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In Aikido there are suwariwaza techniques which are done on the ground and one should walk on knees or sometimes pivot on one knee for tenkan. Some schools make the students walk in shikko like 10 times around the mats to train it. However it could be really painful for knees especially if the tatami is hard. Are there any good tips to prevent knee pain or injury? Is it better to avoid shikko completely?

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Bad knees

If you have bad knees, as in medical professional has told you they are bad, then you should avoid any exercise that damages them further. Your coach/teacher should modify the exercises so you still can do them standing up. You will miss some of the subtleties of suwari waza but nothing drastic.

Good knees

If your knees are fine… There are a few things you can do to mitigate the pain.

First, make sure your dogi is re-enforced in the knees. This means that you have some extra padding to protect your soon-to-be sore flesh. Your knees are not used to being threaded on so the padding will help. You could use some light bandage or knee pads. The former is an extra layer of protection but does cut into the back of your knee. The latter exacerbates the cutting and can be counter productive in the long run. However, if your knees are bleeding because you ripped the skin off them, they are essential!

Second, lose weight and increase your flexibility. The former is kinda obvious: the heavier you are, the more pressure you are going to put on your knees. So, the more they are going to hurt even before you do shikko or suwari waza. Clearly, if you are a lean mean machine already, this might not matter. The latter is a little less obvious. Flexibility will help make the posture of kneeling easier and thus allow you to do it more often. Which nicely brings me to…

Thirdly, do less more often. This will get your knees more used to being used as feet and therefore less painful. This is kind of lazy advice: do more dhu! The trick there is to do little a lot rather than a lot once in a blue moon.

Lastly, try to minimise the time you spend on your knees. You can site in seiza or cross your legs. You can get up and walk instead of using shikko to go to your partner. You can (and really should) make sure your knees are not stiffening up.

Do yourself no harm!

The most important advice I can give you is do yourself no harm!: If it hurts, stop doing it.

Your knees are super important1 and once they break, they never go back to a good state. You should be in martial arts for the duration, not a few years. No one will care in a dozen years how macho you were doing laps in shikko and leaving blood trails on the mat because you will not be there training. Or they might tell this as a warning to others.

Martial arts all claim to teach self defence: this is a prime example. You should know when to stop to protect your own body and not be ashamed of it.


1: This is the understatement of the year. ☺

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This is not to take away anything that Sardathrion said, as it is largely correct (wait for it...)

However, Aikido is not knitting class (nor are most of the other martial arts). There is discomfort, and there is pain. There is "hurt" that denotes damage, and there is hurt that is merely the triggering of some neurons that really should learn to shut the >ahem< up and let you get on with things.

I was a Marine subject to reveille at one point in my life, and I didn't learn that lesson for a LONG time. Now I have arthritis in several joints (including both my big toes!), a fused vertebra and a moderately high pain tolerance. I have learned to stop when it starts hurting more than momentarily.

As in one of my martial arts instructors in the past said "Damn. You have a high pain tolerance".

We study martial arts for different reasons--I have no idea what "yours" are (and no idea who "you" are), but martial arts are, inherently about fighting. In a fight you will experience both mental (at least the first few times) and physical discomfort, you will likely get hit, which will hurt, and you might get damaged.

Part of martial training is experiencing some of that discomfort in class so that when it happens outside of class you don't get your OODA loop interrupted.

If your knees are in really bad shape you need to discuss this with your instructor.

But unless your instructor is is having you do suwariwaza races on concrete (go find another instructor) it's going to be uncomfortable at first, but I don't think it's something that will damage healthy knees of a healthy individual. Hell, we do similar techniques (different art) and the biggest problem I have is that I'm not flexible enough.

To recap:

  1. Learn the difference in feeling between discomfort and damage.
  2. Suwariwaza should not be painful, but until you learn how and gain the requisite flexibility it will be uncomfortable.
  3. Embrace the suck, it makes you a better person. Modulo the issues in 1.
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    That the pain is a part of martial arts training is clear. What I was expecting as an answer was more like, small tips to do suwariwaza/shikko correctly or better. @Sardathrion has provided such recommendations in his answer. Thank you anyway. – Endery Jun 23 '17 at 6:47

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