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Old 06-09-2018, 10:55 AM   #1
ThirdDoctor
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"Just relax"

You know how you're in an aikido class and someone says you need to relax?

Or how tension unintentionally builds up in apparently useless ways in your daily life? Like, you're typing at work, and you notice your back is tense. You're driving, but your shoulders are tense. You're watching TV, but your jaw is tense.

I have seen a lot of different instructors have different approaches to try to get students to relax. Sometimes they say "relax" at you repeatedly. Sometimes they spontaneously massage your shoulders in the middle of class (blech) or slap your back or do that weird thing where they slide their hands down your arms in a frictionful way. There's also the method of just trying to remind myself seventeen thousand times a day not to be scrunching up my face or shoulders or whatever. I haven't found any method that I've encountered to be incredibly successful at instilling this to an instinctive level.

What do you think? Are there other tools out there to learn relaxation as a skill? Are there specific practices for it in Aikido or other arts?

Tangential question: I know that the English word "relax," which in colloquial usage refers to slumping on the couch in sweatpants with a can of pringles, is not what is meant by all the different aikido instructors when they tell me to "relax." What they mean, as far as I can tell, is a state of minimal tension, where maybe certain muscles need to be activated but superfluous muscles are at rest. They also seem to mean specifically activating some muscles e.g. the ones that actively pull your shoulders into a down, connected-to-the-back position. It's more like being ready but not being stressed or wasteful of muscular energy. Sometimes there is a specific Japanese word preserved for concepts that are not otherwise specifically expressed in English (e.g. kuzushi, qi, ukemi). Is there a better word to target the special type of "relaxation" referred to here?
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Old 06-10-2018, 06:29 AM   #2
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: "Just relax"

Have someone hold both of your wrists (ryote tori). Then ask that person to drop them spontaneously when you are not expecting it. Do your arms drop to your sides? If they do great...you are pretty relaxed.

If they stay suspended, try this. When the person is holding your wrists...let your wrists rest in their hands as if you are resting your arms on the table. Let the person have your arms. Then ask them to repeat dropping your wrists when you are not expecting it. If you have let the other person hold up your arms it gives you an experience of being more relaxed that you can work towards.

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Old 06-11-2018, 09:44 AM   #3
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Re: "Just relax"

Relax is a bad word. Honestly. I am not going to say right or wrong, but this single issue affected my training for about 10 years. I am not a fan of "relax" or the tricks that many instructors use to illustrate the point to students. From holding your hands to touching your body to buying you a nice dinner with a great bottle of wine - the point is wrong because the issue is learning how to move your body in the first place, not about correcting bad movement that already happened.

First, you need muscles to move your body; you just need to understand that, probably, you are not correctly moving your body. Aikido movement is pointless if you move your body wrong, so take a deep breath and get back to basics. Yes, I understand that if your partner is holding you up and you simply go limp, that places a burden of weight on your partner - this is not what we are talking about.

Second, its not a matter of not moving muscles, its a matter of moving the right muscles. You are training your body to fire the correct muscles, while allowing others muscles to remained unused. There is no "relax" because you shouldn't have been firing those bad boys in the first place. Imagine a cable pulley system on a crane and now imagine binding the cables all together to prevent them from pulling - this is what happens to your body when you fire a muscles in the wrong place. So stop doing that and learn to move correctly in the first place.

Third, you can't think about this stuff in waza. You body needs to move this way, naturally. When asked what the stance of aikido was, O Sensei once remarked, "shizen tai" - natural stance. You are [re]training your body to move and it takes a hot minute. Be patient. Eventually, you will move correctly when doing waza and that will have success.

I am saying this a little playfully because training your body this way is frustrating and slow and boring and everything thing else that describes exactly why no one wanted to keep the training in aikido to begin with... It just happens to also be how you are supposed to move.

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Old 06-11-2018, 11:01 AM   #4
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
Relax is a bad word.
Relax is just a word, neither good or bad. What gives it meaning is the context of the training environment in which it's used.

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
Yes, I understand that if your partner is holding you up and you simply go limp, that places a burden of weight on your partner - this is not what we are talking about.
Sorry, but you've got the wrong idea. Going limp is not the point. The point of the exercise is developing weight underside. When properly trained weight underside will cause your partner to have her structure compromised at the moment of contact.

To take a page from Dan Harden, do not confuse the training exercise with technique. As he has said, go ask a boxer if shadow boxing and speed bag work are useless exercises.

