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Old 02-25-2003, 03:50 PM   #1
Erik Young
Dojo: Wilmington Kokikai Dojo
Location: Downingtown
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 24
Unhappy Help! I use too much muscle...

I realise that there is no intant-magic-oh-so-wonderul solution here...but I thought I might throw this out here and see what others have to say.

Anyway, here's my situation. I am an aikidoka from the "bruiser" set. That is, I'm 6'2" and about 220lbs. I'm the big guy the little guys like to throw around (it looks cool ).

Anyway, my problem is that I find it very easy (especailly with less experienced uke) to muscle through techniques when I can;t get them to work otherwise. In fact, it was pointed out to me at last night's class that I was doing it unconsciously. Sensie asked me to "relax"...And I thought to myself "hey, I thought I was relaxed!"

This is not a new problem for me...when I trained before, I would often struggle to not use my strength (although I was less concerned about it then). Now, I'm even more aware of the phenomenon. It's particualrly vexing when I'm working wiht one of our higher ranking folks and they are successfully able to resist the tecnique that I thought was working so beautifully before.

I've decided that my current training focus should be on using less muscular strength and really developing precise technique. This will take time.

What I want to know is...does anybody have any suggestions on how best to approach this. Are there any good awareness-raising excerceises I could practice? Any good anecdotes from others who have been up this particualr path on the mountain?

Hell, I'll take whatever advice anyone has to offer. In the meantime, I'll continue trainign with this goal in mind. It's jsut hard becaus eoften, I'm not even aware that I'm using my strength (it's so natural for me to do so.)

Hope this made sense, if not, I'll attempt to clarify.


HAve you heard the one about the agnostic dyslexic? He wasn't sure if he believed in the existence of Dog.
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Old 02-25-2003, 03:58 PM   #2
Ta Kung
Join Date: Apr 2001
Posts: 237
Hi Erik!

I can't give you any advice, since I also have this problem still. I can only tell you that you've taken the biggest and hardest step; realizing that you actually use to much power. It took me a few months to accept that this was the case. I often thought that "hey, of course I need to use a bit of power". And of course you do, but not nearly as much power as I used. The problem for me was realizing I had this "problem".

I try to do the technique in different ways, when I notice I'm using a bit more power than I should. I stop right there, and try to move in another direction. Sometimes it works, and sometimes not.

Not much help, but at least some comfort (I hope). Stick with it and don't give up!

Best of luck,

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Old 02-25-2003, 04:28 PM   #3
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erikmenzel's Avatar
Dojo: Koshinkai Leeuwarden
Location: Leeuwarden
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 594
I have only one advice:

practice, practice, practice, practice.

Sounds corny, I know, but that is the solution to a lot of problems in aikido anyway.

Erik Jurrien Menzel
kokoro o makuru taisanmen ni hirake
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Old 02-25-2003, 05:46 PM   #4
Larry Feldman
Dojo: Atlanta School of Aikido
Location: Atlanta, GA
Join Date: Sep 2002
Posts: 387
A few thoughts...

1. Find someone stronger than you are to practice with, they could counter your strength.

2. Use a senior student to sanity check your technique, they will be able to call you out when you are using muscles. They may be able to counter your strength/stiffness.

3. Lift weights for an hour, swim for an hour, and run a few miles before class - and you will be to tired to use strength.

4. Practice with the smallest, weakest person in class, prefeably a child. It may be easier for your mind to tell your body to relax and not use strength since you are so clearly stronger than they are.
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Old 02-25-2003, 10:13 PM   #5
Dojo: Great Wave Aikido
Location: Alberta, Canada
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 543
I'm in the bruiser-weight class myself; I have the same problem. I've come up with a real weird solution that seems to work, however; practice on a balance-beam.

OK, OK, stop laughing, all of you!!

I dunno why, but it seems to work for me - lay a beam out on the mat and stand on it when doing linear techniques - ikkyo for example. The theory is (and it seems to be borne out), that when one has to balance, one must remain relaxed to maintain that balance. If you tense up, you'll go over. Also, if you use strength to push uke through the technique, the leverage will throw you off the bar; whereas a relaxed body will go with it.

Well, I said it was weird! Seems to work for me though.


