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Old 10-25-2012, 02:30 PM   #1
"Chikara!!"
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"Don't use strength!"

I wanted to ask some advice. I am about to test for Shodan and I think I have reached a plateau in my training. When ever I train with my sempai I am constantly told I am using too much strength and my arms. I am given "tips" on what to do and one and once and a while can do what they are saying but for the most part cannot reproduce the same effect on a consistent basis. When I practice with my sempai most of the time doing the technique is taken up on me trying to reproduce the effect without strength getting frustrated. When they do the technique I will be honest for the most part it feels the same as when I do it. I know understand why some people quit after making shodan as it is like pushing a boulder uphill and you fall back two steps after making one step up.

The problem is that there is only so much time to practice in the dojo and it seems to be taken up being told "too much strength" or "use your center" with out explicit instructions. It doesn't help I am a big guy also. I do understand that Aikido is a lifelong method and may take years of practice to learn relaxation and proper body movement. I think that solo efforts at home rather than at the dojo need to be practiced to understand Aikido. Is there practice methods I can practice at home to emphasis more center movement or less strength?
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Old 10-25-2012, 09:13 PM   #2
osaya
 
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

you probably have heard this a million times already, but try to relax--physically and mentally.

if your focus now is to reduce your reliance on physical/external strength, try shifting your training priorities from successfully throwing or manipulating uke, to simply connecting to their centre first. once you have them connected, move your centre, not theirs, and see what happens.

try and look at some videos on 'atari' and/or 'musubi' type exercises. Endo Seishiro has some pretty good DVDs on that. having said that, watching is one thing, feeling is another. find someone at your dojo (or elsewhere) whom you think moves well, and is very powerful without using 'strength', and feel what they do to you as uke.

good luck! ...and relax.
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Old 10-25-2012, 10:04 PM   #3
robin_jet_alt
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

If you can't find someone who can demonstrate it, I'm afraid you are going to struggle. The other problem is that you will probably need to take your technique apart a bit, and you will get worse before you get better. Maybe not the best idea if you are looking to grade soon. I'm sure the IS/IP guys know a lot more than me that can help you, but there is not much that anyone can do to help over an internet forum.
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Old 10-25-2012, 11:11 PM   #4
PeterR
 
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Robin Boyd wrote: View Post
If you can't find someone who can demonstrate it, I'm afraid you are going to struggle. The other problem is that you will probably need to take your technique apart a bit, and you will get worse before you get better. Maybe not the best idea if you are looking to grade soon. I'm sure the IS/IP guys know a lot more than me that can help you, but there is not much that anyone can do to help over an internet forum.
Not sure how IS/IP is going to help in this case. Usually when the strength bogey man comes up it really is code for fluidity and a concentration on what might happen rather than the technique itself. It is also - I have to say - another one of those terrible words like "relax". Lot's of meaning but not particularly helpful.

One thing that can work is to remove the partner out of the equation. Practice your technique at home with an imaginary friend but keep in mind the vectors and other concepts important to what you are trying to achieve. Probably wont help you in the weeks leading up to Shodan there are no quick fixes but in the long term it is a useful exercise.

That said - everyone I know always degrades just before Shodan in their own mind and others. The best answer really is not to worry too much about it and train as you did before you got the nod to test. Usually if you get that you should be good enough to pass.

Peter Rehse Shodokan Aikido
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Old 10-26-2012, 03:46 AM   #5
Mario Tobias
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

All of you might have been told " don't use strength" or "relax". You keep scratching your head and wonder helplessly since you ask yourself how to achieve such a state. I was in many many situations like this.

The thing is unless you can connect such arbitrary concepts as "strength" and "relaxation" to a physical concept which is real to you, then definitely it will take you decades to understand what "strength" and "relaxation" means or you might not get it no matter how you try.

IMHO, and I have validated this through my training, these arbitrary concepts are very related to the physics concept of "work". In physics, "work" is a totally different concept to how we view work. It is basically the effort to displace an object. Work has 3 components Work = force X displacement X cosine(anglebetween).

