Little House In Ise

Body Types
March 22, 2010, 15:06
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: ,

Recently, I trained with a couple of burly men with heavily muscled upper-bodies — large shoulder and thick upper-arms. In both cases, I found that sankyo was very easy to apply and particularly effective when they resisted. Two is by no means a statistically valid sample but it got me thinking about body types (shapes and sizes) in relation to ease or difficulty of applying various techniques.

I have read about a US based Japanese shihan who, having watched a basketball team walk past, said something like “Shohonage easy, ikyo harder”. Since then I have experienced that myself. Shihonage is more easily applied to a tall person than someone of equal or shorter stature. Ikyo on a very tall uke can be more challenging.

Turning it around, I have long Gumby arms on which some people have had trouble trying to set sankyo. Others, of course, just plop me on my ass. This may be a variation of the tall uke problem with ikyo but it still seems to be body type related. Also, I have found that koshinage can become quite difficult depending on how much shorter uke is.

While mulling ideas about body type and technique, I was reminded of something that O Sensei was supposed to have said. I can’t remember the context, but I remember that O Sensei apparently gave instructions on how to hit a fat man. He said that a straight punch into the gut wouldn’t do much especially if his gut was muscled as that of a rikishi (力士: sumo wrestler). Instead, a downward strike to the TOP of a big gut was more effective. Not having punched anyone that way, I have no idea and I can’t even confirm the reference but it does seem that body shape and size is an issue that others have pondered as well.

So what? I’m curious, what body type issues have you encountered when doing Aikido? Do some shapes or sizes of bodies, respond well to particular techniques? How about the other way around? What has been _your_ experience?


12 Comments so far
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I’m a pretty big guy (6′, somewhat overweight but strong) and I find it really hard to do shihonage on this one Japanese nidan who’s about 4’2″… much easier on the guy who’s 6’3″ and built like me. So, theory reinforced!

I haven’t had the opportunity to do koshi on the nidan yet, but I can see where it would be tough to get my hip set right under her. On the other hand, techniques in hanmi handachi tend to work really well with her – particularly the various ushiro waza.

Overall, I’d say that I find it easiest to work with the other big guys, but probably most rewarding (at least from a learning perspective) to work with the kids during family classes, because I really have to focus on *doing technique*, as muscling through is out of the question. (Plus it’s cool how much they enjoy throwing us adults, particularly the little ones! 🙂

Comment by Erik

I know what you mean about working with kids. They do seem to love pounding on adults!

Comment by Eric Holcomb

A while back I had the luck to see a yondan test. During part of the test his ukes were a gentle giant and what seemed to be an eight year old girl. I don’t remember what techniques he did at that point, but I do remember his point :).

One thing I’ve played with when working with a much larger partner is compacting vs. extending myself. You know how you can kind of shore up much of the slack in your joints and spine, without changing your posture or anything else, but actually shrink in? Then at the moment of attack, while delivering atemi, you flow or unfold toward uke, letting all the slack out as you do the technique. It plays with their size/depth perception. The few times I’ve been able to do this with a really tall partner, I’ve detected pretty obvious surprise, like “oops, I misjudged this guy’s size.”

This isn’t something I would repeat many times with the same partner (they might catch on), and I’m not sure it even makes sense. Just an experiment.

Comment by lukasa

I’m not sure I get what you are saying. Is it similar to the feeling of going from a “normal” posture to “extended”?

One of the sensei whose Aikido I really don’t even pretend to get (looong story there) does a lot of work with extension and positioning that may be what you are talking about. Not sure.

Today in that sensei’s class, I worked with a tall skinny guy today and the only technique that really needed adjusting was morote-tori kokyuho. The poor guy was a little intimidated and kept on throwing himself so it was hard to say when my extension was working or he was just running away…

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Yes, I think it’s best summarized as extension. I’m not even sure of the utility of it, except that I think it gives me another inch or so of reach if I need it.

You know if you extend your arm without any special effort, then *really* extend, you reach farther. Same thing with your spine, shoulders, rib cage.

Comment by lukasa

Hi Eric, body types and sizes affect a lot of things. I was being schooled last week on an interesting technique involving a spiral upward while moving under uke’s arm. The shihan kept saying, lower, lower. I showed him that my knee was an inch from the mat already and we moved on to another technique. 🙂
If your partner is taller than you, it’s tough to go over things and if they are shorter, it’s tough to go under things.

For example, sokumen iriminage from a one hand grab. We’re taught that we should move under uke’s arm and then throw. But with a short 4th dan I practice with, it’s just silly to try and get under his arm which is down around my stomach. So, I go over his arm. He was trying the same with me, but the reverse is true. It’s much easier for him to go under my arm and throw.

I think that’s why having set kata is difficult in aikido. It’s a constant adjustment to your partner, not only their movement, but the physical limitations(or advantages)of their particular body type.

Another way to look at it is that so many things are based off of circles in aikido. Let’s just take one of uke’s arms. It has quantifiable physical properties; girth, length, weight. A very important aspect of aikido is not forcing techniques, therefore, if we are trying to move that arm, as in shihonage, we should not try to move it past its own length. If we do we run into the problem of it being attached to the rest of his/her body and probably will be stopped in our tracks. What is better, is to recognize where the shoulder joint is and naturally find the length of the arm and move it along its natural pendular path.

What I seem to run into a lot is that shorter people, with shorter arms, are more difficult to move. For one, their centers are lower which makes uprooting them difficult. The other is that their short arm levers are more difficult to move than longer arm levers which in turn makes them more difficult to uproot. Hmph.


Comment by Eddie deGuzman

Hey Eddie,

I wish I could see that technique you are describing. Not only can I not picture it at all, but the situation sounds pretty funny! Lower, lower! What? You’re doing hanmi handachi now? Never-mind… 🙂

Comment by Eric Holcomb


Each and every body type has its own surprises. As a short man (5’6″) I will say that the taller, skinny/average built people are easier to move because the height of their center is far from the ground. Some people who are taller than me who are skinny are hard to move. Some guys who are around my height are harder to move than the people both taller and shorter than me. Some of the shorter guys are easier to move than the taller people – it really depends on the person.

It’s the big LARGE (sumo wrestler – ish) types that challenge me to this day. Being 5’6″ is a wonderful experience 🙂

In the school that I train at it’s more about circle and center rather than technique. If fact concentrating on technique is frowned upon and discouraged.

Comment by The Accidental Aikidoist

I know what you mean by the big guys being a challenge. I’m not sure if it’s latent masochism or what but I like trying to move those guys. For me, huge guys make two techniques into a struggle — morote-tori kokyuho and any kind of nikyo.

You say that concentrating on technique is “frowned upon”, what style of Aikido do you do? Kinokenkyukai?

Comment by Eric Holcomb

It is more of my senseis’ teaching styles rather than the style of Aikido that I practice.

But to answer your question, I practice the Aikikai “style”.

Comment by The Accidental Aikidoist

Your quotes around “style” are understood and I should know better than to try to lump all members of an organization together in some sort of united way of moving/teaching. Every teacher brings their own flavor to the art. That all said, I have heard of very few Aikikai instructors who down-play technique quite as much as you describe.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

There IS technique involved in our training. However it is constantly stated by my senseis that people tend to get bogged down in, or stop at technique. It is encouraged to us to look beyond the technique and utilize circle, center, body (among other things).

Comment by The Accidental Aikidoist

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