I am physically unable to relax my upper body during kata. Should I give up Karate altogether?

Discussion in 'Karate' started by Quebecois2001, Feb 28, 2021.

  1. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    I have been doing Karate for 7 years (currently in WKF Shotokan, 1st kyu brown belt, training in Canada). My sensei keeps telling me to relax my upper body and use my legs/hips for power. However, no matter how much I consciously try to do this, he keeps telling me I am too tense. I have been trying so hard for the past two years or so to relax my upper body and generate power purely from my legs/hips. I have reached a point that where I am trying so hard to relax that when I do kata, every technique I do causes my upper body to wobble and gyrate around like crazy. It almost looks like I'm drunk because of how much I'm trying to relax myself. But my sensei keeps telling me to relax even more, and at that point I don't even know what to do. I do not have any physical issues, as I am completely able to perform plyometric exercises of the legs/hips while simultaneously relaxing my upper body. But when it comes to doing any kata, it's like all of that goes out the window because sensei keep telling me "relax your shoulders."

    I've tried stretching, I've tried strengthening my stances, I've tried abdominal exercises, I've tried kime exercises, I've tried contracting my lats, but to no avail; sense keeps telling me "you're too tense."

    I have two options:
    a.) Just keep doing Karate incorrectly and probably never receive my black belt (as this is something that I have seen people get failed for during Dan testing).
    b.) Quit Karate altogether.

    If both of these seem like bad ideas, then someone please, for the love of God, tell me exactly how to correct this problem. "Just relax," "work on your flexibility," "make your stances stronger," are vague answers that will not help. Right now, I am looking for a precise, exact solution to this problem so that I can stop performing kata so poorly and start doing Karate like I'm supposed to. I want to know what the exact secret is to relaxing the upper body. I want to know the precise order in which the muscles need to contract, what trajectory they need to follow, the timing of the contraction, the position of my spine, the position of my foot, the timing of my breathing, etc. I need extremely precise details on how to relax my upper body and perform kata correctly. I don't care if it means spending years on shoulder conditioning, I don't care if it means taking some weird supplement, I don't care if it means getting some bizarre surgical procedure to make my shoulders more relaxed, I don't care if it means getting cybernetic enhancements to force my shoulders to relax. This is starting to get annoying and I want to fix this problem so I can finally do Karate correctly after 7 years of training.
     
  2. jobo

    jobo Grandmaster

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2017
    Messages:
    9,405
    Likes Received:
    1,431
    Trophy Points:
    263
    Location:
    Manchester UK
    its not karate your having problems with is it? its kata if kata stops you getting a black belt it's not the sort of black belt you actualy want.

    tell him to leave you alone to do it how you wish, nothing makes it harder to relax than someone telling you to relax, and why do you need to be relaxed anyway ?
     
  3. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Sr. Grandmaster

    Top Poster Of Month

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2012
    Messages:
    10,035
    Likes Received:
    2,478
    Trophy Points:
    263
    Location:
    Austin, Tx/Shell Beach, Ca
    When you are very tired, you won't have any more brute force to waste, you will be relaxed. If you spar/wrestle for 15 rounds, the last 5 rounds you will be relaxed.

    If you train your form as slow (compress), fast (release), slow, fast, ... you won't be tensed all the time.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  4. Ivan

    Ivan Brown Belt

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2018
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    140
    Trophy Points:
    98
    If you quit, the one thing you won't have tried is to keep trying.
     
  5. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    The problem is that he is technically right: stiff kata look really bad, while relaxed ones look good. But even if I try my absolute hardest to emulate that relaxation, he keeps telling me that I'm too tense.
     
  6. dancingalone

    dancingalone Grandmaster

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2007
    Messages:
    5,276
    Likes Received:
    215
    Trophy Points:
    188
    Sounds like you have to unlearn what your body has naturally learned to do from other activities outside of karate. This is a common problem with adult males that come into the art with a lifetime of doing other things. Maybe from bodybuilding or from a physically demanding job.

    Consider small steps first like practicing kata without the arms at all. Just let them dangle at your sides. Work on stepping properly with correct breathing. Remember there is a kinetic chain that occurs at the feet and legs and you are constantly tightening and relaxing the leg and core muscles just to get the stepping correct. Work on that first and cultivate the loose feeling in your arms and shoulders. You want to get used to that feeling and space so when you hunch your shoulders and tighten up your arms, you'll swiftly know mentally that you're in a bad posture again.

    This type of re-training is difficult and you'll have best results if you can find someone that can work with you for hundreds of hours. Some work with an athletic performance trainer like someone that prepares pro athletes would probably be very valuable for you.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  7. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    The problem actually worsens when I'm exhausted!
     
  8. Ivan

    Ivan Brown Belt

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2018
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    140
    Trophy Points:
    98
    Oh, and here's a tip.

    Stand in horse stance and practice your punch. But when when you retract the punch, keep the pam open. You will "feel" the difference between relaxing and tensing. When your hand is tensed, it forms a fist. When relaxed, it opens. Practice this over and over until you understand the difference.

    Once you do, apply this same method with another exercise that forces you to contract and extend different upper body exercises. The core is what you must focus on. So lie down on the ground, close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out 10 times. And have a tennis ball on hand. You should now be pretty relaxed - if it doesn't work, meditate until you are. Then with your eyes still closed, and your body still lying down, drop the tennis ball from as far up as you can onto your stomach - your core will subconsciously tighten to protect you from the impact. Continue to do this until you physically are able to tell the difference between relaxed abdominal muscles and tensed abdominal muscles.

    You will know that you have achieved this when you are able to tighten your abdominal muscles whilst standing up as if you were being hit. When you can feel the difference, you can replicate both states - relaxed and tense.