Imagine the simplest katatetori grab between nage and uke. Imagine also that uke is pushing or pulling nage's arm parallel to the floor for simplicity. Nage does maximum work (uses max strength) if he tries to push or pull along uke's same direction (parallel) of force (ki). Nage does not do work (therefore not use strength) if his motion is perpendicular to uke's arm/force. Here, the ki is the incoming force from uke and the angle is the angle between nage and uke's ki (force).

The thing is you see this in all the techniques if you just observe it in all grabs or strikes. It is a basic principle of aikido for me that I have discovered. The simplest way to imagine the body's lines of "ki"/force is to draw a stickman. Move perpendicular to uke's Ki line and you will not use "strength". This concept applies to the smallest part of the body which you can manipulate like the thumb and the largest parts like the spine.

Not using "strength" therefore to me is not doing "work" ie move perpendicular to uke's ki. "Relaxation" therefore is the least amount of "Energy", again another physics concept, expended. Energy is the capacity to do work. You must have energy to accomplish work, but since you're not doing any or minimally, you are therefore "relaxed". To do a certain amount of work, you must expend the same amount of energy.

You know you are doing work if any body part, especially the shoulders stiffen or you get locked/jammed in the technique.

These are very simple concepts you can start using in your next practices.
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Old 10-26-2012, 04:19 AM   #6
JJF
 
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

You are right to assume you have reached a 'plateau'. One of probably many. The good thing is they probably tell you this because they think you are ready to start a new development in your aikido. It's really a difficult transition to add a new aspect to your aikido and to forget what was once 'the truth' to substitute with a broader perspective.

The bad thing is that this will continue at least for some years ahead - probably for the rest of your time as long as you practice aikido (or any other physical art).

The good thing is that the bumps tends to become slightly smaller and more apart with time, and that every time you reach such a plateau you will eventually find yourself on the other side some day. I had a few of those periods before reaching shodan and some again afterwards. I'm even having them now where I am teaching in my own dojo and have started a new way of looking upon the development of my aikido.

Just don't worry too much. Try to enjoy the exploration of new facets within your art and have faith in the thought that one day such exploring will get you to a higher understanding and a new level. I for one believe it is well worth it - and that it contains one of the very valuable lessons one can gain from Aikido.. so just push on and adapt whatever you can from the instruction you get - leave the rest for some other time. It may one day suddenly make sense even though it might sound strange and unbelivable right now.

Hang in there - and have fun.

JJ

- Jørgen Jakob Friis

Inspiration - Aspiration - Perspiration
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Old 10-26-2012, 07:17 AM   #7
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
When they do the technique I will be honest for the most part it feels the same as when I do it.
How do you know that?
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Old 10-26-2012, 08:26 AM   #8
MM
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

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Peter Rehse wrote: View Post
Not sure how IS/IP is going to help in this case. Usually when the strength bogey man comes up it really is code for fluidity and a concentration on what might happen rather than the technique itself. It is also - I have to say - another one of those terrible words like "relax". Lot's of meaning but not particularly helpful.
Just want to touch on the IS/IP/aiki relax part. Thought maybe I can help clear that up a little ... or muddy the waters some more.

I know we've all heard "relax" and variations of it through our aikido career. Usually with years of training, it eventually starts taking shape, but there's not really any training methodology to improve "relax".

With IP/IS/aiki training, "relax" is integral to the training exercises. At least in the beginning, it was for me. Let me explain.

Starting with a basic push exercise. Stand in a natural feet side by side, shoulder width apart stance. Arms outward at 90 degrees to the body, palm outward, fingers pointing upwards. Elbows don't have to be locked for this. Now, have "uke" push on your outstretched right palm. Start with an easy push and have uke add more strength.

1. This is the tough part. Imagine that you're palm is on the wall several feet away. Not just think it's there. Try to get the feeling of your palm pushing on the wall. In the beginning, you'll extend your arm physically to get this started. Once you have that, keep that. On top of doing that, imagine that you're bringing that wall into your spine. You have outgoing and incoming energy at the same time. Have to have both.

