View Full Version : Too much upper body strength

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Bruce Baker
11-19-2002, 11:43 AM
I had some fun this past weekend as a seminar in Morristown, NJ. A big strong guy, in his twenties, was using a lot of upper body strength to throw the old fat man, and complaining he couldn't feel where I was going when we were doing ushiro practice.

Well I slowed down, and jostled him so he could feel when and where contact was made, but he must have thought that being strong was having great upper body strength, so I got a few good throws to the mat.

Instead of complaining, I told him he wasn't using his hips, at which I got an angry look ... the old who the hell are you, and what makes you think you can teach me anything look.

I just want to be thrown in a manner that is not abusive, and his style wasn't it.

So, like most old guys, I let him set his stance before I used my center to move him three feet away ... wherein he toppled like a tree. To me, it was more of a nudge, rather than a true throw, but the point should have been taken.

I know that it is difficult to overcome the stigma of a man's upper body strength being the mark of strong Aikido, but what other ways are there besides showing someone?

I have yet to find an adequete way to explain it with words, or a means being tactful for my usual gruff ways?

Just a thought that I have considered reexploring with the advent of finding many big strong young guys still using considerable upper body strength after they have experienced two or more years of training?

Should we introduce more drills to move partners, such as the drills of someone holding a kicking shield, and learn to move them with center instead of brute force?

I learned to move heavy objects with my hips at work, should we have a hip practice to encourage proper movement that would translate into learning to move the entire body for correct technique application?

Bruce Baker
11-20-2002, 06:39 AM
84 views at this point and no opinions?

Does that mean the general concensus is to use muscle over body movement?

11-20-2002, 07:06 AM
I'm not sure - I'm of the opinion that there are 2 schools of practise;

1. you use timing and disruption of balance to throw person (feet tend not to be fixed)

2. you use your hips and rooted feet to throw someone

When I've watched vids of Ueshiba he seems to throw i one of 2 types:

a. leading them arounf, then overextending them to throw them

b. turning them around their centre

Thus Ueshiba does not appear to force or push the attacker away from him - they are either lead, or they carry on in the same direction they were going (albeit, underside down).

Also, Ueshiba can be seen to be doing both 1 & 2 (more of 2 in his younger years). I think that timing and balance isnot always effective (1), also that (2) is more difficult against heavier/larger opponents.

In my mind we can use force - but only when the uke is unable to resist it i.e. we take balance, and then it is our choice whether to throw hard or soft. Upper body strength can be helpful in throwing people long distances or very hard - but even then, it is most effective when the whole body is utilised as well.


11-20-2002, 07:15 AM
No, probably not... :)

We refer to a tendancy we call "big mans aikido" where big strong guys use strength to power through techniques.

It looks good, it isn't difficult to learn and it is effective - up to a point.

However the problem comes when they encounter either someone who is stronger, or is much better than them.

There is always someone stronger out there than you, and if your technique won't work on them - then it is fundamentaly flawed.

I think it is *much* harder to learn how to do techniques in a relaxed and soft way - but the end result (a long way down the road for me) is controlled aikido that doesn't hurt uke and will work on the strongest of opponenets.

11-20-2002, 08:13 AM

I don't know if this is an option for you, but one thing an instructor of mine did in your situation was get the big, strong person tired as hell. Have them do bodyweight exercises (push ups, jumping jacks, burpes, etc...) until they are fatigued and then keep them fatigued (key point! They must never fully recover). When fatigued, they simply don't have the energy to muscle someone around. For safety, have them work with more experienced, level-headed folks who won't take advantage of the situation and protected them during throws.



11-20-2002, 08:42 AM
Why do you need "show/explain" anything? If the practice is diligent and concentrated, they will figure it out on their own eventually. In the meantime you get to concentrate on your pracitce with the added enjoyment of tossing around a "big strong guy". Nobody loses.

