NGAExperience® Nihon Goshin Aikido

The Weakness Myth:  Why Failing To Train For Strength Could Get You Killed

Surf the web for any length of time, and a common statement you’ll read over and over again about the nature of Aikido is that, “Aikido does not require strength.”


I say “Balderdash.”  In fact, the idea that Aikido does not require any strength is probably the most dangerous of all statements I think I’ve ever read on the nature of aiki based martial arts.


Foundational Truths:


1.  Strength Is Not An Absolute Indicator of Victory ~ but It Doesn’t Hurt To Have More Than You Need.


Think of David.  As a young teenager, he did defeat Goliath ~ a Philistine Giant ~ but the key point of the narrative is that God was with David.  David had divine help.  Further, David was not exactly a dove either.  When David stood across the creek from Goliath with 5 smooth stones in his pocket and a sling shot in his hand, he had already killed a lion and a bear.


2.  All other things being equal, the stronger man will win most fights (unless the weaker man has a ranged weapon ~ see example of David & Goliath above).


Real Life Examples from Training:


Train in our art long enough and you will recognize this situation, because we’ve all been there.  Here’s the all too familiar scenario:  You’re training with someone, not known for their strength, and they are trying to do the Reverse Wrist Technique (or something else) on you ~ and it’s just not happening.  You don’t feel any tension in your wrist.  There is not a hint of a reason to comply or tap, but you do so anyway after awhile because they are not capable of better.  It’s not a technique thing, they just don’t have the strength to bend your relaxed wrist in a direction it wasn’t designed to bend.


The whole time you are thinking:  “There is no way this technique is ever going to work for this person in a martial situation because it is not even working for them in the Classical Technique ~ where I’m putting my wrist in position to allow the person to literally break it if they wanted to.”


So, what do we do?  At some point we have to be honest and tell nage, “Something’s not right.” In reality we know they need more grip strength, or something similar.


With the understanding that we can all be stronger and make our technique even better in the process, what muscles do we train for our art?


1.  Legs:  Show me a person with weak legs, and I’ll show you someone who lacks the most important element of our art ~ a firm foundation or connection to the ground. Consider squats because serving as uke for a weak legged nage on the the Pivot Over the Back Throw is a dangerous and uncertain proposition.


2.  Lats:  Since the arm is generally moved in coordination with the rest of the body (so that you can leverage your core), strong lat development to hold the elbows in place is absolutely necessary.  The easiest way to amplify the power in your Elbow Chop is to keep your gripped wrist’s elbow ‘attached’ to your body as you perform the technique.  If your elbow slips away as you are performing the technique, you are losing power.  Assuming it is a strength issue, then that prohibits you from keeping that elbow tucked in, you need to work on your lats strength.  Consider Chin ups (palms facing you), Pull ups (palms facing away), and Rowing exercises.


3.  Back:  Much more important than the chest because you can always pull more than you can push.  I recommend Pull ups and Dead lifts.


4.  Grip & Forearms:  This is of great importance to students of our art where joint locks and controls are based on securing a wrist, hand, etc.  O’Sensei’s forearms were said to have been so large that it appeared that he had no wrists.  The good news about forearm and grip strength is that any load bearing exercise in which you are pulling (whether it be a row, or a chin up or a dead lift, etc. will develop your grip strength).  The exercise I like the most is the Farmer’s Carry.  Grab the heaviest set of dumbbells you can hold, and walk as far as you can without dropping them ~ must make sure you don’t drop them on your toes and you’ll be fine.


5.  Core:  Your core strength is the fulcrum for your proverbial lever.  If the fulcrum is weak, the lever will never function to its highest potential.  The Farmer’s Carry is great for developing core strength, as well as sit ups, planks, crunches, and surprisingly chin ups or pull ups.  A strong core really helps you keep your round shape when doing soft ukemi also.


Going Forward:

From here my personal temptation is to take this article in the direction of bodybuilding ~ and discuss workout protocols, sets and repetitions, workout frequency, nutrition, rest, proper form for the the barbell squat, etc. ~ as bodybuilding is my “other hobby” ~ but all that information is already out there in one form or another ~ so I’ll leave you with this final notion instead.


If you were an attacker ~ who would you most likely target?  

Someone with a bit of muscle bulging out from under their shirt, or the proverbial 90 pound weakling who (irrespective of his martial skills) appears unable to fight his way out of a paper bag.


Not that we are all striving to be the next IFBB Pro Bodybuilder, but T. Roosevelt was right when he alluded to the extra security gained when you “Carry a Big Stick.”


~ Jonathan Wilson

O’Sensei may not have been a very big man, but by all accounts he was a very strong  man ~ even in his old age!

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Even in his 70s, O’Sensei had notable chest, lat, biceps and triceps development.  Forearm development is equally apparent.


In the pictures I’ve seen of him, Shodo Morita was also a large man in terms of muscularity.  It is unfortunate that we do not have more photos of him to document this fact.

I’m not bragging.  I’m just saying that I’m not one to neglect my

core training.  

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