension is limited to the axis of the limb, and only one direction of alteration.
Rather than tension vice compression, consider tension/extension as a third way and different pair of opposites. Cyclic tension/extension, alternately, in-yo ho or wave action). This has the curious ability to extend or contract the effective length of the limb depending on how one orients the phase of the cycles, driven from the center.
That form of motion allows one to expand or contract the range of connection and to shift seamlessly from tension to extension in action -- WITHOUT ALTERING THE MUSCULATURE OF THE LIMBS SO AS TO CREATE OPPOSITIONAL LEVERAGE in or against the limbs or the opponent/weapon.
Sanchin teaches this. Kokyu undo does too. What sanchin does more statically, things like tekubi furo undo, funetori undo, and related kokyu exercises do more dynamically. In sanchin you see various motions that are correctly mapping the form of this movement. In tekubi furi undo you see the same thing more energetically and less structured. Similarly, the same is seen in funetori and applied in other forms of kokyu undo.
Weapons training is (in my own view) an indispensable part of teaching it in aikido, because the movement principles involved require extending motion of the same type past one's own structure into something merely connected to you (which by definition has no oppositional musculature you can directly manipulate). You cannot cut properly with the sword without using it. More humorously, if you have made a pencil look like rubber between your fingers (which involves motion of the whole arm, BTW) -- you have used the same basic principle. In other words, if you learn to motivate the rest of your body the way you motivate the jo or sword or the pencil , then you have grasped the fundamental principle at work. In my preferred terminology, the instantaneous center of rotation propagates from the center of the system of rotation and is always and cyclically changing.
Fundamentally, any useful approach gives one a progressive realization of the nature of bodily motion when motivated primarily from the center. This is not something one really DOES WITH the limbs, it is simply the way center-driven movement physically WORKS the limbs -- the weapon - the opponent -- all equally. You have to mainly get out of its way, overcoming learned habits of resistance/rejection to INDUCED motion, more than anything else. That is another reason why ukemi is so fundamental to aikido practice -- it is in properly receiving induced motions of an attack/technique that we better learn to induce our own.
Sanchin is very likely among the oldest preserved codifications of it. There are many more. Sanchin preserves, so to speak, the what, but does not so well preserve the why/how. Efforts to describe the why/how of it are legion. It is codified in the aikido principle of irimi-tenkan. Nidai Doshu used tangential, centripetal and spiral action to describe it. Hiroo Mochizuki uses wave theory to describe it. Aunkai has their own approach that is reputedly effective, and apparently in vogue in some circles.
Conceptually, there are many other ways of trying to convey it. Hiroo Mochizuki likes the image of waves. People like Mike Sigman tend to work from traditional Chinese concepts, which has a deep repertoire. Dan Harden's approach seems more pragmatic and empiric than conceptual, but also reputedly effective in practice. I like the concept of angular momentum conservation and harmonics as more a general physical construct. There are many other ways of conceptualizing the matter besides.
Whatever training gets you further toward it is good. Don't be overly doctrinaire. It is one thing, and the same thing, regardless, and the secret of it is built into your structure. Once you have the slightest sense of it you'll know what to look for to find more and better ways of grasping and applying it.
Kenji Ushiro Sensei has basically said that the only thing lacking in a lot of aikido is attention to effective striking principles. I was exposed to sanchin only relatively late in my training. But I immediately sensed the relationship of the movements with my aikido training. Since I did only traditional aikido waza, kokyu undo and weapons training, (and those of my teachers I know to have this quality of movement have also done, wiht attention to proper striking), I have to personally attest that traditional aikido training is quite effective toward that end, properly done, without more. I will also say that those aikido strains that de-emphasize weapons, attention to striking or diminishing the importance of the various kokyu undo (which is not the case in my training progression) seem (to me at least) the ones most feeling the relative lack that is making this set of topics so popular/controversial.
11-08-2007, 10:01 PM
I think you have a bit of misunderstanding about systema. The idea is to use exactly the amount of tension necessary, no more no less. To develop this ability there are both drills to increase and decrease tension. As for the strikes, I highly recommend attending a seminar or class. Clips on the internet are not enough to understand what is going on.
How about the idea that the role of "appropriate tension" can help wake up tendons, tissue, pathways . . . but then there's more "inside" work to do to condition those things -- which might not be evident at all from watching a video.
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