Take It Easy
By Neil Ohlenkamp
Editor's Note: While this article is about judo, the authors
point about the importance of being relaxed is equally important in
all martial arts. It is an essential in aikido, jujutsu and daito ryu
aikijujtsu. It is taught in kendo and kenjutsu. And the worst offenders
are often karate-ka, who keep their muscles so tight that it inhibits
their power in technique, quick execution and the ability to move.
If you are stressed at work it is generally hard to enjoy your job.
If you are uptight about a task that you have to do, it is likely you
will try to get through it as quickly as possible. And if you are nervous
about getting hurt, you certainly won't enjoy your recreation. Like
most activities, the way to enjoy Judo or any other martial art is to
learn to relax. For many people it is harder to relax in Judo practice
than in other activities, and the obvious reason is that your partner
is always trying to attack you. However, the more one learns to deal
in a positive way with stress, change, and risk, the easier it is to
relax. Judo practice is a great way to train yourself to handle difficult
situations with confidence and grace.
One of our biggest fears is falling. It is also one of the first lessons
we learn in Judo. Of course no one wants to get hurt or lose, and these
feelings are associated with falling. These fears cause the body and
mind to become tense and rigid so that eventually you become paralyzed
and cannot function. For this reason it is important to face your fears
rather than let them control you. Studying ukemi, methods of falling,
is a good way for the average person to start to do that.
Later, in Judo randori, or free practice, you will find that it is
again very difficult to relax. You may find that when you do succeed
in relaxing you are initially exposing yourself to attacks more. This
makes you feel more vulnerable rather than more secure. This is one
of the reasons it is so hard to relax in Judo. At first, every time
you relax you may get thrown, and it seems to be a counterproductive
strategy. This makes you more fearful, and you naturally tighten up,
until you eventually become fatigued into relaxing again. This creates
a self-reinforcing cycle of constant stress.
The trick is not to hide your vulnerabilities and weaknesses, but to
learn to recognize them, get to know them intimately, manage them, train
them, and even turn them into strengths. When your opponent finds a
weakness they will usually attack it. Knowing that, the skilled judoka
can actually turn vulnerabilities into opportunities.
Through focused training, weaknesses can become strengths. One of the
paradoxes of Judo is that it takes concentrated effort to learn effortless
action. It is hard work to train yourself to yield and not resist, to
relax the tension in your muscles and your mind. However if you do,
you will see rapid progress in your ability to defend yourself.
You will eventually come to see that when the body and the mind are
in a relaxed state they are more able to respond quickly and appropriately
to each attack. You will also get less tired and use your energy more
efficiently. You will be more sensitive to your opponent's intentions
and be able to anticipate attacks earlier. Your techniques will work
better because your body will move more freely in a coordinated way.
Your balance will be better, your confidence will improve, and you will
have more fun.
This is the essence of Judo. Ju means gentleness, softness, yielding
or pliability. These are all qualities associated with a relaxed state
of mind. Learning to relax is the key to dealing with difficult situations,
and there is no better way to train yourself than through the study
of attack and defense in Judo.
About The Author:
Ohlenkamp is a martial arts writer and founder of www.judoinfo.com.
He is a certified United States Judo Association instructor, referee,
master rank examiner, and master coach (the highest level of certification),
and he was awarded United States Judo Coach of the Year for 1999. He
holds a fifth degree black belt in Judo and a sixth degree black belt
in jujitsu and has over 31 years of training and experience in various
martial arts as a competitor, instructor, team coach, and tournament