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

Flying Crane

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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?
Would you be able to post a video of you doing a kata, to the best of your ability? It might give us a sense of just where you are in this.

I’ve trained in a number of systems since I began in 1984. Some of the instruction I have received was of higher quality than others. I’ve definitely spent years working on things that I later discarded in favor of something better. Even that which was sub-optimal was beneficial, even if it just gave me perspective on how to evaluate good and poor choices for me. So don’t worry about the “time wasted”. It wasn’t wasted. It’s all good and we just try to be better where we can.
 
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Quebecois2001

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Welcome to Martial Talk, Quececois. :)

Have you tried any Tai Chi?
I have considered it but I have seen plenty of people do kata without having a history of doing Tai Chi (or hell, half of the relaxation exercises I've been doing for the past several years).
 

Flying Crane

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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.
Physical strength is important in any athletic endeavor, but you get better results when you can use the strength appropriately, and not waste energy and exhaust yourself by inefficient use of your strength. Good technique is about efficient use of your strength, so that your results are better, with less effort.

An athletic and fit person can fight effectively with an over-reliance on strength, and with poor technique. Yes, you can be successful that way. But you can be much better if you develop better technique and better efficiency in how you use your strength. And, as you age and you lose that ability to maintain fitness, you can still maintain effective martial ability without a need to expend so much effort. You can practice your martial art for your entire life.

I cannot comment on Loyota Machado, as I don’t follow MMA and am not familiar with his training approach.
 
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Quebecois2001

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Would you be able to post a video of you doing a kata, to the best of your ability? It might give us a sense of just where you are in this.

I’ve trained in a number of systems since I began in 1984. Some of the instruction I have received was of higher quality than others. I’ve definitely spent years working on things that I later discarded in favor of something better. Even that which was sub-optimal was beneficial, even if it just gave me perspective on how to evaluate good and poor choices for me. So don’t worry about the “time wasted”. It wasn’t wasted. It’s all good and we just try to be better where we can.
I've been through plenty of instructors as well and they have all told me the same thing.
 
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Quebecois2001

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Physical strength is important in any athletic endeavor, but you get better results when you can use the strength appropriately, and not waste energy and exhaust yourself by inefficient use of your strength. Good technique is about efficient use of your strength, so that your results are better, with less effort.

An athletic and fit person can fight effectively with an over-reliance on strength, and with poor technique. Yes, you can be successful that way. But you can be much better if you develop better technique and better efficiency in how you use your strength. And, as you age and you lose that ability to maintain fitness, you can still maintain effective martial ability without a need to expend so much effort. You can practice your martial art for your entire life.

I cannot comment on Loyota Machado, as I don’t follow MMA and am not familiar with his training approach.
Well in that case I give up. Thanks for the help.
 

jobo

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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.
no they all look equally silly, it doesnt matter if you stiff or not, , once you accept that as true then you may relax, I can tell your exasperated with it, it's really of no consequence at all.
 

JowGaWolf

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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.
I would be willing to teach you if you are willing to have patience. It's not an easy or quick path. I had the same problem as you and it took me 2 years to of training to fix the issue. It still pops up from time to time but it's much easier to fix and I can catch myself when it happens.

The issue that you are having is probably because you are naturally tense, all the time. I say naturally tense because it feels natural to you. So when you think you are relaxed but you really aren't. If you are like me then you probably have a lot of tension in the shoulders. The reason it takes a long time is because you have to work train yourself out of the habit of being tense. I'm not sure if you live with someone who can assist you with this type of training as it will make the entire process easier.

The money isn't the issue on this one. What it will cost you is patience and daily practice.
 

JowGaWolf

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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?
Professional fighters will tell you the opposite and the ones that scare you the most will be the ones who are relaxed fighters.
 

JowGaWolf

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I have considered it but I have seen plenty of people do kata without having a history of doing Tai Chi (or hell, half of the relaxation exercises I've been doing for the past several years).
I'm pretty sure those people didn't have the tension problems you have either. Some people are naturally relaxed others like you are not. If you are naturally relaxed then there's no need to do Tai Chi.
 

isshinryuronin

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From all this angst and worry on your part over this problem, I suggest you forget about the physical relaxation and work on your mental relaxation - you may just be trying too hard and letting your instructor cause you to be stressed out over it. Don't feel pressured. Let go. Be happy.

Do your kata like one sings in the shower or alone in their car - uninhibited, uncaring how you look or sound. Go thru the moves without trying to impress anyone with your speed and power, especially yourself.
,
I have found this following exercise very effective in loosening up a student's punch: Imagine someone handing you a slip of paper, a glass of water, or offering a handshake. How do you naturally extend your arm? Go ahead, do it............... I'll bet your arm and shoulder were relaxed. You'd look weird otherwise and nobody would want to hand you anything.

Punch just like that. Don't think of it as a power strike right now, just think of it like a natural, relaxed motion, like reaching out to caress a lover's cheek. Gradually, think about your stance, then gently phase in your hips, but still extend your arm like you're simply reaching out for something. Then, after a couple of weeks, add in proper arm position and motion. Now SLOWLY start to see yourself as actually punching and add in a little relaxed speed. Gradually increase speed and add in your body motion (not arm) power. After three weeks of progressing thru this exercise, you should be achieving your goal.
 

Ivan

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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.
It looks slow and rigid. That's how Japanese Karate is. But it still stresses that staying relaxed only until the very last moment of impact or execution of a technique is crucial for generating power.

Staying tense throughout the whole of the technique tires you out more and makes your technique slower. Personally, I would tell you, learn the "correct" way according to karate, and then choose whether you feel best keeping tense the entire time or to alternate between tension and relaxation. But then that's not Karate, it's your style.

The majority of people fight differently - even if you get two completely identical people, both will have their preferences of fighting based on their training and experiences. Someone with low confidence might always step back and be a defensive fighter etc. But the reality is, you're learning Karate, not fighting. If you dedicate yourself to relaxing, you won't relax. Why? Because dedication is the opposite of relaxation.

Take any kata you want, and do 100 times through with no breaks - I guarantee you, you will be constantly relaxed by the 10th time, if not the 20th. Let your thoughts drift, don't focus on technique, think about that movie you watched yesterday evening, or what you'll be having for dinner. Then you'll learn how to relax.
 

gpseymour

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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.
I’d suggest getting input from someone else (besides your primary instructor) to look at your kata and suggest improvements. Don’t mention the tension - see if they come to that conclusion. Video would be a reasonable format. It may be that you’re making progress, and your instructor is simply pushing you in the area that promises the most gain.

If you get the same feedback, maybe consider supplemental training in something that focuses on relaxation. Tai chi and Aikido both have this kind of focus.

Know that some people progress slower in learning relaxed power, just like any other area of skill development. Slower development doesn’t mean you can’t keep developing.
 

gpseymour

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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.
Likely he personally finds relaxation easy, so has trouble teaching it to those who don’t. Many instructors have something like this (for me, it’s falls and rolls).
 

gpseymour

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This is a common problem with adult males that come into the art with a lifetime of doing other things.
In my experience, this goes beyond gender. Different problems can be more or less common, but adults of any gender often come in with much more pre-learned “bad habits”.
 

gpseymour

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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.
A great practitioner doesn’t always make a good teacher. They will still have strengths and weaknesses.
 

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