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
There is no "relax" because you shouldn't have been firing those bad boys in the first place. Imagine a cable pulley system on a crane and now imagine binding the cables all together to prevent them from pulling - this is what happens to your body when you fire a muscles in the wrong place. So stop doing that and learn to move correctly in the first place.
That's great in an ideal situation Jon. But reality presents us, as instructors, with students that come to us wound up tighter than drum heads. For them there is no relax because they just don't know how to and have to be taught.

Ron

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Old 06-17-2018, 07:27 AM   #5
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Re: "Just relax"

I am not necessarily contesting any of this logic. What I am pointing out is that aikido lost "weight underside" as a basic component of training using tricks like holding hands, or drinking beers, or putting change in your pocket or [fill in the blank with some "relax" exercise you have heard]. Combing hair is also popular...

Relax requires something to fire first. My point is that if you have to "relax", you did something wrong, already (because you used a muscle that now has to "relax"). Why not simply move correctly in the first place?

Start by moving slowly and firing the correct muscles to learn how you body works. Train your body to move this way. If you can't, then train more. What's the use in rushing to move wrong? Go ask a boxer if she started out working a speed bag quickly... The answer will be no. Exercises are great and I am a huge proponent of solo exercises to condition the body. That said, I defy anyone to explain to me how using a trick to correct a student who is continually moving wrong will ever change the movement. It doesn't.

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Old 06-17-2018, 09:30 AM   #6
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
That said, I defy anyone to explain to me how using a trick to correct a student who is continually moving wrong will ever change the movement. It doesn't.
You call it a trick. I call it an exercise to develop correct feeling. A person must be able to identify the feeling in order to be able to utilize it and than make it stronger.

We train in different paradigms. The difference is, Jon, is that I don't have to make you wrong. There are many ways to get stronger. It really depends on what a student is looking for.
I am developing reliable ways to have my mind, body and spirit unified
on and off the mat. I want to be present with what ever is happening. I want to accept what is and move on safely.
I want to relax and relax more.

How about you, Jon, why are you training?

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Old 06-17-2018, 06:25 PM   #7
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Re: "Just relax"

Relax is how uke feels how you are not how you feel how you are.

When pushed don't resist, when pulled don't resist. When pushed or pulled go with the push ( by turning ) or pull ( by entering ) and redirect them by repositioning your body ( externally ), redirect them using muscle pathways and connective tissue pathways ( internally ) or both.

Ask uke if they feel resistance.

Resistance is futile.
Osensei was a Borg!!!

dps

Last edited by dps : 06-17-2018 at 06:37 PM.
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Old 06-18-2018, 07:47 PM   #8
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Re: "Just relax"

Relax is a skill. Someone above wrote about using proper muscles is close. To Relax XXX, somewhere else in your body should take the load which XXX was taking or configure your body to let the load flow to ground. Suburi is a way to force you to find 'somewhere else' or 'another way' since your primary habitual muscles get tired and posture is broken. But mostly people just ends up strengthening the habitual muscles such as 'hey I'm going deep low' or 'I can do this 10000 times!'
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Old 06-28-2018, 11:28 AM   #9
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Mary Eastland wrote: View Post
You call it a trick. I call it an exercise to develop correct feeling. A person must be able to identify the feeling in order to be able to utilize it and than make it stronger.

We train in different paradigms. The difference is, Jon, is that I don't have to make you wrong. There are many ways to get stronger. It really depends on what a student is looking for.
I am developing reliable ways to have my mind, body and spirit unified
on and off the mat. I want to be present with what ever is happening. I want to accept what is and move on safely.
I want to relax and relax more.

How about you, Jon, why are you training?
At some point, regardless of which ever methodology of training you employ, there comes a time when we need to critically evaluate "success"; some methods yield similar success, some methods do not. You are correct in the sense that neither you nor I have the power to make the other "wrong". The movement dictates that success - either you move correctly, or you don't. Within correct movement, there are grades of skill and success that can be derived from it.

The truth is your opinion of my movement holds less meaning than my skill in playing judo, or boxing, or grappling, or pushing hands, or practicing waza or any of a number of evaluative tools I can use to determine how soft I feel. I feel much more secure by comments I receive from my partners - a judo player who remarks how soft I felt or a BJJ player who expresses a difficult time working on my body or a push hands partner who has difficulty finding something to push against.

David made a comment I think is important. "Relax" is more akin to the feeling your partner has about your body. This is similar to several comments issued by many of O Sensei's students who remarked about how his body felt. You asked why I train - some day I want my students (and my friends on the mat) to describe my body that way. My validation comes from what other people think about my movement, not what I think.