Fiona D
11-20-2002, 11:13 AM
"Why do you need "show/explain" anything? If the practice is diligent and concentrated, they will figure it out on their own eventually"

Well, yes and no. I've spent quite a bit of time in the last couple of years training with a big, strong, solidly-built guy who started out doing everything through strength but then began to work hard to use technique instead. So he's aware of the situation but, when training with someone like me who's less than 2/3 his weight, he often needs (and will usually ask me for it these days) feedback on whether he's used pure technique or put in some raw muscle power. This works very well as long as the big strong person is amenable to this sort of constructive criticism.

Paul's suggestion of getting the big person really tired is something I've seen in the gradings in the Jiu Jitsu association I train with. The version of randori used in the gradings is for nage to deal with a sequence (in this case one at a time, but in quick succession) of attackers, who are sent in at a speed determined by the instructor. If the grading examiner sees that nage is using a lot of brute force at the expense of technique, the attackers keep coming until nage is completely exhausted, then another 10 or so attacks are sent when there is no way nage can use strength any more.

11-20-2002, 12:31 PM
If the grading examiner sees that nage is using a lot of brute force at the expense of technique, the attackers keep coming until nage is completely exhausted, then another 10 or so attacks are sent when there is no way nage can use strength any more.

We do this nearly every lesson at judo, gets you to become much more natural with your throwing.

Paul Clark
11-20-2002, 01:01 PM

"I just want to be thrown in a manner that is not abusive, and his style wasn't it. "

I think I've had a similar experience. A couple of guys I've trained with tend to add a little extra "juice" to the end of techinques like kokyu ho, even after I'm off my feet and headed toward the mat. Adds downward velocity to my fall, which could be dangerous to an uke that can't take that fall. Anyway, kinda vicious and unnecessary in my book, if that's what you meant.

I've tried the following. When it's my turn, I throw once with a soft ending, ie, just enough to get the job done. Then, I throw once with a litte something added at the end, same as I've been getting, and then pause and look at him afterward. Hasn't completely sunk in yet, but usually he's better for a while.


Brian H
11-20-2002, 01:47 PM
I am not a little person ( 6'00" and 230 lbs), but one of the guys I regularly practice in strong as an ox and can/does stop me cold if I try to muscle my way through a technique. So I regularly seek him out on the mat.

One of my other favorite partners in less than half my size. If I muscle my way through technique, I send her flying. Since we are friends and unscheduled air travel is rude in Aikido, I must practice smooth and clean technique.

If I always practiced against like sized people, I would only learn how to defeat myself :)

11-21-2002, 10:48 AM
IMHO, too much upper body strength is not the problem, its the reliance on that upper body strength over proper alignment and principles that's the problem. Okay, at least for me. It taks so much less muscle if I take their balance than if I don't.

Those applying their waa against me also have the problem. Because of my size (6'4", 220 lbs.) they tend to try to give me more, instead of giving me less.

When neither they, nor I, focus on my size, we both tend to do much better.

Until again,


Bruce Baker
11-22-2002, 03:39 PM
I know it takes awhile for some people to get the feel for where strength is coming from in the application of Aikido, and I am getting better at it.

I got pretty good at holding up 300-400 pound outboard motors as they were balanced for installation ... you quickly learn to either use your lower center of gravity to get strength, or you will lose your balance as the slightest shift will make the motor fall. Live weight, on the other hand, is a much easier commodity to move, to take balance away, or have it resist you with countermovements.

Within the treatise of the question of "can we teach large strong guys to use less body strength", I don't want to be the teacher, but there must be something we can do to correct this problem in a simple way?

Maybe just a simple drill of learnig to push someone with our whole body, rather than the upper body is the answer?

How about taking your obi, your belt, tieing it around you body so that the belt holds your elbows at your ribs, and then having them push with the lower body. It would certainly force one to use the power found in the lower body.

