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Too tense in the shoulders - need advice

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  • Too tense in the shoulders - need advice

    Hello all. I am new to Kendo and have been practicing for about 9 months now. One problem that I consistently have is the tight shoulder (like I am shrugging) when doing strikes. My sensei tells me to loosen up, but I cannot seem to find the remedy. Can anyone offer up some advice? I am afraid the nature of my work (I am a scientist and work at a lab bench), may be the cause and that I just need to teach my muscles to relearn proper positioning. Though I have not had much success thus far.


  • #2
    8 years of kendo and I still get told to relax my shoulders...

    Think of pushing your chest out and trying to pull your shoulder blades towards each other at the back as far as possible. This will also help with other aspects of your kamae such as squaring and engaging your hips.

    Aside from that, you can learn to relax your upper body by doing lots of hard keiko, e.g. 15-20min (maybe a bit less to start with) non-stop kakarigeiko, kirikaeshi or combination thereof. Becoming exhausted teaches the body how to function without tensing up.


    • #3
      This is something we all struggle with. Start by just trying to keep a relaxed kamae when you are not striking. Try doing footwork drills in chudan, and keeping everything from the waist up totally relaxed. Think of keeping your shoulders down. Tension in the kamae and in the swing often starts from the hands, so make sure you are not gripping too tightly.

      When swinging, again remember to keep the shoulders down and grip light. There should be no tension at all until maybe 2/3 of the way through the swing, when your hands are already partway back to the target. Drive the whole swing from the left hand, both up and down. Try not to rush the swing, when you try to go too fast you tend to try to over-muscle it, which causes more tension.

      This is a tough problem to overcome and it mostly takes time. Having people tell you to relax doesn't help much.


      • #4
        Focus on tensing the girdle of muscle around your lower abdomen and back. It's difficult for the body to tense in disparate muscle groups at the same time.

        Practice raising and lowering your shinai at a moderate speed, using the bare minimum of muscle power and without raising the shoulders, focusing on letting the arms rotate in the rotator cuff without engaging the shoulder and neck muscles. If nothing else, this will give a conscious feel for what it's like raising the shinai without using the shoulders.

        Take note of when you have tension in your shoulders in daily life and take a moment to relax them. You should not have one way of carrying your body in daily life and another for the dojo.

        All that said, a lot of it is from doing movement your body isn't used to. It simply takes a while to find your cut.


        • #5
          Thank you all for the replies. It is difficult, as I have stated and all of you confirmed. I will try and practice outside of class to train my muscles. One problem is that I am not conscious of it during class training. When sensei says to relax, internally I am thinking I am relaxed. LOL


          • #6
            They say it takes 10 years to relax your grip in golf. I say it takes 20 years to relax your shoulders in Kendo. However, one sensei told me this. " Think of you are hitting up to your aite as you are starting from low position." It may not help you with Kizeme but if you start hitting from the top down, you sure will be tightening your shoulder and do Axe-man. Hope this helps.


            • #7
              I have exactly the same issue (Iaido, scientist too!) exacerbated by being fairly broad in the shoulder which makes it look even worse. I sometimes wonder if this habit has contributed to my rotator cuff injury.I think part of the issue lies in the subconscious idea that strength and power comes from the shoulders, even though we all know it doesn't (although try cutting with your shoulder muscles paralysed with Scoline or something. They clearly do play a part in the generation of power) and they gradually begin to rise up during the course of training until I'm reminded of it. So I'm constantly thinking about pulling my shoulders down every time I perform a movement: I keep telling myself "shoulders down, shoulder down" and it does work until I'm distracted by a complex, coordinated movement. I'm hoping one day 'shoulder's down' mode will become internalised. One technical thing that helps is keeping ones elbows down and inward when cutting. It makes the cut much zippier and looks better too.


              • #8
                wearing a compression shirt will help you feel which muscles are engaging in the core and the shoulders.

                You won't figure out how to not use the shoulders if you are only doing suburi, you need to work on it outside of the dojo in daily movement. If you ride a bus/train, is your shoulder floating out of the socket? Fix it. If you are opening a cabinet or drawer, did it float out? Fix it. Keep your elbows inwards in all sorts of daily movements, if the elbow goes outwards the shoulder will float out too.

                If you don't understand the inwards outwards thing try this:

                Put your arm out infront of you like you are opening a drawer. rotate the elbow out from the body, notice how the shoulder raises and floats upwards, wit the scapula moving away from the spine. Rotate the elbow inwards, notice how the shoulder drops and scapula moves towards the spine.

                Once you can keep the shoulders in and dropped, you will feel tension drop lower below the sternum, you may also notice the traps feel like they are being pulled down by gravity (this is a good thing). If you carry heavy loads, like a gallon of milk in each hand, you wont feel the shoulders getting fatigued. You may start to notice some stretching sensations that take up the load/ or feeling the load in your tendons instead of the arms holding up the load with muscle.

                What you will then find during suburi is that other muscle groups get involved in your cuts and your shoulders will not be fatigued. Namely you will start to feel the area underneath the armpits engage, later you will feel the area below the ribs, then the outer abs, lower abs and pelvic girdle as you learn to relax each of those muscles progressively and let others take the load and push and pull on the arms combined with gravity.


                • #9
                  Hi again all. Thanks for the advice. Last night I tried various combinations of the above suggestions. I was able to notice a difference in the mirror, and can slightly tell with my eyes closed. Like everything, I will eventually get used to it and become second nature!


                  • #10
                    one thing not mentioned above is the tension of your fingers. try this simple test... hold as tight as you can with your forefingers, and your shoulders will pull forward. Now do the same with only the little fingers. I will let you decide on correct grip after that... :-)


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Kokoro777 View Post
                      although try cutting with your shoulder muscles paralysed with Scoline or something. They clearly do play a part in the generation of power
                      The shoulders are absolutely essential in the transfer of power out to the kissaki, which is why they need to be relaxed, but not paralyzed . They have nothing to do with the generation of power.


                      • #12
                        Just thought of something. My sensei once told me that I do better Kendo when I'm tired. So you might want to try 1,000 suburi to force your shoulders to relax. We do 10-20-30-40-....100--90-80----back to 10 suburi with 5-10 seconds break in between.