1. Let all that energy/strength coming from uke go through your arm, down your spine, down your *left* leg, and into the ground. Right palm to left foot.

2. Start with light pushes and as you get more force coming in from uke, go to your fail point where your shoulders tighten up, chest muscles up, your upper body breaks and you bend over. Get to the very beginning of that point and tell uke to hold his push there. Work through that until your structure is back to being good, you have contradictory forces again, and the right palm-left foot path is clear. Then have uke add more force.

These kinds of exercises force you to relax in order for them to actually work. If all you're doing is muscling things, uke will push you over easily. You'll topple from the top.

If you don't have contradictory forces going (There are more. For example, spine up/down, but if you haven't done these, then getting one set working at the same time is tough enough) then you can only go so far with that basic cross the body path. Remember, this is kindergarten level exercises. This isn't anywhere near a complete exercise.

You can add in the other contradictory forces as you get better. You can have uke push harder and stronger as you get better. Throughout these kinds of exercises, you learn to relax. You have to, or else the exercises fail. While you're concentrating on contradictory forces and cross the body paths, you have to relax to get everything to work. Part and parcel of the exercises.

Now, just as an added benefit. Wondering what in the world this has to do with aikido techniques? Picture this sequence of exercises:

1. Exercise as above.
2. Modify the above it so that your fingers are pointing straight out at the wall. Uke uses two hands and grabs your right wrist to push.
3. Modify the above so that your hands are now straight in front of you, pointing the way you are looking. Uke uses only one hand to grab your wrist and push. Oh, wait, this is the standard wrist grab in aikido techniques. Hopefully by now, there's no more fighting uke's grab, tensing of the shoulders at uke's grab, etc. Body is more relaxed. Etc.

In 5 years, I learned to properly relax from IP/IS/aiki exercises than I did from 15 years of being told to relax in Modern Aikido. Not that I'm at any significant level of relaxed, coordinated, no-slack, structured body, but I'm way beyond what I was at the beginning of training IP/IS/aiki.

Hope that explanation and example exercise helps understand how the IP/IS/aiki exercises give a fundamental added benefit to Modern Aikido training.

Mark
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Old 10-26-2012, 09:07 AM   #9
Howard Prior
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Mark Murray wrote: View Post
1. This is the tough part. Imagine that you're palm is on the wall several feet away.
If I may - are you talking right palm here? Seems like it. I just want to be sure. Thanks.

Howard Prior
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Old 10-26-2012, 09:47 AM   #10
MM
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Howard Prior wrote: View Post
If I may - are you talking right palm here? Seems like it. I just want to be sure. Thanks.

Howard Prior
It would be both sides. Right palm outward/inward. Left palm outward/inward. Just as the right hand-left foot is one path, so it's complement is the left hand-right foot. Spine up/down. Etc. The goal is to get everything working all at the same time so that you are in the middle of all directions, stable yet very mobile. If you just do the right palm, it doesn't keep you centered.
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Old 10-26-2012, 09:56 AM   #11
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

you know if you punch the next person who tell you to relax, i am pretty sure you would feel better and more relax afterward.

"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 10-26-2012, 10:36 AM   #12
Rob Watson
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

http://www.rivercityaikido.com/whyoutside.html
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-6KufHeL9PT...shing+tree.jpg

Push on a tree or wall as hard as possible while using as little muscular tension/strain as possible. This will force you to maintain a clean connection from feet to palms. See the osensei photos for reference. Try to push yourself down. Notice how your shoulder collects and concentrates the stress so work on getting the force to 'bypass' the shoulder joint.

Find the feeling of the push going through you from palm to feet and remove the stress/strain from everywhere except that path through you.

Find that connected yet powerful feeling and do that while performing waza. You will be strong and 'relaxed'. Takes time and effort and guidance to really get beyond the very basic level.

At shodan one begins to see the futility of training the same way as before. It sucks but there is hope.