I could go into some other things I have seen, and other methods, but I was wondering if any other aikido practitioners were actually working on other types of drills to corret this incorrect application of arm and upper body strength verse hip strength?

I am not so much concerned about applying the lessons of old school, tiring out the practitioner, because that method sometimes takes many months for the stubborn toughguy, or toughwoman.

I am a little more concerned that most teachers, and practitioners, are still trying to correct this simple condition with trial and error teaching of practice.

I thought we could share some of the training drills practiced in different dojos.

11-25-2002, 08:17 AM
<Newbie alert>

Was *is* the role of strength in aikido anyways? And why are certain types of strength preffered over others?

11-25-2002, 01:40 PM
well, you need muscles to move right?

I'd say the role of strength is to be the means by which you can correctly position yourself so that you do not use "isolated" muscular force to unbalance or "take down" someone

upper body strength pits your pectorals, biceps, triceps, deltoids, agains someone else who <if attacking correctly> is using their entire body.

the preferred strength is that of the entire body aligned with gravity .. which is pretty powerful compared to say biceps alone.

so easy to talk about, so much work to achieve..

<little less newbie alert>

11-28-2002, 10:47 AM
well, you need muscles to move right?
Well, actually.... ;-)

Hmm... I think I may have phrased my question wrong.

What is the place of "rigidity" in aikido?

Bruce Baker
11-28-2002, 12:45 PM
The validity of needing muscles to move is a generally valid assumption for movement, but if I am bigger/ stronger than you ... how do you over come that size and strength advantage?

That is the basis for considering overuse of upper body strength ... and pulling my back out half a dozen times in the last thirty years from lifting outboard motors up to 140 pounds and hearing or feeling a pop in my back.

Yeah, you seem invincible until that old back goes out and the agony of not being able to even crawl without torturous pain comes to your body for a week or more. That, and considering there will always be someone stronger than you somewhere or sometime, I consider using strength in a smart way rather using brute strength in the stupid manner that cause injury to myself or others.

You should consider stealing the strength techniques of the small person who moves you as if you were a child, that is the smart way to use strength. If you live to reach your fiftys or sixtys, you probably won't be the great pillar of strength you were in your youth, so you must learn the smart way to be strong.

You do need muscles .... but there are intelligent way to use them when required ... just as there are stupid ways to use strength.

Too much upper body strength means you have moved your center closer to your shoulders ... is that where you want your center to be? I doubt once you learn to lower your center of gravity you will want to use the upper body strength the was you did in youthful exuberance.

Nice retort though ... you do need muscles, but can you use them in an intelligent manner to overcome brute strength?

I bring this subject up because of my experienceing four of more students exhibiting this trait during my last attendance at a seminar. Did I just happen to find the few people who did not listen to their Sensei, or is this upper body strength syndrome more widespread?

I rather tend to go with anyone who is practicing on the mat, including any sensei or higher grade student ... and it really doesn't matter how renouned there are, I tend to see them as equals ... students practicing Aikido.

Maybe we need a bit more of that. Less caste system mentality, and more actual praactice towards understanding we are equal human beings practicing Aikido.

I see too much of "Sensei this", and "Sensei that" nonsense, which tends to hide the true meaning of Aikido practice.

Our politeness is just that, respect and politeness. The important part of Aikido is the ability to practice, share our knowledge in practice, and help each other to better understand the basis of practice and where it can take us when the practice becomes application.

Enough ranting.

Upper body strength.

How many of people in your dojo are using too much, and what practices does your teacher use to help correct it?

11-29-2002, 01:29 AM
>movement, but if I am bigger/ >stronger than you ... how do you >over come that size and strength >advantage?

Physics ;-)

No, I get what your saying and agree with it. It seems in someplaces I've been to visit, the use of *any* strength is poo-pooed. I picked up on this habit myself while in judo, till I had a black belt take me aside and say "you know, you don't always have to be so gentle, I'm not made from plastic" ;-)

>Too much upper body strength >means you have moved your center >closer to your shoulders ... is >that where you want your center >to be?