Answers are only easy when they're incomplete.
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Old 02-25-2003, 10:37 PM   #6
Join Date: May 2002
Posts: 97
Eric Knoops is deffinetly right, but maybe you could add in focus, focus, focus aswell. By focus I mean on continuously thinking of being relaxed all the time. Heres a few things I think about when attempting to relax: 1. When your relaxed you feel things that you cant when your tight. Its easier to feel ukes weak points and the direction of their power.

2. for some reason I find my tension begins in my grip, when I loosen my grip other parts become a little more relaxed aswell.

3. personally I find weight training before a class makes my muscles too tense to relax properly, but that may just be me

4. focus on lowering your shoulders, even if it means tightening your lats at first - your body is in proper balance when your shoulders are lowered.

I think over time (repetition of movements, etc.) things just become more natural and free flowing. Keeping in mind that you should be relaxed when doing Aikido will only benefit you. I noticed with my guitar playing that at first I was very stiff no matter how much practicing I did. It just took time for the movements to become more natural and to build up speed. I think that Aikido is slightly more complex than guitar playing, but I think if you train consistantly and with effort it will just happen over time.

I hope this helps,

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Old 02-26-2003, 03:08 AM   #7
Jason Tonks
Dojo: Bracknell Ellis School of Traditonal Aikido
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 71
Alright there Eric. I suppose there are lots of pieces of advice that could be given but the fundamental one that comes to mind is use your hips to make the technique work rather than trying to use your upper body. Also always with all the techniques, keep your hands aligned with your centre. A good excercise to practise is to have someone grab one of your arms with both hands strongly and to try and stop you moving. You will feel the difference then if you try and use just upper body strength or whether you use your hips and your whole body from your centre. One way is a real struggle, the other with a bit of luck should be Aikido.

All the best

Jason T
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Old 02-26-2003, 03:44 AM   #8
Fiona D
Location: Ottawa
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 50
In the original post, Erik wrote:

"It's particualrly vexing when I'm working wiht one of our higher ranking folks and they are successfully able to resist the tecnique that I thought was working so beautifully before."

As Larry said in his point number 2, working on this with a senior student who can resist you if you end up using muscle at the expense of technique is probably the best thing to do. A senior student who knows how the correct technique should feel will be able to resist in the RIGHT way (as opposed to the 'you will not move me under ANY circumstances' type of resistance) and will be able to give you useful feedback on the details of what you're doing. It's even sometimes worth specifically telling your training partner "OK, don't let me move you unless I'm using proper technique" so that you can experiment a bit more.

[Interestingly enough, this issue is not exclusive to the big "bruisers". I'm somewhat on the other end of the scale (being 5'0 and barely over 100 pounds) and I find sometimes that bigger students, especially newer people, might 'let' me do techniques on them regardless of whether I'm getting it right (e.g. falling down before I've really broken their balance). In that case I have to ask them for a bit more resistance, otherwise it becomes hard to tell how my technique is holding up - effectively the same problem that Erik is talking about.]
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Old 02-26-2003, 03:47 AM   #9
Dojo: Kiburn, London, UK
Location: London
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 899
United Kingdom

One thing that has helped some of our "bruisers" in the past is change the attack slightly. Unfortunately, this only works for grabs. For example, rather than having your uke grab your wrist, let them take your little finger and try and do the same technique. If you're using strength rather than technique, trust me your finger will let you know.

Otherwise, I wouldn't actually worry too much. Your physical strength is a natural resource just like your technique. If you can manage to use both without them being unbalanced, why not. As you're aware of the potential problems I really don't think you'll allow your strength to dominate.
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Old 02-26-2003, 05:38 AM   #10
ian's Avatar
Dojo: University of Ulster, Coleriane
Location: Northern Ireland
Join Date: Oct 2000
Posts: 1,654
I find very useful is ai-hanmi ikkyo. Have uke just grabbing then pushing slowly forward. Keeping your hands in front of your centre let this push naturally turn your body (easiest if you turn towards your ungrabbed side).

Now, without letting this movement go to far and USING YOUR FEET move around the otherside (change turning direction) whilst still allowing uke to push forwards and keeping your hands in your centre. Then take the elbow and let uke continue to push forwards and down so you land in an ikkyo pin.

They key is:

-constant pressure should be made at all times - no pulling or pushing

uke should land in the direction that they were pushing all along (though they may change direction as they fall, and then you must move with them).

An alternative is just to try this (or other techniques) with palm to palm contact - thus if there is any pushing or pulling the hands disengage.

hope this helps!

