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Old 07-13-2012, 01:09 PM   #1
OwlMatt
 
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Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

I'm going to start this post with two things every aikidoist already knows:
  1. The proper execution of an aikido technique generally does not require a great deal of strength on the part of the performer of the technique (nage).
  2. An aikido technique executed properly can overcome the resistance of a stronger opponent (uke).
These two things lead many aikido instructors to conclude, I think correctly, that a good aikidoist need not be exceptionally strong or muscular. But there are others who go further, asserting that strength training is somehow detrimental to aikido, reducing our flexibility and keeping us from grasping the essence of aikido's physics by allowing us to rely on our strength. This kind of thinking has always seemed a little counter-intuitive to me.

I was inspired to address this subject by a recent Martial Arts Planet thread started by an aikidoist who was considering adding other martial arts and activities to his athletic regimen. He worried that the building up of strength necessary for these other activities would make him "stiff" and make him "force [his] aikido to work". This reminded me of a time at my former club when one of my training partners, an avid weightlifter, was encouraged by an instructor to stop lifting for the sake of his aikido (I should note that this particular instructor did not speak for the entire club--some of the other instructors lift weights themselves).

I'm no expert on physical fitness or aikido, so readers should take what I think with a grain of salt, but this post would be incomplete if I didn't briefly address my own feelings on the subject before moving on. It is my blog, after all.

I wrote once before that when I visit a club, I like to see at least a few students who I'm pretty sure could beat me up. Strength is definitely an ingredient in that recipe. What's more, I think a practitioner of any art or craft has a responsibility to take care of his tools. An aikidoist's primary tool is his body, so I think he ought to be making some effort to keep himself physically fit. Strength, of course, is an important element of physical fitness.

I can certainly understand the fear of reliance on strength in our technique, but it seems to me that this can be avoided by testing our skills against opponents stronger than ourselves (this is difficult, of course, for the strongest person in the dojo, but that problem would exist anyway--if everyone lifts or if no one does, there will always be a strongest person).

Now onto people who know what they're talking about. During the formative years of the internet, dancer and martial artist Bradford Appleton painstakingly researched and then wrote what was to be a comprehensive online guide to stretching and flexibility. The document is now an internet staple which can be found all over; I found it here on the website for MIT's taekwondo club.

Appleton's stance on the matter of strength versus flexibility is quite clear:
Quote:
Strength training and flexibility training should go hand in hand. It is a common misconception that there must always be a trade-off between flexibility and strength. Obviously, if you neglect flexibility training altogether in order to train for strength then you are certainly sacrificing flexibility (and vice versa). However, performing exercises for both strength and flexibility need not sacrifice either one. As a matter of fact, flexibility training and strength training can actually enhance one another.
It would appear, then, that strength training, undertaken sensibly and responsibly, is no danger to our flexibility. But what about our fear that added strength will undermine our technique?

In answer to that concern, I direct you to aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba:



O Sensei had some real guns, even in his later years. This is not a picture, I think, of a man who considers strength an irrelevancy, let alone an obstacle to his training.

Based on all the above, I humbly submit that aikidoists who wish to build up their strength should do so with a clear conscience. It is certainly true that aikido is ultimately a search for something greater than strength, but it appears, at least, that strength training will do our skills no harm, and it's certainly good for us.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go do some push-ups.

(The original post from The Young Grasshopper can be found here.)

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Old 07-13-2012, 01:53 PM   #2
phitruong
Dojo: Charlotte Aikikai Agatsu Dojo
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Re: Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

strength training isn't the problem. isolate muscle training is the problem for martial arts, not just aikido. strength is fine. strength in martial arts is the different between slamming into the other person with your entire body versus just your arm. what we want is the entire body, in one shot, i.e. "one move all (muscle and everything comprise of us) move". strength training where you use the ENTIRE BODY at the same time, that's the focus. in one thread, where someone mentioned about rowing boat, you want your entire body, not just the arms. that's the approach.

something to think about. muscle always contract, i.e. there is no push. the time it takes for muscle to relax back to its original length is more than 5X (if i remembered correctly) of the contraction. your body muscles worked against each other to keep you up right. the same group of muscles to raise your arms, will be the same group of muscles to act against when you lower your arms.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
http://charlotteaikikai.org
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Old 07-13-2012, 02:52 PM   #3
Eva Antonia
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Re: Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

Hello,

being something short of 60 kg, easy to unbalance and easy to throw - at the degree that more solid people insist I anticipate their throws, but I'm just too early off my balance - I'd be the first person who acknowledges the importance of strength. Maybe not at some super-advanced level, but for the normal mortal, who struggles with how to do shiho nage correctly, it is certainly a difference to have a lightweight who flies at the first touch or to have a super-solid guy grounded firmly.

I'm aware that all techniques seem to work with people my weight and lower, but with the weight and strenght of ukes increasing, my technique more and more frequently fails. If kaiten nage or ten chi nage works with a 90 kg guy this means I really did it well (usually don't); if it works with a 45 kg girl it just means I'm stronger than her.