My point on this thread is the same - learning something by doing it wrong makes you an expert at doing it wrong even if you eventually get it right. I am not judging anyone or saying that no one should train that way. But, it was a very frustrating way for me to be exposed to something for 15 years that I learned in a weekend. And to be clear, I am not blaming anyone with whom I trained for the oversight. They all were simply teaching how they were taught. To that extent, I try to be considerate and firm in asking us (as an art) to be critical of why and how we do what we do. I think someday we need to look at our curriculum and decide if our clock is working, right twice a day, or broken.

Last edited by jonreading : 06-28-2018 at 11:32 AM.

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Old 06-28-2018, 08:51 PM   #10
Peter Goldsbury
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Julia Zummo wrote: View Post
You know how you're in an aikido class and someone says you need to relax?

I have seen a lot of different instructors have different approaches to try to get students to relax. Sometimes they say "relax" at you repeatedly. Sometimes they spontaneously massage your shoulders in the middle of class (blech) or slap your back or do that weird thing where they slide their hands down your arms in a frictionful way. There's also the method of just trying to remind myself seventeen thousand times a day not to be scrunching up my face or shoulders or whatever. I haven't found any method that I've encountered to be incredibly successful at instilling this to an instinctive level.
Hello,

You have posted this in the Introductions forum, but have not given any introduction. So I assume that you are a member of a dojo and that you train with someone who is the chief instructor and that there are other senior members with whom you train. I also assume that there is no language barrier, apart from that of the terms themselves, and that any explanations are given in your own language.

In my own case, this very rarely happened. With one exception all my teachers have been Japanese--and had very different levels of ability to describe or explain what they were doing, either in their own language or in English. In fact, one teacher told me that I had to 'steal' the knowledge from him--and he added that he had been told this, when a beginner, by the Founder himself.

I used to think this was deliberate mystification, but I do not think so now. I am a shihan in Japan and the overwhelming majority of my students are Japanese. They have come to the dojo to steal--and I can make it easy or difficult for them. I attempt to explain what I am doing only when I see gross mistakes. And I never tell students to relax. They can do this--or not--and verbal explanations or commands never help.

I assume that you have a teacher who can do what he teaches and that he teaches what are called in English techniques, but with the names in Japanese: so you need to learn how to see and feel. This is as important, if not more so, than specifically learning how to 'relax.'

Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 06-28-2018 at 08:53 PM.

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Old 06-28-2018, 09:09 PM   #11
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post

David made a comment I think is important. "Relax" is more akin to the feeling your partner has about your body. This is similar to several comments issued by many of O Sensei's students who remarked about how his body felt. You asked why I train - some day I want my students (and my friends on the mat) to describe my body that way. My validation comes from what other people think about my movement, not what I think.

I think someday we need to look at our curriculum and decide if our clock is working, right twice a day, or broken.
I agree with much of the above paragraph, but have a question about the curriculum. I have experienced very little variation from the staple of what the Japanese call kihon (基本 basic), oyo (応用 practical application), and henka (変化 variation), as applied to waza (業, 技 work or technique). The material collected in Budo Renshu has been effectively pared down to a much smaller repertoire and I am curious about why you think this is.

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Old 06-29-2018, 10:49 AM   #12
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
I agree with much of the above paragraph, but have a question about the curriculum. I have experienced very little variation from the staple of what the Japanese call kihon (基本 basic), oyo (応用 practical application), and henka (変化 variation), as applied to waza (業, 技 work or technique). The material collected in Budo Renshu has been effectively pared down to a much smaller repertoire and I am curious about why you think this is.
This is a lot to unpack and I think a fun conversation... Maybe something for a different thread, but let me see if I can tie this together...

First, flavor everything I say with the perspective that I a fan of using metrics of evaluation and periodically reviewing procedures. It's part of my professional work and it flavors most of my personal opinions, too.

The old Budo Renshu is pretty straight-forward, but prefaced on the presence of aiki-body when doing the techniques. We now use techniques to "generate" aiki (Yes, I understand someone is going to contradict this claim). The trade off is that the techniques as performed now have low success rates so we are forced to do something with them - either cut them out or reduce them to "exercises". Either way, we remove them from mainstream training. There are fragments of this everywhere - from students quoting O Sensei ("...This is not my aikido..."), to students unable to replicate the feats of O Sensei (and the earlier generations), to multiplicity, confusion, and opacity regarding "why" answers. This is completely string board theory.

If I was boiling everything down to a concise comment, I would say that our curriculum as an art is tied to our ability to perform. Further, I would argue that our curriculum is shrinking because our ability to perform in the larger martial arts world is shrinking. This is part of why I advocate for a review of how we are doing things...