"In my opinion, the time of spreading aikido to the world is finished; now we have to focus on quality." Yamada Yoshimitsu

Ultracrepidarianism ... don't.
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Old 10-26-2012, 12:42 PM   #13
Howard Prior
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Mark Murray wrote: View Post
It would be both sides....If you just do the right palm, it doesn't keep you centered.
Okay. Thanks.
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Old 10-26-2012, 12:59 PM   #14
Russ Q
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Something that might help....I was at a seminar with Ledyard sensei and he said something that has stuck with me since and helped me fix body position and ...relax:-). Make sure your arms are only moving up and down during the waza and remain on the center line of your body. Never let your arms push or pull laterally or stray from your center line. For example: ikkyo ura - many have a tendency to move faster than their uke and end up pulling them around. Instead, focus on cutting straight down your center line while you tenkan. Maybe you will have to move/enter a little deeper. I found this to be most helpful when trying to "relax" and use this when teaching my students....difficult to impart well with the written word... Good luck in your test. Show what you know - you don't need to be an expert - shodan is beginner level.
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Old 10-26-2012, 01:39 PM   #15
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Just wanted to say that I have been told the same many times. It is so easy to use muscle but even easier when you learn how to not use muscle. The exercise Mark Murray described is one of a few that he has taught at our dojo and has become increasingly useful in developing that aspect of training. I can't do it consistently yet but I have these little moments sometimes that give me a glimpse of where I am heading and it's pretty cool.

Being recently off of a very long and frustrating plateau myself I feel your pain. You only have two real choices. Keep on going or quit. I don't know about you, but I'm not a quitter. I just try to keep in mind the words from the book Mastery that the time spent on a plateau seemingly going nowhere is actually the time when you are learning the most.

Last edited by Shadowfax : 10-26-2012 at 01:42 PM.
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Old 10-27-2012, 02:51 AM   #16
wxyzabc
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Hya

Everyones given some good advice, but a simple tip for improving as you are, right now with no major stress is not to listen to sempai whilst you're practising usual aikido, but understand that only they can feel what you do. They'll often have you focus on one little point and it doesn't always help but don't go fast to show that you can do things well...that's a big common mistake.

The big question is who are you practising with... are they strong?, stiff? weak? flexible? are there women in the dojo? kids?

Big guys usually instinctively feel strong but right now if there are kids in the dojo they will probably be better than you and everyone else at aikido ^^ I don't say that to offend but you have to feel that way as it's usually true. They are better designed for it...no big muscles, no expectations. So when I can I often go find a kid to practise with..or a women who is quite flexible and will give ukemi without just falling over. Others will disagree with this but in a natural state if you want to practise without using muscle strength this can really help. Always practise with the strong and well you'll just be a hero ^^ (man will people be wanting to get me for this..lol)

Basically if you imagine painting a wall and your hand just stops, thats the feeling you should have and no more : ) I hope this helps

Lee

Last edited by wxyzabc : 10-27-2012 at 02:55 AM.
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Old 10-27-2012, 10:53 AM   #17
"Chikara!!!"
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Thank you for the help! The IP/IS strength sounds very interesting I would like to pursue that route if possible. Yeah training now is definitely frustrating. Every time I practice with sempai I feel like I am relaxed and yet get told I am not. When they do it it feels like they are using muscle but more efficiently.

Mark- so when uke pushes me on my hand and gets me off balance then stop and readjust? That sound like a great practice technique.

Rob- That is an interesting practice against the tree. I will try that!

Russ- Yeah keeping my hands in front is something I need to work on.

Osaya- I dont have any Endo sensei dvds. I will have to check them out!

Peter- Shadow practice sounds interesting. I will work on that.

Mario- Very interesting idea. I like that concept of changing the vectors and not fight my partners ki.

Grondahl- When Sempai does technique on me it still feels like strength to me. Just more fluid feeling. Funny as soon as I move they stop me and say too strong. Honestly sometimes I just stand there for the whole time because I have no idea how to move without strength.

Phi- Believe me I feel like making my Sempai "relaxed, all the time...hahah

Lee- yeah one guy tends to over complicate things with esoteric explanations and analysis of every thing I do wrong. I get kinda annoyed working with him despite him trying to help me. I am the biggest guy in the dojo so I practice with a variety of people.

