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Strength


I sometimes have my students get up and work at the end of class, just taking turns doing whatever technique they want from whatever attack. It is a way to give more experienced students a chance to work freely and at a more realistic speed, and to let them improvise a bit. Recently, after I had done that, one of my black belts said after class, “I only got that one throw because I am strong. I looked down when I was doing it, and my feet were totally not in the right position. But I just powered through.” I was really pleased to hear that.This may sound odd. In Eizan Ryu Jujitsu, as in many of the more technical martial arts, one of the underlying principles is that one should focus on technique, and on executing the technique so precisely that one does not need to rely on strength. After all, in a self-defense focused martial art, one must keep in mind that one can not count on being stronger than an attacker, so it is important to have sharp technique and not rely on strength.And yet, when my black belt said that, I was pleased, for a couple of different reasons.


First off, I was happy that he was aware that his execution of the throw was not as good as it should have been. This particular black belt is a big, strong guy, and often the biggest strongest guy in class. I have found that such practitioners are often not able to discern if they have won a sparring match, or pinned an opponent, or gotten a throw because of their technique or just because they outweighed their partner by fifty pounds. This can lead to habitual sloppiness, as it is difficult to bring oneself to continually work to fix the details when one is already having “success” because one is strong.I try to emphasize this point with my larger, stronger students, telling them that in ordinary class practice, they should pretend that their partners are actually much larger and stronger than they are. Letting the big guys just bulldoze smaller students is unfair to them, the big guys themselves. There is no better motivation for striving to improve the precision and technical aspects of one’s work than being unable to move one’s partner, and without that motivation,  more physically powerful students often fail to become as technically proficient as they could be.The black belt with whom I had this conversation has sharp technique, and I attribute this in part to the fact that he  has always been good at noticing when he is pulling off a technique because he is strong. Over the years, he has learned to pay more attention in class to whether he is doing it right than to whether he is making it work, and he has shown a real knack for precision. This makes it fun to teach him, as a big guy with sharp technique is a lovely sight. So his comment pleased me, because it demonstrated that he continues to be aware of the moments when, though he has succeeded in taking down his smaller partner, his technique was not at its best.There is another reason that I liked hearing what he said, though, and it is that, in my opinion, it is important to know how to use all of one’s assets – precision, timing, strong spirit, and, yes, speed and strength, too – in one’s training. No one is going to disagree that the first three qualities are important, but too often, teachers of styles which emphasize technical details become almost contemptuous of speed and strength. They prioritize doing it “right” to such an extent that their students are seldom encouraged – or even permitted – to do things fast and hard. In many of the “soft” arts, the detail work of off-balancing, moving to angles, leading the attacker, making contact at exactly the optimum point and so forth becomes the entire focus of the training, and students are seldom allowed to “just power through” when they have not gotten it just right.


I think learning how to use one’s natural speed and strength – and, indeed, becoming quicker and stronger – is important in any martial arts training. Executing a technically perfect technique at as close to full speed and full power as safety allows is, to my mind, the ultimate goal. And in truth, it is seldom possible to move perfectly – at least for me, despite forty two years of training –  and the ability to make up for a technical mistake by, say,  switching to another technique so rapidly one’s partner has no opportunity to take advantage of the mistake, or even “just powering through” the technically almost-good-enough throw, is vital.


I try to provide my students with regular opportunities to just make things work so that they can feel where and how to utilize their speed and strength. In regular class, yes, I ask that they concentrate on doing it right, but when they stand up with a partner at the end of class, or when they take a promotion test, I want them to use every asset they have, because being able to do so may save their lives one day. (Illustration by Shihan Stephen Rittersporn)


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Adi Zukerman
Adi Zukerman
Nov 20, 2023

As the person who the strength was applied to, I must say it was applied well. I think it is possible that maybe I could have resisted the throw but not without putting myself at risk of injury..

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That is another thing I like about Senpai Sergio -- when he does power through something, he only turns the dial up as high as his uke can sustain without injury. But of course, with your ukemi, senpai, you allow your partner a lot of freedom to work without too much concern for your well being.

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Kevin Saulsbury
Kevin Saulsbury
Nov 20, 2023

This is well said...OSU!

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Thank you!

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