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I've been training in Aikikai Aikido for a few years but still have problems tensing up when trying to throw - especially training with someone larger. I've been training for a few years and know the main throws and pins.

I saw an older tiny guy at a NJ seminar who was absolutely running circles round bigger guys. I trained with him and he mentioned trying to keep relaxed in the shoulders, use your hips and direct momentum.

I hope this tries to explain what I'm getting at. Does anyone know the right approach for throwing? For example, if I completely relax my arms and someone charges in, it's often too late and then the strength fight starts with my arms pinned against me. I'm trying to avoid this.

Any insight would be appreciated or advice would help.

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That older tiny guy is right but his answer is not helpful. He was showing you the end game but did nothing to get you there: The "secret" is of course to train. A lot.

You might benefit from Tomiki's randori-ho system. It is an essential part of the shodokan (昭道館合気道) system that he created. In a nut shell, it helps one take a collection of kata and make them work against an increasing level of resistance. From my reading of your question, something like that is what you are looking for.

First, you start by avoiding (without hands, then with hands placed) attacks. Concentrate first on getting out of the line of attack, then on placing the hand/arm so that you are the right distance to apply an Aikido technique. This is called tai-sabaki.

Second, throw. There is no resistance from uke, just a solid attack. The idea here is that you get to short cut all the fluff that is in the kata and get the technique to be bare bone of what is needed to throw. This is called kakari geiko.

Next come resistance. Uke starts lightly resisting techniques via movement alone. So, if uke can move out of your technique, they do so. If the technique is good enough, they fall. In effect, uke makes it more awkward for you to throw them so you have to up your game to successfully throw. The way to do that is to quickly change and chain techniques as well as apply good balance breakers. This is called hikitate geiko.

Note that good balance breakers here is the key. Tomiki developed a whole kata just to teach those. But this is beyond the scope of this question.

Then, uke can fully resist your technique by movement and strength. Uke's role is really important here: they must help you understand where your techniques are wrong and not just show that they are stronger/better. This is called softo randori.

To up the game even more, uke can be allowed to counter your techniques by some of their own. This is called randori.

All the above can be taught in class no problems. I tend to run it for couple of minutes, then switch repeating each stage with two/three partners. It is hard work and get people fit.

However, this is not the end of the method: the rest must be done by yourself. Clearly this is not for everybody: some people dislike competitions, are too old, too injured, or just do not care about a gold painted tin circle. That is fine too. The randori=ho method is not about competition and winning medal, it is about making Aikido your own.

Shihai, or a match, is where two players try their hardest to throw each other. No one can teach you this. You have to do it to get good at it. Of course, the skills you learned before are directly applicable but the level of resistance is now full on from both players.

Finally, and what Tomiki is known for, is competition (takai). There is a referee, a cheering crowd, and two players. It is like shihai but much more intense. You might even get a nice gold medal. See the 2011 International Aikido Tournament - Men's Tanto Randori: Gonzalez vs. Milliner match for an example of how this (sometimes) looks. There is more if you wanted to.

A more academic approach might suit you better so Tomiki's paper on Modern Jujutsu is a must read. If you were keen to learn more, Aikido and Randori: Reconciliation of Two Opposing Forces by Scott Allbright and Aikido Randori by Tetsuro Nariyama are must have books.

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From a non-aikido perspective: I think the concept you are looking for is "sung". In Chinese, I think this is song1 (pinyin) and 松 (simplified Chinese). This is roughly translated as relaxation, but the concept has a springiness quality, unlike a wet noodle.

First, an aside about structure. In a front stance, someone pushing on your front will have their force transmitted through your skeleton into the your back foot and the ground. This is structure, in contrast to doing a leg press or a push up, where you use tension for strength. As much as possible, you want to fight using structure.

Using the example you have provided with your arms collapsing, this means you are too relaxed, like a wet noodle. As you have already recognized, too much relaxation causes problems. You want your arms to have sung, where your arms have structure (springiness) but are not tense like they would be if doing a push up (relaxation). This is the state where you can use your legs and waist to deliver force through your arms and still be reactive to redirect momentum.

To get a sense of sung, I would start with getting someone to push lightly on your arm. Try to figure out how to orient your arm and maintain structure without straining to push back. Then try to apply the same principle to more complicated situations and movements.

