I find you (training) irresistible!


Some empirical evidence to acquire a point of reference:


Morihiro Saito (Iwama Aikido Founder and the one who Ueshiba himself left to lead the Iwama dojo where he taught weapons) demonstrates tai no henko with one of his students in a seminar somewhere abroad. Afterwards, the rest of the students who participate in the seminar repeat the exercise. A foreign student who came for the seminar pairs with the student of Saito Sensei to practice the technique. When it is Saito’s student turn as an uke (receiver of the attack), the foreign student cannot move because he is grabbed too strongly by him. He complaints:

– Why do you hold me so strongly? Please hold me lightly, as you did with Saito Sensei some seconds ago!

– (answer) I held him even tighter than you!


Tony Sargeant (6 Dan, student of Saito Sensei) notices:

“I hear people all the time complaining that this or that person is strong, resistive or too heavy, or not cooperative and that they have a difficulty in executing the techniques with such persons. Or I hear them commenting that this or that person is “light” or “heavy”. I honestly cannot understand what this means. I feel everybody, no matter who they are or what they do, the same, that is, weightless.”


Zacharias Kapandaidakis, en statu nascendi representative of  Ju-jutsu in Greece explains that if your pair in practice doesn’t try to give you what he’s really got, it’s unethical: He lets you leave with illusions about your real abilities.


The views about training resistance of the aforementioned people come in direct contrast with the proponents of a resistance-less training to “develop sensitivity”?


I will try to support in this article not only that both are right but that they are simultaneously right. In order to do that, I will try to use appropriate methodological tools developed by the science of exceptional achievement, a science that has been developed only recently and combines cognitive science, sports sciences and social sciences under a huge program that tries to explain world-class expertise in any domain.


We should agree right away that at least a minimum of resistance is necessary. Let’s take judo. In judo, a throw has three distinct phases: Kuzushi, Tsukuri and Kake: Unbalancing the opponent, loading and unloading (throwing) respectively. One could say that many martial art techniques can be split the same way or in similar fashion. For example, Kuzushi may well be the Atemi or first attack, Tsukuri – sometimes more and some time less obvious – the main technique and Kake, could be the final damage that the technique is supposed to cause to the opponent.


Now, if no resistance at all was present at any time, the learner would not even feel when each phase takes place. Loading and unloading the opponent would just be mere concepts, but with no physical counterpart. Indeed, in judo, the minimum of resistance is both desired and naturally supplied by the weight of the opponent.


On the other hand, there is no point in resisting your opponent too much and block his techniques. No one wants – nor does it appear any useful – to try a hip-throw on a bulldozer! I said “it does not appear any useful” because one actually needs to physically repeat a movement to learn it. This might seem a tautology, but because people daydream, even the most obvious facts must be stated.

These two examples of the two extremes seem intuitively logical as well.  The crucial question is, what is the best resistance for learning a martial art (or even another motor skill) ? Again, one tends to assume that the ideal level of resistance would fall somewhere between the two extremes of  no- and full- resistance. But where exactly?


Maybe we should examine what is the resistance one would have to actually overcome in real situations? In martial arts, as in many other activities, the resistance in real situations (or in real competition) is very close to … well too much to handle by the capacities of common men! However, this is not indicative of the type of training one should follow. As we have already seen, different people accept quite opposing beliefs when it comes to that.


Let’s try to define it ourselves then. Since the brain consolidates only the motor input it receives from the body and limbs (in other words it learns only what we do and not what we might wanted, wished or hoped to do), a first rule should be that the resistance should be only so high, till the exact point one can still execute the technique perfectly. This means that if the resistance would get a bit stronger, the learner would have to resort to the utilization of other motor responses than the prefered ones for the specific technique. These motor responses would either originate from his current, already existing repertoire of movements (… recidivism) or from simply trying to counteract the resistance with more powerful muscles.


