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The modern understanding of “the core” and the need to properly condition it has become well known among athletic and active people, including martial artists (yes, the importance of the hips has been belabored for centuries, but the modern anatomically based concept is not necessarily the same thing). The core refers to the muscles, connective tissues and bones of the torso, yet to many it’s just the rectus abdominis (the “6-pack’).  However, the core can be more accurately thought of as the support, stabilization and movement system for the spinal column. This stack of 33 vertebrae (24 moving and 9 fixed) is connected by many ligaments and muscles, which provide oppositional tension akin to the guy wires on a tall tower.

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The practice of martial arts has come to be diverse in terms of the wide range of  arts and schools available and in terms of the population that is involved. Physical fitness and talent may only be required to a small degree, or they may be paramount to success. Students may be dedicated about conditioning, or they may be “weekend-warriors” whose primary physical activity is a class.  An instructor may be qualified in a technical realm but not be a good source of information in others, such as the nature of violence. The need for Evidence Based Practice (EBP) is just as high as in any other vigorous physical activity, yet appeals to tradition, history and authority and “experts” often lead students and practitioners to accept dubious information or ignore new information, which can have consequences on a number of levels. For this discussion, the practice of the various martial arts can be divided into two realms: recreational (i.e., oriented at self defense, fitness, cultural, etc.) and competitive (amateur or professional competition). Most of this discussion will focus on the recreational realm.

An extreme example of a lack of critical thinking and evidence-based practice can be found in  the cult of personality that has developed around Ueshiba Morihei, founder of the Japanese art of Aikido.

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All throwing techniques, including trips and tackles,  involve movement in the transverse plane. Initiation may involve sagittal or frontal plane movements, but the follow through and landing will occur around the thrower’s longitudinal axis to a greater or lesser degree.

For the person being thrown, this means that:

  • Landings will involve rotational forces and increased risk of damaging the ankles, knees, shoulders and neck. Pursue isometric strength conditioning as well as concentric conditioning, especially for the neck.
  • Falling skills should be thoroughly practiced in all three planes of motion, as well as from kneeling, standing and moving positions.
  • Failed throws wherein a foot remains planted will pose a high risk for knee injury, particularly ACL damage. Agility training can help a student to recognize these conditions and react quickly to move an endangered leg.
  • For students and fighters whose activity is throwing and takedown-intensive (Judo, wrestling), specific programming for muscle hypertrophy should also be included to protect bony surfaces and joints and to help diffuse impact forces.

Rotating around my longitudinal axis as I land

For the person throwing, this means that:

  • A throw will involve torsion on all joints involved in the technique. Specific strength and stability conditioning involving transverse plane movements can help to increase joint stability and ensure proper muscular activation around the ankles, knees, hips and core.
  • Depending on the other person’s weight and velocity, a successful throw will involve accelerating and potentially decelerating several times more than one’s own weight and mass.  Strength conditioning programs typically emphasize movements in the sagittal plane, while the frontal and transverse planes are less emphasized or neglected.
  • Progressive balance and stability conditioning, comprehensive core conditioning, and agility/reactive training in all three planes are strategies that can reduce the chance of avoidable injury while improving a student or fighter’s performance.
  • If a throw begins to fail at any phase, your body will be required to decelerate and stabilize the load while in non-optimal conditions, and several times your own weight and mass will pose a threat to your knees in particular. Condition the knees in all planes of motion, emphasize single leg balance and stability skills.
  • Throwing and takedowns  occur predominantly in the transverse plane. Most athletic injuries occur in the transverse plane.  Do not neglect conditioning in the transverse plane (do I sound like a broken record yet?) .

Gill travels around Chopper's longitudinal axis

Here, John’s knee is involved in stabilizing and producing force in the transverse plane

Drop us a line for more info on specific conditioning and programming ideas.

This article details a trend of serious, unrecognized injuries and a surprising number of deaths in Japanese youth Judo programs. I found this story to be of particular interest, since Judo is often advertised as a very safe martial arts activity for kids.

The take-home message:

”First of all, many judo instructors at Japanese schools are too ignorant about what to do when a serious incident occurs…”

The activity itself isn’t necessarily unsafe, but the environment and attitude in which it is trained can be. We’ve beaten this particular dead horse for a while, but it bears repeating. Instructors have a responsibility to know:

  • their students’ limitations and health considerations
  • the risks inherent in their activity
  • what constitutes a serious injury
  • how to avoid serious injuries
  • what to do in the event of a serious injury
  • what not to do in the event of a serious injury

The quote at the end of the article brings to mind the mindless culture of obedience, subservience and physical abuse that was encouraged/required in early Japanese University karate clubs (and still is, in some cases):

Mr Murakawa said: ”Children, afraid of getting beaten up, must obey the coach and cannot ask for a rest for no matter what.”