Perhaps its not as bad as I think but, sometimes I feel like banging my head through the wall!! I think I most likely barrel through the technique with strength to make it work most of the time. I have trouble with "connecting to center" also. Is this the tension from nage to uke? I have a lot of trouble feeling what is like.
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Old 10-27-2012, 04:20 PM   #18
Shadowfax
 
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
Honestly sometimes I just stand there for the whole time because I have no idea how to move without strength.
Ahh but you do it all the time. Do you use strength to scratch your nose, brush your hair back drink from a cup...

Last edited by akiy : 10-29-2012 at 03:15 PM. Reason: Fixed quote tag
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Old 10-28-2012, 01:19 AM   #19
robin_jet_alt
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
Every time I practice with sempai I feel like I am relaxed and yet get told I am not. When they do it it feels like they are using muscle but more efficiently.

Grondahl- When Sempai does technique on me it still feels like strength to me. Just more fluid feeling. Funny as soon as I move they stop me and say too strong. Honestly sometimes I just stand there for the whole time because I have no idea how to move without strength.
Well, it is impossible to move without muscles. Doing things "without strength" really is just a more efficient way of doing things, but you still need muscles to move. The body has no other mechanism for moving. Having said that, what you should feel from your sempai is that you end up being moved but you aren't sure why because you don't feel pushed or pulled. If nobody can demonstrate this, then it might be time to start looking for a new dojo.

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
Perhaps its not as bad as I think but, sometimes I feel like banging my head through the wall!! I think I most likely barrel through the technique with strength to make it work most of the time. I have trouble with "connecting to center" also. Is this the tension from nage to uke? I have a lot of trouble feeling what is like.
Tension is probably not the best word. The point here is that your movements aren't just moving a part of your partner, but the whole of your partner. This is very difficult. Kokyu-ho is a good example of this. I have not met many people who can really do kokyu-ho against an active uke, but the ones that can, can do it with their fingers being held instead of their wrists. They create connection with uke's centre and then move the whole lot without pushing or pulling.
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Old 10-28-2012, 09:16 AM   #20
"Strongman, Not"
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

By strength most people mean using flexed muscles, especially the big muscles in our arms, shoulders and backs. But if you flex those muscles, they tense and you can't do anything more with them and have to reset them to use them again. Not only that, but flexing your muscles makes you stiff and rigid and easy to topple.

Even if you don't use "IP IS" as is often discussed here, you will be much more fluid in motion if you don't tense up, but use balanced and centered movement and momentum to move your body and aikido technique. Just relaxing doesn't make power but it is one of the first steps for making power.
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Old 10-28-2012, 04:41 PM   #21
Robert Cowham
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

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Anonymous User wrote: View Post
Grondahl- When Sempai does technique on me it still feels like strength to me. Just more fluid feeling. Funny as soon as I move they stop me and say too strong. Honestly sometimes I just stand there for the whole time because I have no idea how to move without strength.
As others have said - if you don't have any good examples in your dojo of what you can feel as really using much less local muscular strength, then you may need to seek them elsewhere - they do exist

George Leonard's book "Mastery" is good on plateaus...

You are in good company in getting frustrated - see interviews with Endo sensei for example and what he went through.

Peter Ralston's books are also an excellent resource to challenging your thinking about strength.
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Old 10-28-2012, 05:27 PM   #22
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

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By strength most people mean using flexed muscles, especially the big muscles in our arms, shoulders and backs. But if you flex those muscles, they tense and you can't do anything more with them and have to reset them to use them again. Not only that, but flexing your muscles makes you stiff and rigid and easy to topple.
If you look at most aikido techniques, they use the extensor muscles, not the flexor muscles (making the distinction between flexion/extension vs. contraction/relaxation).
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Old 10-28-2012, 05:56 PM   #23
"Strongman, Not"
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
If you look at most aikido techniques, they use the extensor muscles, not the flexor muscles (making the distinction between flexion/extension vs. contraction/relaxation).
Thank you for your comment, Mary. I understand. In my experience, though, it is pretty common for people to activate their shoulder muscles and muscles in the upper back to pull. Maybe that could be one of the OP's problems, that he is doing this instead of relaxing and using his extensors and the power of momentum?