Earlier in this thread, I called a weight-underside exercise a "trick". I used that word not because I am being derogatory, but because I wanted to highlight the success rate of the exercise. In analogy, if everyone was a magician, then magic would not be a thing of wonder. Similarly, if everyone had the aiki body and weight underside, then weight underside would not be something that is considered unique. When does a "trick" become an "exercise"? When everyone can understand, do it, and teach it.

I am sure Ellis's book speaks wayyy better about this than I could... What about you? How has your research about this stuff been treating you?

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Old 06-29-2018, 10:53 PM   #13
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Re: "Just relax"

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What about you? How has your research about this stuff been treating you?
I have had some serious health issues -- and I still do not know how serious they are. I am an outpatient at two local hospitals and am currently being looked after by six different medical departments.

I retired from the IAF at the last congress, in 2016. Actually, 'retired' expresses a kind of tatemae, the honne is that I was pressured into retiring because I wanted to take the IAF in a direction that could have set it up as a kind of possible alternative to the Aikikai, though this was never my intention.

This experience led me to go back to a subject that I had been teaching for two decades at Hiroshima University: the dynamics of organizations spread worldwide, but as they relate to so-called 'national' cultures. This is an aspect of comparative culture that affects Japan in a very distinctive way, since it is regarded as a kind of archetype of a 'national' culture.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art, but one that has been spread worldwide, so you can see the issues involved here: whether and how a 'Japanese' martial art--that cannot be 'internationalized' as a competitive sport--could ever escape or be divorced from its Japanese cultural roots.

So I need to apologize for the recent hiatus in the appearance of my TIE columns and assure potential readers that I am working as hard as I can to end the hiatus and send the next column to Jun.

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Old 06-30-2018, 07:14 AM   #14
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Re: "Just relax"

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Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
So I need to apologize for the recent hiatus in the appearance of my TIE columns and assure potential readers that I am working as hard as I can to end the hiatus and send the next column to Jun.
Dear Peter,

I am very sorry to hear of your recent health issues and I hope everything works out soon. As you know, I have some mentors of similar age to yourself, and I hope I can see you opposite them in Iwama again soon. I am sure I can speak for many people in saying that I am very much looking forward to hearing more from you in the TIE columns. It's always a learning experience.

Regards

Carl
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Old 06-30-2018, 11:40 AM   #15
RonRagusa
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Julia Zummo wrote: View Post
What do you think? Are there other tools out there to learn relaxation as a skill? Are there specific practices for it in Aikido or other arts?
Stop being so focused on what your body is or isn't doing and learn to relax your mind. The tension in your body will ease as you calm and center your mind.

Ron

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Old 06-30-2018, 09:01 PM   #16
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Carl Thompson wrote: View Post
Dear Peter,

I am very sorry to hear of your recent health issues and I hope everything works out soon. As you know, I have some mentors of similar age to yourself, and I hope I can see you opposite them in Iwama again soon. I am sure I can speak for many people in saying that I am very much looking forward to hearing more from you in the TIE columns. It's always a learning experience.

Regards

Carl
Hello Carl,

Many thanks for the good wishes. Actually, Ethan W is planning his next Aiki Shuren trip to Japan and he will include Hiroshima in the itinerary. So we will do some weapons training and for this we will probably hire a sports centre that includes a large dojo. I am very much looking forward to the joint sessions with his 'Iwama' group and my own students. Some sightseeing is planned, too. The intended date is late September. I am sure you would be welcome to join if you do not mind the travel.

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Old 07-01-2018, 08:37 PM   #17
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Re: "Just relax"

Quote:
Peter A Goldsbury wrote: View Post
I have had some serious health issues -- and I still do not know how serious they are. I am an outpatient at two local hospitals and am currently being looked after by six different medical departments.

I retired from the IAF at the last congress, in 2016. Actually, 'retired' expresses a kind of tatemae, the honne is that I was pressured into retiring because I wanted to take the IAF in a direction that could have set it up as a kind of possible alternative to the Aikikai, though this was never my intention.

This experience led me to go back to a subject that I had been teaching for two decades at Hiroshima University: the dynamics of organizations spread worldwide, but as they relate to so-called 'national' cultures. This is an aspect of comparative culture that affects Japan in a very distinctive way, since it is regarded as a kind of archetype of a 'national' culture.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art, but one that has been spread worldwide, so you can see the issues involved here: whether and how a 'Japanese' martial art--that cannot be 'internationalized' as a competitive sport--could ever escape or be divorced from its Japanese cultural roots.

So I need to apologize for the recent hiatus in the appearance of my TIE columns and assure potential readers that I am working as hard as I can to end the hiatus and send the next column to Jun.
I am sorry to hear that your health is still giving you trouble. Get well.

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