    Also, in kata, imagine your body to be like cement. When you're moving, it is wet - it flows and is soft. When you stop your technique (your kime) the cement is dried, hardened, and unbreakable.
     
  9. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    I did all of that and I am indeed able to tell tension from relaxation, including in the abdominal muscles. I understand the concept of tension and relaxation and am able to demonstrate it in this exercise you mentioned; just not in actual kata.
     
  10. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Sr. Grandmaster

    Top Poster Of Month

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2012
    Messages:
    10,035
    Likes Received:
    2,478
    Trophy Points:
    263
    Location:
    Austin, Tx/Shell Beach, Ca
    The Zimen system has an exercise to loose up 3 joints.

    1. Raise your right palm next to your right ear, strike to the left side of your left knee (loose up shoulder joint).
    2. Move your right hand in front of your chest (loose up elbow joint).
    3. Move right hand to the right side of your body (loose up wrist joint).
    4. Repeat left arm.

    Start slow and increase speed. Your body will be relaxed.

    It's similar to this clip.

    字门太极拳基本功2---抛三关_腾讯视频
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2021
  11. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    I have a large monetary reward for anyone who can successfully help me with this. When I say I am desperate, I mean I am desperate.
     
  12. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2005
    Messages:
    13,361
    Likes Received:
    2,791
    Trophy Points:
    263
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Learning to use the legs to generate power, instead of tension in the upper body, is something that, in my opinion, a lot of schools do a poor job of teaching. It may be that your teacher lacks the skill and knowledge to do so effectively. Some people manage to figure it out but a lot of people struggle for longer than it ought to take, if there were a systematic methodology in place to do so.

    Some systems have figured out a methodology to develop that understanding. Others have not. Unfortunately I cannot teach you over the internet and I doubt others can either. Simply telling you to relax is clearly not the answer. You need a way to make sense of that and turn it into action and habit, and that is where a methodology is important.

    I know this isn’t a solution for you, but perhaps it gives you perspective that can allow you to be less harsh in evaluating yourself. In short, I don’t believe the problem is that you are failing. It is likely that you aren’t being given the type of systematic methodology that you need, to understand and develop the skill.

    A different teacher may be better for you (that is not meant to be a criticism of your teacher, only an acknowledgement that all people will not thrive equally under the same teacher, some people will thrive more under a different teacher with a different approach).

    Either way, don’t give up. Do the best you can with what you have to work with. Someday if you find something better, then do that.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Ivan

    Ivan Brown Belt

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2018
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    140
    Trophy Points:
    98
    You don't get to do it once and say you've done it. It's a process. I have been doing Taekwondo Poomsae for 3 years and I do it well - but I still cannot tense my abs on-demand as I described above. The only person that can help you with an issue like this is yourself, others can only give advice.
     
  14. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Here's the thing about my instructor: without saying exactly who he is (although some people here might), he was once a member of the Italian national team, and it shows not only in his kata performance but in the performance of the other students, even ones that have been training for just a few months under him.

    The problem is not on his end; it is on my end. And the problem isn't my knowledge of how to contract and relax; the problem is that nothing I do seems to please him.

    So tell me: what is the secret to relaxing? Like I said, I have a large monetary reward for anyone who can tell me what it is.
     
  15. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2005
    Messages:
    13,361
    Likes Received:
    2,791
    Trophy Points:
    263
    Location:
    San Francisco
    How much? :)

    If you can come down to California, assuming we can work out a Covid-safe way to train, then I can help you. But it isn’t a quick answer. It requires changing how you do things and working on it over a long period of time, which will likely be longer given the amount of time you’ve been (likely) developing bad habits.

    Yes, this is fixable. What I can teach you could probably be applied to the shotokan you are currently doing, but the better answer might be a change of system altogether where the methodology that I practice is really meant to operate. But that is a bigger issue for later discussion.
     
  16. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    I have done it for years. Not just once.
     
  17. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    If it isn't a quick answer, I assume it's a several-year answer. The only problem is that I only have a limited amount of years left (I'd say roughly 80), and I've already used about 7 of them. I have seen dozens of people come into the dojo and start doing kata better than me after mere months, some of them extremely out-of-shape. I can tell that this problem is not an overarching physical or mental issue but something else that I am simply not getting.

    What is the secret?
     
  18. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Sr. Grandmaster

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2005
    Messages:
    13,361
    Likes Received:
    2,791
    Trophy Points:
    263
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Like I said, it’s not meant to be a criticism against your teacher. Rather, it may be that he isn’t the best teacher for you.

    While he may produce excellent students in most cases, what you need may be something he isn’t able to provide.

    What you need is a way to understand and develop how the legs engage. Without that, the natural inclination is to “muscle through” everything, which leads to tension. When you grasp how to engage the legs properly, then letting go of the tension can happen.
     
  19. Buka

    Buka Sr. Grandmaster

    • MartialTalk Mentor
    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2011
    Messages:
    11,070
    Likes Received:
    7,337
    Trophy Points:
    448
    Location:
    Maui
    Welcome to Martial Talk, Quececois. :)

    Have you tried any Tai Chi?
     
    • Agree Agree x 3
    • Like Like x 1
  20. Quebecois2001

    Quebecois2001 White Belt

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2021
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    Correct me if I'm wrong but don't professional fighters "muscle through" their techniques all the time? Is there really a problem with using the upper body to generate power? In every physical altercation I have been in, the other guy was NOT relaxed, and I still had a hard time subduing him.

    I've even seen some videos of Lyoto Machida doing kata, and he does them so slowly and rigidly, yet nobody complains about his fighting ability.

    I'm tempted to go the "just live with it" route and continue muscling through kata, because honestly that seems closer to what professional fighters do anyway. And of course, that is literally the only way I am able to do kata.123
     

Share This Page