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Disclaimer: I've also been doing Aikido for a few years only, so also consider me a beginner still.

I've been training in Aikikai Aikido for a few years but still have problems tensing up when trying to throw

Then either you are tensing up because you're tense yourself (you're afraid to fail, to hurt them or for whatever reason), or they are bad Ukes because they want to overpower you (or probably both if they are on the same level as yourself).

Do your senseis practice Uke's role in your training? Uke has a job as well, and it is not holding on to you with all his might and resisting as much as he can. Uke should sense how far along the path you are, and if you are still working on the basics, he should let you learn them. Throwing a good Uke should be a joy, and then you can practice, practice, practice - when you are ready for it, ask your Uke to resist a bit more, to see if you are on the right track, etc.

Sure, an Uke can use resistance as a teaching tool to show you that you failed and better start over. But resisting while you are trying to throw them is just ignorant (which probably means your Sensei needs to explain/train it with all of you).

I saw an older tiny guy at a NJ seminar who was absolutely running circles round bigger guys. I trained with him and he mentioned trying to keep relaxed in the shoulders, use your hips and direct momentum.

Yes, that's the usual thing that happens. "Old/experienced" does not mean "good teacher". Often, less experienced people have the benefit that they remember what it feels to be new to the art.

I had such a guy as well in my place, who kept nagging at me and telling be things that I could intellectually understand and agree to ("yes, I know that I need to do XYZ, I just don't know how"). My tactic in this case is to take him aside, and make it respectfully but abundantly clear that I understand his words and meaning, but am not getting what he actually wants me to do because I am too inexperienced.

I do that once or twice - if they "get it", then they are usually very happy to explain their points in more mundane words. If they don't get it, then I happily accept that I maybe won't learn much from them yet, shut my mouth for now, and will return to train with them a few months later down the road when I'm maybe able to apply their advice.

Example: for aihanmi katatedori ikkio, they tell you to "redirect energies into your opponents center". As a newbie, you probably don't know that they simply mean to "grab his elbow, and move it into his face in a big circle while walking through him". Simple words work wonders.

I hope this tries to explain what I'm getting at.

Sure, the proper tension is one of the most, if not the most important, and for most people, difficult aspect of Aikido (and likely other arts as well).

For example, if I completely relax my arms and someone charges in, it's often too late and then the strength fight starts with my arms pinned against me.

You are not supposed to be relaxed like a jellyfish. You are not supposed to be tight. You are supposed to be somewhere in between. And with the correct timing, and the correct angles and and and... :)

A good basic technique (imo) is this: practice them grabbing you in a dynamic way (let's say the simple aihanmi katatedori), slowly, and turn yourself with tenkan/taisabaki so that your hand is like a carrot for them - just out of reach while they continue trying to reach it. Do that a few times. Then make it so that they barely are able to grab you (all of this in slow motion, no contest).

Etc. etc., finally let them grab you correctly while still doing your motion, and make it so that you don't feel any resistance in any way (i.e., you do not pull them and do not push them, and both of you still move along with the dynamic energy your uke came along with, and your own body rotation). That is the feeling you are looking for. From there on, it's just a few rotations here and there and a-flying they go.

I'm trying to avoid this.

Good. Unless I spar with old friends who know what they're doing (and me also not out of my depth), I tend to abort whenever I sense that I (or my partner) are using excessive force. Not to prove a point, but because at that point the whole excercise is usually pointless. When they have grabbed you with all their might and holding you static, you usually were too late; your part of the technique should have started earlier (e.g., by providing your hand-to-be-grabbed in just the right angle etc.).

Any insight would be appreciated or advice would help.

Have fun. :)

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Disclaimer: I do not practice Aikido. I practice Tai Chi. However, from what I have seen of the two arts, they have enough similarity that I feel bold enough to try to suggest how Aikido would handle a situation. My goal is to be helpful to someone whose problems sound very similar to the hard parts of learning Tai Chi.

In addition to mattm's answer of "sung," which I agree with, another thing to consider is your frame of mind. What I have found is that one tenses up when one feels the need to force their will upon another. Tense muscles are in a better position to apply a great deal of force along a path which you predicted ahead of time.

