Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why not stiff-arm in randori or shiai?

Stiff-arming in judo - it is much-maligned especially in randori, but everybody still seems to do it in shiai.  So... if champions stiff-arm and still win, why is it so bad?
I can think of several reasons right off the bat...

  • Stiff-arming reduces your opponent's ability to attack to some degree - but it reduces your ability to attack to an even larger degree.  You are not only holding them away - you are holding yourself out of position.
  • Keeping your arms rigid when the opponent is not attacking you burns energy for no gain - so it is maximally inefficient.
  • Keeping your arms rigid makes it easier for your opponent to feel your motions - so it telegraphs your intent.
  • Your opponent can use your stiff arms for support, preventing you from unbalancing them.
  • It is a reflex - and therefore an unthinking, unconscious thing.  Trained, strategic actions that happen without thought can be good (mushin) but instinctual defensive reflexes are often dysfunctional when faced with a thinking, trained opponent.
  • Studies have shown that once we exert more than a few pounds of pressure with our gripping muscles, our higher brain functions shut down.  We can't think very good while exerting strongly.
  • When you refuse to allow your wrists, elbows, and shoulders to move, you essentially turn off the proprioceptors in those joints, reducing the amount of tactile and kinesthetic information you are getting from the opponent.
  • It is against the spirit of judo because 1) it is a reflexive refusal to yield, 2) it is inefficient, and  3)  it is essentially a refusal to learn or allow the other guy to learn.
So, you get into a fight/match with someone that you know to be trained/skilled, and you immediately grab them and lock your arms out, preventing yourself from attacking, telegraphing when you do attack, burning energy at a tremendous rate, and turning off your tactile sensors and your brain...
Yeah, that sounds like a sound strategy.
Now, it is sometimes a good idea to stifle the opponent's advance or to create space, but that is pretty much always an instantaneous thing.  You turn the stiff-arms on, then immediately off - and only when the trained, thoughtful, strategic part of your mind tells you it's the right moment.
So, again... Why do champions do it and still win and then teach stiff-arming as a good thing to do?  Basically just because everyone is doing it and they have figured out how to do it a little bit more strategically or effectively than the other guys.  For the vast majority of judoka in the vast majority of practice and shiai situations, stiff-arming does you more harm than good.

Want to discuss this blog post? 

Patrick Parker

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