This attitude has absolutely no place in any training hall of any art anywhere. It’s not worth emulating, it’s not honorable, and it is not “traditional.” The sooner it’s discarded, the better. Getting tougher and finding out what you can take is valuable and worth pursuing; sacrificing your safety and health for macho posturing is not.

I ran across a great video of Russian Sambo training that looks to be from the 1930’s or 40’s. Lots of good throws, leg reaps, arm locks, flying scissor takedowns, and thighs like tree trunks.

And if the first few minutes are any indication, don’t mess with Russian women.

 

TKRI and the Rocky Mount, VA FitClub gym are pleased to announce the upcoming Fitness for Fighting Arts seminars, to be held on Feb. 20th and 21st.

Registration and  Schedule information, FAQ and Flyers are available here:

Registration

Seminar Schedule

FAQ

Flyer

To clear up some confusion that a couple of readers have mentioned: this is going to be a one-day seminar; it will be offered on Saturday, and again on Sunday.  Both days will present the same seminar- when you register, you are only registering for one day, there is no need to register for both days unless you wish to do it twice. All attendees must register by the deadline. We hope to see you there!


Brachial Plexus and Subclavian Artery

Brachial Plexus and Subclavian Artery

Martial artists often train in a posture that I refer to as the “closed chest, inside fighting” position. This involves tightening the abs, flexing the pecs, serratus, teres major, lats, and obliques, while rotating the shoulders forward and pulling them down. This position makes the ribs much less vulnerable to strikes, and although it restricts breathing, it does make it much harder for someone to knock the wind out of you.  In some schools this is the principal posture from which techniques are practiced and executed. While this sort of training can be very useful,  it can cause or contribute to a number of problems including shoulder impingement, neck pain, head aches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and thoracic outlet syndrome. Falling, as when taking ukemi, can have similar consequences. Active measures should be employed to ensure that one can maintain good posture when off of the training floor, and to maintain mobility in the thoracic spine and shoulder girdle.

Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) can cause chronic pain, weakness, or  numbness in the arm and shoulder. Here are a couple TOS related sites that you should take a minute or two to read:

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

From the “Your Orthopaedic Connection” site.

Except:

Thoracic outlet syndrome gets its name from the space (the thoracic outlet) between your collarbone (clavicle) and your first rib. This narrow passageway is crowded with blood vessels, muscles, and nerves. If the shoulder muscles in your chest are not strong enough to hold the collarbone in place, it can slip down and forward, putting pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that lie under it.

Read the rest here.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

From MedicineNet.Com

Excerpt:

What is thoracic outlet syndrome?
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition whereby symptoms are produced from compression of nerves or blood vessels, or both, because of an inadequate passageway through an area (thoracic outlet) between the base of the neck and the armpit.

Read the rest here.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
From the VascularWeb.Org site.

Excerpt:

What is thoracic outlet syndrome?
Your thoracic outlet is a small space just behind and below your collarbone. The blood vessels and nerves that serve your arm are located in this space. Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is the presence of hand and arm symptoms due to pressure against the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet area.

Read the rest here.

Here are some videos of exercises that I recommend to my students to help them maintain good posture (the first one gets TKRI props for using tape and tennis balls):

I’m a big fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.   I can’t help myself.  I love watching those guys destroy each other.  The top fighters exhibit explosive athleticism and devastating technique.  There’s a big difference between training to fight in a cage and doing martial arts as a hobby.  But, there’s a lot we should have in common, too.

The most important thing is mindset.  If you learn all the best techniques out there but don’t have the will to fight, nothing else matters.  The aggressive attitude of cage fighters often seems ego-driven and arrogant…and it is.  But, when the time comes to defend yourself or your loved ones, you will have to “turn off” your conscience.  It’s either you, or the other guy, that’s going to get hurt.  Make sure it’s the other guy.

The importance of physical conditioning cannot be overemphasized.  When fighters know all the same techniques, strength, agility, and endurance make the difference.  It’s like football.  Nobody thinks any other team has better blocking or tackling technique.  They just have better athletes.  Besides, it should be obvious that we use our bodies to perform every move.  The better condition we’re in, the better our karate will be.

