1. Advice to maintain flexibility
  2. The importance of flexibility
  3. Shoulder flexibility

1. Advice to maintain flexibility

Despite knowing that Aikido is doing wonderful things for my flexibility/fitness/balance/coordination/etc ;-) I'm finding that I'm still very stiff the morning after and when I've then spent a day sat infront of a computer screen I'm hobbling around like quasimodo. The only time I'm fully mobile is during and for an hour or so after practice ;-). The rest of the time I feel less flexible than before I started Aikido.

Has anyone any suggestions for other exercise (besides Aikido) thats good a loosening you up (e.g. yoga/aerobics running) Any recomendations?

Tricia Matthews

From: Krystal Locke

Do you stretch AFTER class? Do you have a warm down exercise? Do you train too frequently for your body to heal between classes? Is this a long term problem, or is the strain of Aikido new for you?

I would suggest taking a few minutes after class to gently stretch again, and a hot bath after class. Contrary to western medical opinion, I find that liniment does help, both as a preventative(use it before class), and as relief for already sore muscles. My favorite liniment is Zheng Gu Shui, a Chinese mixture that might be found in your local health food store, you can order it from Aikido Today mag, also.

Perhaps taking mini stretch breaks while at the monitor? My partner is a cardiac monitor tech on 12 hour shifts, and this really helped her when she first started Aikido and was continually sore. Just a few knee bends, arm circles, touch your toes, maybe a minute of light stretching several times a day.

Are you overtraining, or training improperly for your body type? If you don't have time to heal between classes, your muscles don't have time to adapt to their new workload, this will definitely cause continual soreness, both muscular and joint. If you are doing ballistic(bouncing) stretches in class, they may be inappropriate for your current muscular condition. That kind of stretch can really hurt for a while if you are a slow-twitch muscle fiber type. Might you be simply pushing yourself too far when stretching and training in class? Breathing is very important in stretching and in training, it helps pace yourself,and provides oxygen to muscle fibers that are trying desparately not to be damaged in their activity.

From: Janet


I highly recommend yoga for flexibility and for building strength, especially in common problem areas (lower back, etc.). Although its greatest benefits are cumulative, it can give you a heck of a stretch.

My yoga instructor insisted on our stretching at least twice a day (expect to be much less flexible in the a.m.), and our trying to make our everyday environment less tough on the body -- correct posture and lumbar support, etc. I know this sounds really basic, but stiff muscles from Aikido plus stress plus bad posture plus...can leave you feeling like a hard pretzel.:)

Yoga has helped me develop good balance, as well as giving me more upper-body strength (from inverted asans, mainly).

From: Doug Barnard

A book/program that really helped me, a terminally unflexible kind of guy, was "Stretching Scientifically" by Thomas Kurz (Stadion Publishing, Island Pond, VT '94). While I don't have aspirations on doing the Jean-Claude Van Damme style splits on the front cover, his philosophy of training has been a help.

Kurz feels that dynamic stretches in the morning, right after you get up, (ugh) are the main key to flexibility. He recommends arm swings, kicks, leg lifts, bend-overs, etc. in gradually increasing amounts of range and force.

I make sure to arrive a bit early to training, to do an extra 10 minutes or so of sl-o-o-o-w stretching. Don't expect results right away, and don't try to force things into compliance.

I'm a firm believer in cross-training to keep muscles in balance. Next time someone complains of a bad back, ask how strong their abdominals are. Maybe adding a bit of weight training to the schedule might help. I like to use a once-a-week mountain bike ride to get the cardio-vascular in line, and get the long/slow/distance workout. Steve Ilg's book "The Outdoor Athlete" (Cordillera Press, Evergreen, CO '89) has programs that produce dramatic results.

If all of the above seems too strenuous, do what I did. Marry a massage therapist. That, and a giant-size bottle of Advil (called Aikido Candy in our dojo) should keep you going!

From: Yoav Gershon

Though I'm usually a lurker, I wanted to add some points on the topic of stretching. I've begun Aikido fairly recently. However, my knowledge about stretching doesn't stem from martial-arts experience (see sig file). Regarding the point of stretching in the morning (and stretching in general): do it lightly if your muscles are cold. No VIGOROUS stretching should take place in the morning, when you just got out of bed; nor should you do it if you've been sitting around in front of the TV all day. Passive muscle tension (i.e. muscle tension without voluntary contraction) will be _significantly_ higher when you are cold. Your maximal 'strechability' occurs when the muscles have been exercised and local circulation is high. If you try to achieve your 'dojo' stretch level (which comes after a good workout) while you are cold, you will be putting excessively high forces on the tendons (since the muscles are unable to stretch and accomodate the tension).

Bottom line (well, a few more lines below this one ;)... Stretch lightly when you're cold. Stretch vigorously after the workout.

2. The importance of flexibility

From: Lee Horowitz

I know that flexibility is considered a "good thing", but can someone explain why? Its obvious that it takes flexibility to do monster high kicks, and it also seems from casual observation that the set of flexible people correlate with the set of athletically able people at least to some extent.