P.S. strength per se is not the problem - forcing uke to go somewhere where they are not already going is.
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Old 02-26-2003, 08:02 AM   #11
Erik Young
Dojo: Wilmington Kokikai Dojo
Location: Downingtown
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 24
Thank you all for the advice...I'm going to hopefully try some of this out tonight (assuming the impending snow storm doesn't interfere....)

I'm also goign to talk with Sensei tonight (hopefully)...



HAve you heard the one about the agnostic dyslexic? He wasn't sure if he believed in the existence of Dog.
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Old 02-26-2003, 03:16 PM   #12
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Join Date: Mar 2002
Posts: 66
My advice is dont do aikido. Try something more suited to your build and strength. What percentage of the population is as strong as you? Probably about 10%. If you train in a way that takes advantage of your speed and power (eg judo, boxing) you will end up as a person who is hard to beat. The same might not be true if you concentrate on your obvious weak points.
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Old 02-26-2003, 06:06 PM   #13
Dojo: Seattle Ki Society
Location: Seattle
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 49
Funny, I'm in the exact opposite posistion! I'm 5'9" and 135lbs, so I find it fairly easy to relax (since I can't muscle my way through, even if I wanted to ). But when throwing someone larger, it's harder for me to keep my balance and stay grounded compared to someone like you, who's probably much more solid. I wouldn't worry about it too much in any case, we've all got physical obstacles to overcome.
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Old 02-26-2003, 09:02 PM   #14
Dojo: UW-La Crosse Aikido
Location: La Crosse, WI
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 68
Ian's method worked for me as well. I found that going in slow motion helps, too, because it helps me check my posture at the same time. I also trained with a number of different instructors who each added something to help me. One of them is a large man that will not be moved if you don't do the technique correctly. Last, another instructor included relaxing your face to help relax your body. As crazy as it sounds it helped me a lot. Hope this is of some help.

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Old 02-26-2003, 09:46 PM   #15
SeiserL's Avatar
Location: Florida Gulf coast
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 3,902
As another one of the big guys (6'4", 220) I also tend towards the muscles. I found that slowing down and really paying attention to the technique helped me find a better sense of relaxation. It take practice and conscious awareness, but worth it. Good training to you.

Until again,


Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 02-27-2003, 12:15 AM   #16
PhilJ's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Bukou
Join Date: Sep 2002
Posts: 240
I'll just pitch in my quarter and agree with the "doing it slow" ideas.

I like to look at the mental side of things too. How hard is it for us to just "let go" of stuff? We often use our strength to cling to things we are comfortable doing, as well as use it for things we aren't comfortable with. (It's how I was raised anyway)

The point is that it's not as easy as all these old pros up there make it sound. Don't look for immediate results, and take your time "letting go" -- get to class, and try it in daily life too.


Phillip Johnson
Enso Aikido Dojo, Burnsville, MN
An Aikido Bukou Dojo
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Old 02-27-2003, 06:42 AM   #17
mike lee
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 646
a few ideas

Help! I use too much muscle...
The practice of tai chi chuan, especially the "pushing-hands" exercise helped me a lot.

If that's not an option, one can work to concentrate more on the lower body while doing waza, rather than on the hands, while maintaining good posture.

No matter who my partner is, I always imagine that they are Superman, and that the only way I can successfully complete the waza is to use proper technique, not an inordinate amount of power.

I also imagine that I'm 108 years old and recovering from the flu in an effort to use the minimum amount of strength. In this way, one will always have plenty of power in reserve.

Aikido practice feels much more enjoyable when people use aiki rather than muscle, which creates tension rather than relaxed power.
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Old 02-27-2003, 07:29 AM   #18
Dojo: Aikido of Cincinnati/Huron Valley Aikikai
Location: Somerset Michigan
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 794
Mike, I like your imagery. I sometimes pretend I am Audrey Hepburn and use that image to concentrate on my posture and bearing, which in turn helps relax the muscle. Another thing I was just recently shown was about dropping my hands to my center in shiho nage, where I had been previously taught to cut out like a sword strike; it actually made an amazing difference in that your shoulders can't get tight. Just one recent nugget on the never-ending path towards improvement....
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Old 02-27-2003, 08:43 AM   #19
ian's Avatar
Dojo: University of Ulster, Coleriane
Location: Northern Ireland
Join Date: Oct 2000
Posts: 1,654
Ron Marshall (ronmar) wrote:
My advice is dont do aikido.
ha ha,

you're always trying to wind us up Ron - I wonder why you do aikido!