I do not do Aikido, but if you are receiving helpful advice from an expert to relax your shoulders, I think I can read between the lines and recommend. You are probably trying to throw your opponent. The simple version of how to fix that is to instead let your opponent throw themselves, all you do is guide the way. The advanced version will involve varying phrases of merged qi, where instead of it being you throwing your opponent or your opponent throwing themselves, it becomes "you and your opponent throw him." However, that takes some time to get to, and I would let your instructor guide your imagery and terminology.

As for avoiding the strength fight, that becomes possible as you start talking about qi. I give that disclaimer because many do not believe qi exists, and are quick to help others believe it does not exist as well. However, discussing Aikido without qi is an exercise in futility, because the art is built around such terms.

The key to avoiding those strength matches is two fold. First step you have covered: don't want to get into strength matches. The second step is the obviously tricky one: prevent them from forcing you to enter a strength match. What Aikido will teach you to do is "meld your energy" or "meld your qi" with your opponent to redirect their energy around you. Then they will not be able to take control of your body with those strength moves.

I have to mention the qi wording because that is the one Aikido will teach, and I don't want to direct you in a way that leads you off of the path of your art. However, there are well known arguments for why you shouldn't use qi based answers on Martial Arts SE, so I can try to give you some English explanations of what you are looking for. Hopefully they can guide you until the wordings from your instructor take you the rest of the way.

It is reasonable to divide a grappling situation like your bear-hug strength fight into 3 period. The first period is all visual. You may see him running at you, but no contact has occurred. This changes at first contact. Once there is a point of contact, he knows where one point of your body is, tactility. This is an important transition. Visual processing is slow. It can take 100-300ms for a change in visual information to properly register mid-fight. By evolutionary necessity, tactile information is processed much faster, particularly sensormotor interactions. Consider how fast you must respond when you put your hand on a hot stove. I can't find numbers off hand, but I remember seeing them in the 10-50ms range.

The third period is after the point of application is found. A point of contact lets them know where a point is. A point of application lets them know where limbs are and gives sufficient control to manipulate them. This is when the grapple is complete, and you are bear-hugged. Now he knows where your body is, and how you are trying to shift your weight, and he can adjust accordingly.

The middle period is key. You want to give them a point of contact, but never a point of application. Contact with an expert in aikido is a hidden doom: the information from that point of contact goes both ways. Aikido, as best as I can tell, is one of the arts which excels in learning more information about their opponent than they give to the opponent, by subtly adjusting their musculature to make it hard to feel what they are doing. They lead the opponent to believe they are going to complete the bear-hug if they overextend just a little bit more. Meanwhile, they are fully aware of exactly where their opponent's center of mass is, and exactly how balanced or unbalanced they are. Soon, the opponent's defense mechanisms have to kick into play, keeping the opponent upright as they lose their balance. If those mechanisms engage the opponent's arms, it becomes hard for them to bear hug.

Once the opponent is off balance and, for lack of a better word, diffused, the Aikido master is now the only one who really has control over any muscles. All of the opponent's muscles are busy trying to avoid falling. At this point, the Aikido master uses qi to send the opponent flying. Call it what you want, but I think the nature of what is being done can be approximated in English: The Aikido master basically offers the opponent's defense circuits help. After all, they're overworked. They happily treat the Aikido master as a resource to regain balance, but the master is smarter than that. He fanagles the defense mechanisms into believing they are in a situation they aren't, where the best answer is to do something like stiffen the legs. Now the opponent literally tries to jump over the master, not even realizing that's what he's trying to do. The Aikido master now has the easy job: he simply obliges, and lets the opponent fly.

I know there's more to it than that, but that first pass version may be enough to show you why you don't want to tense up (it reveals information), and how you will be trained to avoid the bear hug (you allow a point of contact, but never a point of application).

Of course, that is all assuming you want to cut it razor edge close. Otherwise, a kick to the balls is a pretty effective method of saying "no hugging." However, training to deal with that razor thin edge turns out to be a pretty effective method of improving one's control outside of a fight as well. The best argument I have heard for martial arts is not what it does for you when you get in a fight, its what it does for you when there is no fighting that needs to be done. Every martial art has that in it, but with arts like Aikido, I find it more evident than I do in other arts.

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