Maybe I am using the word flexing incorrectly but as I write this I can feel it in my imagination because I did exactly that for so long when I first began training.
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Old 10-28-2012, 08:09 PM   #24
lbb
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Quote:
Anonymous User wrote: View Post
Thank you for your comment, Mary. I understand. In my experience, though, it is pretty common for people to activate their shoulder muscles and muscles in the upper back to pull. Maybe that could be one of the OP's problems, that he is doing this instead of relaxing and using his extensors and the power of momentum?

Maybe I am using the word flexing incorrectly but as I write this I can feel it in my imagination because I did exactly that for so long when I first began training.
All muscle movement is caused by one or more muscles contracting -- "activating", as you put it. The question is, what muscles? When a muscle isn't contracted, it's relaxed, which is why "Relax!" is so useless as instruction -- if we really relaxed, we wouldn't move at all!

Then you have flexion and extension. Flexion means to decrease the angle of a joint; extension means to increase it. This is most visible in the extremities, where we speak of opposing muscle pairs such as the biceps and triceps. When the biceps is contracted, that causes the elbow joint to flex; when the triceps is contracted, the elbow joint is extended.

My simple (probably simplistic) take on it is that many (most? nearly all?) aikido waza are based on extension, and that takes a little getting used to. Maybe our day-to-day actions use flexion more? I don't know. But I think that many people, when they think to themselves "make an effort" "move that person" or whatever, their muscle memory tends to fall back on flexion. So, obviously, it's not simply a matter of relaxing ("Relax!") the biceps; you need to contract the triceps, that whatsisname funny muscle on the underside of the forearm, etc. "Extend" is another command you hear a lot, and many people seem to think it's something ethereal (probably because so many people say "extend your ki", whatever that means). But it's not ethereal at all. It's simple body mechanics.
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Old 10-29-2012, 07:02 PM   #25
"Strongman, Not"
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Re: "Don't use strength!"

Ah, I see now that when I say flex I really mean contract. I wasn't talking about making a bulgy biceps muscle but I didn't have another way to say it, except for "activate."

In regards to that, I do think that day to day activity has us using flexion more. When we lift things, when we pull open a heavy door or pull a chair away from a table. The action of extending isn't quite as common, at least not in my daily life except for training.

Relaxing and not using strength in doing aikido to me means not tensing muscles trying make something (technique) happen. If I tense anything, I impede my own movement. Doing ikkyo, for example, I try to relax my arms and even my hands when contacting uke in two places. It makes my movement much more fluid than if I grip hard, which sends tension up my extended arms and into my shoulders.

Quote:
Mary Malmros wrote: View Post
All muscle movement is caused by one or more muscles contracting -- "activating", as you put it. The question is, what muscles? When a muscle isn't contracted, it's relaxed, which is why "Relax!" is so useless as instruction -- if we really relaxed, we wouldn't move at all!

Then you have flexion and extension. Flexion means to decrease the angle of a joint; extension means to increase it. This is most visible in the extremities, where we speak of opposing muscle pairs such as the biceps and triceps. When the biceps is contracted, that causes the elbow joint to flex; when the triceps is contracted, the elbow joint is extended.

My simple (probably simplistic) take on it is that many (most? nearly all?) aikido waza are based on extension, and that takes a little getting used to. Maybe our day-to-day actions use flexion more? I don't know. But I think that many people, when they think to themselves "make an effort" "move that person" or whatever, their muscle memory tends to fall back on flexion. So, obviously, it's not simply a matter of relaxing ("Relax!") the biceps; you need to contract the triceps, that whatsisname funny muscle on the underside of the forearm, etc. "Extend" is another command you hear a lot, and many people seem to think it's something ethereal (probably because so many people say "extend your ki", whatever that means). But it's not ethereal at all. It's simple body mechanics.
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