Many people credit Bruce Lee with initiating the mixed-martial-arts revolution.  His Jeet Kune Do was an amalgamation of techniques from different styles organized around the concept of the “stop hit” from Western fencing.  Also, he believed in live sparring as the true test of a technique’s effectiveness.  But, he was not the first.

Mixing martial arts is nothing new.  Throughout history, people who actually fought have always wanted to learn anything that would help them survive.  For instance, caravan guards of nineteenth-century China often combined Xing Yi’s powerful linear striking methods with the circular throws and evasive footwork of Ba Gua.

I would argue that an effective self-defense method could be created by combining only the primary techniques of a few different styles:

Boxing – Nobody punches better than boxers.  That’s all they do.  The straight-lead, or jab, is a great way to gauge distance and create a reaction in your opponent.  I like the method described in Jack Dempsey’s book, Championship Fighting.  According to him, the “stepping straight-jolt” is the most important punch.

Muay Thai – The signature technique of Thai boxing is a round kick with the shin.  It’s absolutely devastating, but I don’t like it.  I could probably do some damage, but my shins aren’t conditioned to handle the impact.  However, I can throw knee strikes, while controlling the opponent’s head in the clinch, without hurting myself.  That’s good stuff.

Freestyle Wrestling – The single and double-leg take downs are simple and effective.  Either one is a good way to put an opponent on the ground in a hurry.  Plus, the ability to change levels and penetrate quickly are invaluable skills for closing the distance.

Greco-Roman Wrestling – Because holds below the waist are illegal, Greco-Roman wrestlers are the best at clinch fighting.  Learning to pummel for under-hook control might be enough to fight off an untrained person.  If you can duck under or arm drag to a rear clinch, that’s even better.

Judo – In general, I don’t like turning my back to the opponent, and techniques need to be learned without a gi.  But, Judo’s basic hip and shoulder throws are hard to beat.  Learning to back step well is a good skill to have.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – The Gracie revolution demonstrated to everyone the importance of grappling methods.  Even though the art has it’s roots in the ne waza of Judo, BJJ evolved on it’s own into a subtle and profound art.  The most distinguishing characteristic is extensive use of the guard position and an ability to fight on your back.  Submissions are not as easy as they look.  I’m most concerned with just controlling an opponent and trying to sweep or stand up.

The attitude of the Okinawan originators of karate would have been to use whatever worked for them.  There was a predisposition to believe that anything Chinese was better, and the Fujien province was most accessible to them.  They did the best they could with the knowledge they had.  Shouldn’t we do the same?

The carotid is more easily seen in this image than the vertebral artery.


Vertebral Artery

Vertebral Artery

From the eMedicine site:

The typical presentation of VAD is a young person with severe occipital headache and posterior nuchal pain following a recent, relatively minor, head or neck injury. The trauma is generally from a trivial mechanism but is associated with some degree of cervical distortion.

Focal neurologic signs attributable to ischemia of the brain stem or cerebellum ultimately develop in 85% of patients; however, a latent period as long as 3 days between the onset of pain and the development of CNS sequelae is not uncommon. Delays of weeks and years also have been reported. Many patients present only at the onset of neurologic symptoms.

Click here for the rest.

From vertebralarterydissection.com

The major causes of stroke in young adults and children differ from those in older people. Dissection of the internal carotid and vertebral arteries in the neck accounts for about a fifth of strokes in the young compared with about 2.5% in older patients.

…The incidence of arterial dissection is increased in patients with fibromuscular dysplasia, migraine, or hypertension; in smokers; and in those taking oral contraceptives. It is commonly associated with trauma or manipulation to the neck.

Click here for the rest.

From the above it seems clear that care should be taken by to avoid rapid and extreme flexion, extension, and rotation of one’s partner’s head. Percussion of the neck should likewise be avoided. Those techniques that require such movements should be modified by limiting the velocity and degree of manipulation, and/or contact. Children’s necks are especially vulnerable and therefore these techniques are not appropriately practiced on them. Newer students who have not yet demonstrated their ability to use discretion in their application of force in partner work should not be encouraged or allowed to practice these kinds of techniques.

Instructors should carefully observe students when they are engaged in practicing encounters in which neck manipiulation is required, and should take seriously any complaints of headache, nausea, changes in vision, or other related symptoms.

Excerpt:

The results showed that a substantial part of the information was not retained by the athletes and the information coherency was inversely related to the number of transmitted ideas. The coaches were, mainly, prescriptive and the form of the information was not important for the retention of the information. Gender was a differentiated variable as the girls showed more coherency in the retained ideas in relation to the ideas transmitted by the coach.

Click here for the rest of the article.


"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin

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