Frequently with newer students when we begin teaching them locks, we encounter the phenomena that when they don't get the lock to go on they will try to apply more force to make it work. This can be problematic, and is one of the reasons we talk about people between 9th and 4th kup being more likely to cause injury: They throw that extra force on, and if the other pieces line up correctly–even accidentally–they can cause serious injury. Not to mention the excess force is just bad in general.

We try explaining this, but in some students it seems almost instinctual (and/or they just don't see how little force is required, or how the force can get in the way of the technique). We can explain this and we can show this (and ask them to slow down), and they do learn it eventually, but it would be really nice–both for their training and my wrists–if we could somehow more directly demonstrate this.

They always get the experience of having it done to them by a higher belt–and in my current class generally by a 1 dan or better–but they haven't yet gotten to the point of being able to recognize how much (or little) force actually being used and this isn't the same as having the experience of seeing it work when you do it yourself.

Are there any exercises, drills, or other forms of practical experience that people have experience with that can be used to tactilely teach this understanding?

  • How old are your newer students? Male or female? I think those distinctions might help give you a better answer of how to address particular mentalities. – Matt Chan Mar 26 '12 at 0:26
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    The ones who have this particular problem basically run the gamut in ages. I've seen it with 50 year olds, I've seen it with 13 year olds (the youngest we take), and both with men and with women. It seems slightly more prevalent–or perhaps just more noticeable–among young men. – David H. Clements Mar 27 '12 at 19:30

I'm a big guy. I had a hard time with this. What really helped me was when the instructor (by happenstance) saw me doing this. Do the technique wrong, start pushing to get it right, keep pushing harder.

How he helped me was:

  1. I was taught the phrase, "If you are "trying" to do it, you are doing it wrong."
  2. He watched me, and as soon as my instinct said "push harder" he would say "stop". He'd address the technique problem (wrist isn't rotated enough, etc), then have me continue. A few times he had me practice on him until I learned the control of the move. But by the time I was testing for my green belt, I had learned that nothing requires brute strength.
  3. A trick I learned while playing music is the single-note approach. You play 1 note, then take as long as you need to find/play the next. Works very well for martial arts as well. You do a technique very slow, and stop between each muscle movement for a second or two. For example, I learned a technique called 1-finger-magic. The attacker grabs your gi, and you put your hand on his. You then rotate his hand/wrist until his wrist is perpendicular to the floor. Then you take your other hand and bend his elbow, then you push 1 finger down on the elbow. Run the technique a few times (before/after class is great for this purpose) like this, then start to put it together. Do step 1, 2, 3, 4; then 1-2, 3, 4; then 1-3, 4; finally all together. If your partner knows about your weak spot he can say "nope" if you do a step wrong, and that speeds up the learning.

For me, it took doing it slow before I learned that I was over/under rotating the wrist and had to learn the right amount of torque to apply. I also learned from this slow method how little pressure is needed to do these moves, EVEN when the attacker is resisting.


The best way is for them to feel those locks done to them with that minimal amount of pressure.

Otherwise, I remember reading this idea for push hands which may be useful:

We do push hands with force - because the simplest way to get to the real push hands drill is to be too exhausted to do it wrong.

So, if the students are too tired to put the force into it, they may do it right.. Because they can't do it wrong.

  • +1. My Sensei has a saying: "Feeling is believing." You can explain a lock or technique as much as you like, but once they feel it they understand. Teach them up front that if force is being used they are doing it wrong. Otherwise you have to be constantly patrolling the dojo looking for those who are wrestling instead of locking. – slugster Mar 25 '12 at 6:10
  • Weren't we playing with this the other day? Addiction to self is hard to break. – Ho-Sheng Hsiao Mar 28 '12 at 4:18
  • @Ho-ShengHsiao - Yup! – Anon Mar 28 '12 at 11:04

From the time that we're born, we're trying to counter forces pulling us down by resisting. Why on earth would you expect new students to do any different just because you explain it to them? It's innate.

@Trevoke has a great point: When a student has no ability to fight back any longer, they can learn to blend with the energy. When I first started learning the jutaijutsu of Shinden Fudo-ryu, my instructor started out the day by turning the first hour into a full-out gymnastics event. We first did a heavy warm-up-turned-work-out, then did rolls for the rest of the hour. By the end, most of us could barely stand, every part of our bodies hurt. Everyone matched up (and, being class uke, I was matched up with my instructor who was all ready to go having not just done an hours worth of non-stop exercise). When he would step up to throw me, I couldn't do anything. I had to take ukemi, which, by that point, was painful. So how did I stop taking ukemi and stay standing? I moved with it and flowed into the counter: I let him give up his balance to maintain my own.

That night, all I could dream about was doing it right. I was exhausted beyond belief, and was having dreams of being thrown and falling awake, my chest pounding as I woke in a pool of sweat. Eventually, I started to drift off thinking about doing it right, and my dreams began to reflect it, and I slept the rest of the night. Visualization is as useful as training; it can build the required neural pathways to provide your muscles with the correct signals in proper intensity and speed.

Drilling is also important; by repeating actions, we build our ability to respond appropriately. Remember, practice does not make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect.

Exhaust the students. Make a seminar of it – a saturday multi-hour class starting with at least an hour of intense exercise. Make everyone complain and feel like they can barely move. When they can't resist, then start training them to act the way you need.

NB: This, like many other suggested training methods, may be a wee-bit subversive. It's all about how you use it and your reasons for using it – if you are using it to make them more pliable to take more money from them, it's wrong; if you're using it to make them more capable in a shorter time frame out of concern for their safety, then it's simply a necessary evil. Only you can decide.

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