So what we have said till now, is that technique should always be practiced correctly and inside our capacity to maintain it perfect – or in other words inside our comfort zone. It is very common place in literature of many sciences, from physiology to psychology to demand repetitions near our limit (over 70-80 % of our current capacities) to induce changes connected with learning, or other related to improvement adaptations. In martial arts this might be somewhat less for beginners as the threat of attack usually distorts the execution of the motor skill. This sort of practicing, should in due time increase our capacities and at some point we should be able to participate in a competition, or a game or – equally – a randori and be able to do that with a perfect technique (something we were unable to do as novices or even as intermediates). This is correct, as it is a direct conclusion of the premises mentioned. It should also mean that from that point on, we could go on with our training in a randori/ competition manner as our regular training, become even better and be able to perform even faster with perfect form (technique). This is false; the premises “promised” us that we could reach this level of performance, not maintain it!


Based on this first rule, the claim that executing a technique in a randori (in actual play or competition) worsens our technique, is valid – as it is not possible to always maintain perfect technique (form) during performance. One could indeed reach the level to perform in a competitive environment with a (near) perfect technique, but in this kind of advanced performing, technique will eventually become unstable and the eggrams in the brain will be altered: Goodbye technique! This does not apply only for beginners, intermediates or experts, but for world-class experts as well.


Why does it happen?


There are many reasons, more or less obvious. To name a few:


Fatigue: when tired, the body changes its motor responses by itself to protect vulnerable resources (soft tissue, energy).


Memory: We, people, do one thing very well, that is, we forget. Slower training is needed to become conscious again and remember exactly what to do.


Fine tuning: Previously, I referred to “perfect technique”. However this is an illusion. Nobody will ever acquire a truly perfect technique at all levels. Slower tanning with more resistance is needed to develop further.


Consciousness: At fast speeds one cannot act consciously, but after exerting a definite speed limit, one’s movement becomes rather automatic. The body just reacts unconsciously. One needs slow training to become deliberate and more self-conscious.


Interpretation: When considering performing quality, technique is one important factor, but not the sole determinant. Other components must be taken into account like interpretation and style which may not be adequately studied in fast automated practice.


You may have noticed that I have connected somehow slower training with the ability to overcome greater resistance. Indeed, at high speeds one will always be somewhat weaker due to balance, coordination, muscle properties and other issues. Of course, speed always magnifies our strength in some instances, but being stronger in slow, deliberate practice will make us even stronger in fast practice as well.


Therefore, the second rule is that for every given amount of fast practice (or competition), we need a counterbalancing number of many more hours of slow, deliberate practice. Do not try to find any weird reason for the fact that the hours of slow practice should be many more: just repeating the same movements slowly, requires – by definition – more time.


Fast training or advanced performing is of course not only needed, but is the requisite whether playing the piano or training aikido: it is the very reason I am doing the activity in the first place! Despite the fact that an enlightened man could argue that studying per se is very important thing to do to in order to become… enlightened, even in this case, there are reasons to perform fast as well – like the testing effect (training needs speedy parts as well to be more effective).


How slow is slow then?


Slow training is like a magnification glass. We want to look to the smallest possible details with it. Thus slow, is really slow – or if you prefer, as slow as one can. Training slow is as difficult as training fast, even though most people correlate fast training only with difficulty.


How many details should one be able to see with slow practice?


All of them if possible. Conventionally, people prefer a faster “slow practice” due to time and motivational constraints. This is by all means respected as long as one knows what his choices mean. Ideally, however, slow should be so slow, that a third person should have difficulty in understanding our doings!


To conclude, learning is best supported by neither fast and light, nor by slow and resistive training alone, but by the repetition of cycles containing both types of practice. Slow training improves speed of execution and technical “power” and speed worsens these very same attributes but at the same time, is needed to close the cycle (fast & light –>(…) –> fast & powerful).


How exactly should training be like?


This is the larger question that I attempt to answer in my general research work. Stay tuned!

* This post is dedicated to my friends in University of Athens Aikido Dojo

Konstantinos Papageorgiou





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