I think most people don't choose to do aikido because they are weak or small, but because they like the method of training and also it allows them to give a graded response to real situations.

If small people (like me) were going to choose a martial art for their body size they would probably choose a striking art which suits the faster speed and reduces the chance of grappling. However I have never been in a real situation where it is suitable to just start punching people.

Larger people may be better suitted to doing aikido slightly differently, but there is more to aikido than a set of techniques (otherwsie we'd just be doing jujitsu).

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Old 02-27-2003, 09:10 AM   #20
Hanna B
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Join Date: Dec 2001
Posts: 647
I agree on the slow down-aspect. I would like to add - if it fits with your general dojo profile, that is - how about working with less resistance, instead of more? Working slowly with light contact is IMHO a great way of improving sensitivity.
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Old 02-27-2003, 09:16 AM   #21
mike lee
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 646
fear of failure

Just wanted to add one more thing. I think that feeling that one always has to follow through on a waza to completion is a mistake. Never force it if it ain't working. Stop and try to figure out what's wrong.

Only if a person is willing to fail, can they gain a new lesson.
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Old 02-27-2003, 09:51 AM   #22
Location: Indonesia
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 245
To add a little bit to what Jason and Mike mentioned about using the hips/concentrating more on the lower body: When executing the waza, experiment by keeping your elbows down and as close to your trunk as possible. This tends to make you rely on your hips for power generation/displacement of uke, instead of your upper body strength.

BTW Rachel, I like the pretending to be Audrey Hepburn bit...I think I'll give that a shot.

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Old 02-27-2003, 09:59 AM   #23
mike lee
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 646

I think that Fred Astaire could have been a sensational aikidoist. What great posture and athletic ability, combined with class and charm! (All areas that I am seriously lacking.)
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Old 02-27-2003, 12:05 PM   #24
Alan Drysdale
Dojo: Enmei Dojo
Location: Florida
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 28
I don't have the problem of being large and strong, but I have students who have, and students who have the opposite problem.

One thing I tell the strong students is to learn to be economical with their power. See if you can do a technique with half as much power. A concrete goal seems to work better than just a blanket "don't muscle through it". When you get that down, see if you can do it with a quarter of your power. Then I tell them to watch how the small aikidoka manage without power, and to try that way. A change in position or angle will often make things a lot better, then they don't feel as tempted to just bull through.

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Old 02-27-2003, 01:41 PM   #25
Erik Young
Dojo: Wilmington Kokikai Dojo
Location: Downingtown
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 24
Thank ou everybody...this is really good stuff!

I trained last night...tried to keep some of this in mind, what a difference. Slowing down in particular was helpful...but with one caveate. Before, when I slowed down, I tended to break the technique up into concrete steps. This, in and of itself is not a bad thing, except the excecution was like "do step !" wait "do step 2" wait...I lost all sense of flow. WHen I jsut slow3ed down but maintained my flow (a tip from one of the black belts), it felt better.

I had one technique where everything came together. Not sure of the name...yokemunuchi where nage ducks under strikes, moves behind uke and pulls uke backwards from his/her shoulders.

Anyway, I had no problem "muscling" through the technique. However, when I was pointed out that I could just do the "rowing excercise" along with a slight backwards step...Wow! The uke commented that when I dropped my hands on hsi shoulders (no muscle, just gravity and mass) it felt like "king kong" and then the throw had him roll backwards and he nearly lost his balance coming up onto his feet. Much more powerful than when I was forcing it. Too bad I wasn;t able to duplicate it after that.

Anyway, I left class feeling pretty juiced!

As for not studying Aikido...not an option my friend. I've studied a lto of things (Aikido for 5 years as a Teen/young adult),Wrestling (High School) kickboxing karate, Goju-ryu karate, Kung fu (some shoalin derivative), Wing chun Kung fu, and tai chi. Being back in aikido, for whatever reason, feels like home. Wing chun/tai chi came close...but there are no schools that I knwo of in my area (not that I have the money or the time, y'know? Maybe some day). Anyway, I'll stick with the Aikido for now...it's making a difference in my life at the moment.

Thanks again for the help. I'll post again with further updates as they happen.



HAve you heard the one about the agnostic dyslexic? He wasn't sure if he believed in the existence of Dog.
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