But what's the connection?

From: Krystal Locke

Flexibilty helps prevent injury, allows one to perform certain new tasks without as much of a threat of soreness, and, specific to Aikido, greatly eases ukemi. I think on some more esoteric levels, harder to prove, but intuitive to me, flexibility seems to equate with sensitivity, at least in my body. My body is soft enough to accurately feel what my partner is doing. Please excuse any typos, I just broke my left pinky finger. And right before Aikido, too. Bummer. Guess I shouldn't have gone to class anyway.

From: "Merz, John"

Flexibility has, as Krystal says, a very strong connection to ukemi. Ukemi in Ninpo, and other martial arts as well, means not only being able to fall or roll out of a throw, or to absorb an atemi, but also to have the mental and spiritual flexibility (key word) to be able to take the ukemi in the first place. On a physical level, I know that by training my body to be flexible, (my mthod is through yoga) I am not only lessening chance of injury, but simultaneously expanding myself to the point where a greater stretch is achieved. This greater stretch then connects with the types of ukemi one can do, expanding that realm of possibilities even more. One is able to absorb greater atemi and nage, all the while not being hindered (much) by mental and spiritual anxieties over whether one CAN do ukemi at all. I don't know if this makes much sense, but I guess I'm trying to say that by striving for flexibility (which places our bodies in often uncomfortable positions) we are actually practicing ukemi. The greater one's flexiblity IMHO, the greater one's ukemi. The students that do ukemi the best in my dojo are the ones that are most flexible. When practicing flexibility, we are easing ourselves into an unnatural position, in much the way we take ukemi. Relaxing into flexibility allows relaxation into ukemi (as sadistic as we sometimes get hit or thrown!)

In addition, I find that flexibility is extremely important not only in martial arts, but also in daily life. The increased attention towards achieving flexibility allows a greater range of events to occur in our lives. It might even be as banal as deciding whether you feel like a burger or finally taking a plunge into vegetarianism (okay, that one's not banal...hmmm....how 'bout Murphy Brown over Monday Nite Football?):-) Things that you might not have considered doing previously may actually appeal to you now. Instead of forcing opinions down everyone's throat, maybe you'll just have to dine on crow instead (excuse me, I was just finishing that heaping serving I cooked up around these parts the other day *belch*)

With an increase in flexibility, IMHO, many things are possible. By not devoting attention to one's flexibility, you may be cheating yourself out of some amazing things. Now, of course, this doesn't mean you have to try to do a Jean-Claude von Damme between two chairs, but the attempts at flexibility alone may be enough to open many doors previously locked. I find the study of flexibility and ukemi fascinating (forgive my email indulgences here, please) since so often my teacher delights in turning me into a pretzel. The mental edge of flexibility training really comes into play here! If I stopped and thought about how theoretically painful certain body positions should be while I'm being molded into them after a nage, I'm certain I'd seize up in a panic and end up hurting myself. Mentally accepting the strains on the body (ukemi?) allows one to go with the flow. To me, flexibility and ukemi go hand in hand and are not exclusive of one another (IMHO). :-)

From: Lee Escobar

Let's also consider flexibility is not just stretching our bodies. I believe this type of flexibility is beneficial, but what we practice in the dojo under the term "flexibility" is not stretching. Rather is implies the ability to _recover_. Like a rubber band, you can be bent/pulled/whatever, but do not remain static. You "snap back" like a rubber band would, letting your natural "flexibility" do the work for you. This helps to keep uke and nage safe, and can prevent injuries of all sorts.

From: Jun Akiyama

I think that being flexible makes you a better uke. (Note that the inverse, "A better uke is one that is flexible" is not always true.) Being one of the more "flexible" types, I think that I can stay connected with nage for a longer time than if I weren't as flexible. I've noticed that people who "succeed" in applying a high pin on me (in nikkyo/sankyo/yonkyo), they're really able to feel what is "correct." I also feel it's a lot easier to take breakfalls because I'm flexible...

From: Michael Hughes

Being flexible also enhances circulation which can have a direct effect fitness. The better circulation you have, the less chance of injury(to a certain extent). It does help with ukemi as well(especially if you have really hard tatami.

Being able to monster kicks is a plus too.

3. Shoulder flexibility

From: Greg Tomczyk x5719

I have been studying Aikido for 9 months with an intense training schedule, well atleast for me. One of the main problems I am encountering is that I can not lossen up my shoulders. They are just so wound up. I feel like I need some one to put me on a rack and stretch the living !#$%^&* out of them. Needless to say this is causing a problem, both as uke and nage.... I have tried the various heat rubs and balms; I tried massage, which worked but I feel I would need one every day. Granted that in addition I am some what of an Insomniac and Computer geek which adds to the shoulder stress. Is there anyone out there that has any suggestions, stretches, comments, criticisms etc???? Please contact me.

From: "Dean C. Harris"

A couple of suggestions:

If you can't get to a gym perhaps pick up a dumbell set...there are lots of ways to work the shoulder area. I find when I go to the gym right before Aikido I'm very relaxed and the muscles are already warmed up.