Obviously strength is not the ONLY issue, but I'd never ever believe anyone who'd say that physical strength is not an issue - at least for beginner level, God knows what comes when enlightenment and understanding increase, but I'm still far from that...

This said, there is always a satisfaction in things like nikkyo and sankyo, where physical strength and weight really are just of no importance...

All the best,

Eva
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Old 07-13-2012, 05:19 PM   #4
Kevin Leavitt
 
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Re: Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

I'm currently out of training as many of you know following a uchi Malta gone band that blew my AC joint apart. It will be a year long road to recovery. I met worth our sports medicine and trainers my Special Ops unit that are assigned to rehabilitate guys like me that the army has invested a lot of time and money into.

Anyway, the goal is to get me back to functional ability in about 9 months. A lot of the things I am doing involve training core, a lot of the things I did with Ark. A few years back, and focusing on proprioceptive ability. As such I am avoiding static or isolated movements or weight training.

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Old 07-13-2012, 07:17 PM   #5
jonreading
 
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Re: Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

I have posted on this topic before, but maybe I will add something I haven't yet covered.

1. The amount of and dedication to training required to bulk muscles to the point of decreased flexibility is high. The diet and physical regimen of such training is typically specific and severe.
2. The role of physical fitness and isolated muscle exercise is present in almost every athletic endeavor we have, martial or otherwise. I have not yet read anything [medical] that suggests proper exercise is detrimental to physical activity.

I used to joke when my personal trainees would comment about how their 2-3 hourly sessions per week might "bulk them up". The argument as I have heard it best presented relates to the inability to relax muscles or groups while trying to perform aikido. In this context, the argument relies upon the practitioner participating in a extreme training regiment that focuses on muscle building while lacking stretching and conditioning. Of course, the truth is there are more aikido people in poor physical health then there are these hulking monstrosities.

I think also it should be noted that as I look more closely at kata I am starting to find that if I encounter resistance it is because my kata is wrong, not that I am magically turning to stone. While I think we all understand that aikido involves a level of precision akin to surgery, "relax" is not quite the satisfactory answer we are looking for to resolve our shortcomings. I may be using one muscle when I should be using another, but the answer is still not "relax"; it is of course, "stop using muscle X and use muscle Y."

As for Kevin. I did [in] my ACL in when I was 18 - took 8 weeks of rehab and another 4 months to gain back the strength and muscle I lost from the injury. In May, I partially tore my MCL and am now back in the same boat. Good luck.
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Old 07-13-2012, 08:16 PM   #6
Chris Li
 
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Re: Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
I have posted on this topic before, but maybe I will add something I haven't yet covered.

1. The amount of and dedication to training required to bulk muscles to the point of decreased flexibility is high. The diet and physical regimen of such training is typically specific and severe.
2. The role of physical fitness and isolated muscle exercise is present in almost every athletic endeavor we have, martial or otherwise. I have not yet read anything [medical] that suggests proper exercise is detrimental to physical activity.

I used to joke when my personal trainees would comment about how their 2-3 hourly sessions per week might "bulk them up". The argument as I have heard it best presented relates to the inability to relax muscles or groups while trying to perform aikido. In this context, the argument relies upon the practitioner participating in a extreme training regiment that focuses on muscle building while lacking stretching and conditioning. Of course, the truth is there are more aikido people in poor physical health then there are these hulking monstrosities.

I think also it should be noted that as I look more closely at kata I am starting to find that if I encounter resistance it is because my kata is wrong, not that I am magically turning to stone. While I think we all understand that aikido involves a level of precision akin to surgery, "relax" is not quite the satisfactory answer we are looking for to resolve our shortcomings. I may be using one muscle when I should be using another, but the answer is still not "relax"; it is of course, "stop using muscle X and use muscle Y."

As for Kevin. I did [in] my ACL in when I was 18 - took 8 weeks of rehab and another 4 months to gain back the strength and muscle I lost from the injury. In May, I partially tore my MCL and am now back in the same boat. Good luck.
There's nothing wrong with muscle. There's nothing wrong with a lot of muscle - except maybe in some of the extreme cases talked about above.

The real problem is that the kind of conditioning associated with most conventional weightlifting makes it very hard to do some of the training that's important for internals.

That's really why a lot of folks suggest you lay off one thing while training the other, until you've got enough of a grasp on things that you can work both together.

Best,

Chris

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Old 07-15-2012, 05:36 AM   #7
philipsmith
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Re: Might Isn't Right, But Strong Isn't Wrong

Quote:
Christopher Li wrote: View Post
There's nothing wrong with muscle. There's nothing wrong with a lot of muscle - Chris
Couldn't agree more.

I remember many years ago when I was struggling with a highly-resistant uke Chiba sensei saying to me "Don't deny your strength" in other words don't rely on it but learn to use it efficiently (at least that what I think he meant!)
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