Given there is a "lunar plexus" (navel), the solar plexus (chest) must exist for some reason.

Perhaps there are times when hip mobility must be traded for hip stability?

>How many of people in your dojo >are using too much, and what >practices does your teacher use >to help correct it?

We had a gent in our judo dojo who was very, very strong in the upper body. When playing with him, I would make him "carry" my weight as well as his own, while hamepering his hip movement. He got out of wind pretty quick ;-)

Bruce Baker
11-29-2002, 09:42 AM
I think we have agreed upon the treatease of having the ability to use strength that will entertain a more viable practice ... in that we are not made of glass and we will not break, but that is the long way around to finding that little key to most techniques is the ability to "Get more results with less effort."

As in most physical labors of your daily life, there are ways to do labors effeciently, and then there are ways to physically power through these labors. I entreat you to take the lessons of Judo, and build upon them. If I were to hold on to you when thrown in a typical upper body throw, the thrower would need to have proper rooting, strong stance, to resist from being thrown by his/her own technique. Proven fact of my experence from practice. If you need more lessons in learning this, then seek out the basis of rooting, and apply it when throwing, I bet you will be more able to change and adapt more adeptly.

You see Bob, I have been the strong upper body gorilla with arms like most peoples legs, and although it was easy to leave the center of everything in the upper body, it created too many openings for those who learned the lessons of "More results with less effort" to easily overcome my strength.

I don't say be so gentle as you are hindering practice, but to shift this effort from using strength to cause movement, but using movement to accentuate movement is the efficient way to move.

This is the simplicity pushing a child on a swing, or pushing a merry go round as it circles, simple movements of childhood applied to the martial arts. Many of my bad habits were broken by using a rowing machine for extended exercising. It was a shadow of really rowing a boat for five or six miles, but it did remind me of how to use the body in an efficient unison movement rather than isolating arms and upper body.

Shifting the focus of your efforts from your arms to your fingers/ hands should begin to enlighten you to what I alluding to. If you begins to lose the feeling of arms and forearms doing the work while mentally picturing your hands reaching across the room, the strength of no strength will soom be yours to explore.

The mental connection of the mind having the proper signals to accentuate and improve the movements of the body are the same as lifting weights to improve the muscle tone. It takes repetition, and it takes practice.

Consider. Stand your jo, or a broomstick on end ... as it falls increase its motion by slapping the top of the stick at the top. Stand it up again, and slap it at a lower point. Stand it up again ... slap it at a still lower point.

Now, did it take strength to increase the motion, at the top, or did it affect the motion quicker as you pushed lower?

That is your physics, but now we are going to change physics.

This time tuck your elbow to your ribs and do the same experiment ... you might have to turn your body to accomondate the movement needed to move the stick.

Did you need less effort to move the stick or more effort? Was it the physics of using more body force than the speed an muscle of the upper body, or was it that you were using the forces available in a more efficient manner?

Physics explains what is possible ... but only when you are aware of the possibilites.

There is more than one reason to tuck your elbows in to protect your ribs when sparring, and Aikido shows us that accentuating movement from efficient use of body movement, our use of the body's center, is achievable with excellant results.

Maybe I have overstated my point, but being able to muscle through most people was at the beginning of my training, and now , after a long illness, I have found another way to be just as strong without all the exhausting physical effort.

Consider this practice but another way to give you wind and energy to extend practice. It is kind of like finding the math as an explanation of the movement, it is not the reasons for having the movement.

Also see, I have given you a means to understand the small sensei throwing the big muscular student.

11-29-2002, 02:11 PM
>It is kind of like finding the >math as an explanation of the

>Also see, I have given you a >means to understand the small >sensei throwing the big muscular >student.

There's nothing I can personally add to the last post, other than to attach the following txt file that develops on the above two ideas.