Do lots more of the typical warm up excersizes before class. Rotate your shoulders a lot. Take your arm and twirl it around like it was the blade of an airplane. BIG circles.

Then have someone stretch you in pin position for a while before class after you've done the above warmups.

If you're sitting at a computer desk as I am know, grab on to the side of the chair with one arm. Now use your other arm and grab your head. Tilt your head to the side of whatever arm/hand is holding it. Now start to use your neck/shoulder muscle to pull away from the hand that's holding you or push to the side that's holding the chair. Steadily apply more and more muscle tension...then take a DEEP breath and _relax_ at the same time pull your head a little more. Do this a few times...you'll see how much looser the one side is over the other.

TIP: Try to do this when there aren't many people around as they may think you are insane. :-)

From: Mike

I program for a living, and I know what you mean about the shoulder (and neck) tension. Sitting in one position for hours at a time typing can really lock things up.

Several suggestions:

Put the manuals on shelves behind you, so you have to stretch to get to them.

Write a little timer program that goes off every 30 minutes or so and tells you to stretch or get up and walk around.

Get a chair that rocks and twists, and shift your position every hour or so, or just twist and rock some while you're working.

Stretch several times a day. I used to do this as a warmup before excersize, and it does wonders for tension relief: lie down on your back and starting with your feet and working your way to your head, work every joint to its full range (don't strain, just move them). Try to touch your toes to you shin, then try to point them away from you, then rotate the ankle, turn the foot left and right until it hits the natural stops. Then the knees and hips: try to bring your knee to you chin, then straighten it out, then roll onto your side and bring your leg (straight) forward, then back, then up and back down, then roll onto the other side and do the same. Then the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders in the same way. Then sit up and do the neck: touch your chin to your chest, then try to look straight up, then try to touch each ear to a shoulder (your choice of shoulder... ;^), then look left and right over each shoulder, then try to to a 360 degree scan to the right (look right, then swing up and over and back around to the front from the left), then do it the other way. Repeat any part of this as much as you like, but do them all, don't skip any.

Even just doing this one in the morning helps. During the day I frequently stretch a bit, especially the shoulders and neck (lift the and rotate the shoilders forward to stretch the shoulder and back muscles, then rotate the neck some).

I'm not sure why sitting in front of a CRT causes so much muscle tension, but it may have to do with limited blood flow and constant tension of the fibres to hold the hands in precise place.


Computer workstations like those Greg may be using have apparently caused chronic shoulder injuries. The culprit seems to be incorrect keyboard and mousepad heights which may cause the user to hunch the shoulder or shoulders up somewhat. If Greg wants to contact me directly, I can describe my own chronic shoulder injury experience; no reason to bore the rest of you with this discussion string.

From: Alan Shumak

I have been studing Aikido for a longer period of time and have recently realized that my posture from sitting at my notebook, hunched over, is the cause for my always stiff shoulders. So far I have tried extensive stretching and correcting my posture as much as possible which seems to be helping. Anyone with other suggestions would be helping me as well as Greg, and most likely a lot of other Computing Aikido Geeks :-)

From: Fred Rachford

I have problems with my shoulders too after intense use of the computer. My after the fact fix is to do the first two sections of the Soaring Crane Chi Kung form. Dean's tip definitely applies here.

From: James Acker

Hi and welcome,

I have a similar problem. I have found that a LOT of ukemi helps. Roll, roll, and roll some more. You'll improve your technique if nothing else, but I have also felt that it has helped by almost massaging my back. I noticed a similar thing when I trained HARD with a higher rank. During my time as Uke, I kept thinking "Oh man, this is really going to hurt tonight" as he applied Nikkyo very hard (too hard I thought at the time) but afterwards..and later that night, I felt great! No pain and in fact my arms felt great.

On the downside...I am sitting out now for three weeks because I did bad ukemi and cracked some ribs, so I maybe should have said do GOOD ukemi!

Also try "rolling" your shoulders and stretching arms a few times a day.

It really doesn't hurt at all. It's just that lactic acid has collected in those muscles where you've been tense all day. Our resident neuromuscular therapist should chime in here to explain things properly, but after going to the chiropractor for a back problem I learned a few nifty things. Generally when stretching provide resistance to the muscle being stretched [in other words just "flex" or use that muscle and use a fairly good amount of strength] then when the muscle is SO tight after applying resistance for a good 20 seconds or so take a deep breath then release _all_ resistance at once and SLOWLY stretch just a bit more. Repeat as many times as necessary. Generally you "trick" the muscle fibers or something...or you exhaust them so they cannot natuarally tense up.

As to the lower shoulders- where the trigger points are get Rick you strike you ;-) or get a couple of tennis balls and lie on your back and use the tennis balls the massage your trigger points.

TIP: Try to do this when there aren't many people around as they may think you are insane. :-)

The above still applies. :-)

Or you can bypass all that and go to a massage therapist. Sometimes even insurance will pay for part of it...especially if it's work related from being hunched over a keyboard [especially a notebook] all day. There's likely someone at your dojo to recommend somone to you.