I saw first hand this week the potency of releasing the tension in the shoulders for striking.
A fellow member of the dojo (let’s call him “J”) was interested in working on his dou-uchi. After practice, when he demonstrated some dou strikes, the movement of his arms seemed rigid and the sound of his shinai making contact with the dou seemed dull. It sounded like a thud. Then I noticed J’s right shoulder. It was raised very high while performing the strike. More precisely stated, the shoulder was raised when the arms were moved from chuudan kamae to initiate the strike to the instant of striking the dou and for some time after the strike.
After pointing this out to him, I suggested that he try again but with his right shoulder kept lowered. He then repeated practicing the strike with this new intention. Initially, probably out of habit, the shoulder would nonetheless tense up and rise while performing the strike. However, after multiple tries, he eventually produced some strikes with a lowered right shoulder. What I found astonishing at the time was the extraordinary change in the quality of those particular strikes. The person receiving the strikes noticed it, too. Those strikes were crisp. Not only were his arms moving more freely and easily, the sound of the shinai making contact with the dou came alive and generated a more brilliant sound akin to “pssshhhh.”
I think that, for me and probably for J, this is one of the joys of kendo. To discover that which severely hinders the quality of our kendo and which, when removed, lets us improve significantly. This is where comments from Sensei‘s and fellow dojo members, who can see our habits more clearly, can be so valuable.
The challenge for J henceforth would be to delete the habit of tensing the right shoulder during the dou-uchi. This could take a while since the habit was likely developed over a long period of time. Moreover, there is the possibility of this habit returning unconsciously during clutch situations as in shiai’s. I say this because I, too, had struggled with tight shoulders for many years and continue to work on it.
No matter who you are, we’re creatures of habit. The better your habits are, the better they will be in pressure situations. – Wayne Gretzky
You cannot change your future. But you can change your habits. And surely your habits will change your future. – Dr. Abdul Kalam
Here’s some additional related articles on this topic of releasing the tension in the shoulders.
- [KendoNotes_RightArm] “Relaxing the Right Arm – Benefits, Tips and Gunslingers,” KendoNotes.com, Sept 28, 2019.
- [KendoNotes_Efforting] “The Paradox of Efforting and Non-Efforting,” KendoNotes.com,, July 18, 2021.
- [KendoNotes_TightShoulders] “Ways to Relax Tight Shoulders (肩の力を抜いて!),” KendoNotes.com, May 10, 2017.
- [KendoNotes_Somatics] “Somatics for Chronic Shoulder and Neck Tension Relief – Videos,” KendoNotes.com, Feb. 28, 2021.
May your shoulders be tension-free!
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