The Importance of Relaxation
By Neil Ohlenkamp
If you are stressed at work it is generally hard to enjoy your job. If you are uptight about a task that you have to do, it is likely you will try to get through it as quickly as possible. And if you are nervous about getting hurt you certainly won't enjoy your recreation. Like most activities, the way to enjoy Judo or any other martial art is to learn to relax. For many people it is harder to relax in Judo than in other activities. The obvious reason is that your partner is always trying to attack you! However, the more one learns to deal in a positive way with stress, change, and risk, the easier it is to relax. Judo practice is a great way to train yourself to handle difficult situations with confidence and grace.
One of our biggest fears is falling. It is also one of the first lessons we learn in Judo. Of course no one wants to get hurt or lose, and these feelings are associated with falling. These fears cause the body and mind to become tense and rigid so that eventually you become paralyzed and cannot function. For this reason it is important to face your fears rather than let them control you. Studying ukemi, methods of falling, is a good way to start to do that.
Later, in Judo randori, or free practice, you will find that it is again very difficult to relax. You may find that when you do succeed in relaxing you are initially exposing yourself to attacks more. This makes you feel more vulnerable rather than more secure. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to relax in Judo. At first, every time you relax you may get thrown, and it seems to be a counterproductive strategy. This makes you more fearful, and you naturally tighten up, until you eventually become fatigued into relaxing again. This creates a self-reinforcing cycle of constant stress.
The trick is not to hide your vulnerabilities and weaknesses, but to learn to recognize them, get to know them intimately, manage them, train them, and even turn them into strengths. When your opponent finds a weakness they will usually attack it. Knowing that, the skilled judoka can actually turn vulnerabilities into opportunities.
Through focused training, weaknesses can become strengths. One of the paradoxes of Judo is that it takes concentrated effort to learn effortless action. It is hard work to train yourself to yield and not resist, to relax the tension in your muscles and your mind. However if you do, you will see rapid progress in your ability to defend yourself.
You will eventually come to see that when the body and the mind are in a relaxed state they are more able to respond quickly and appropriately to each attack. You will also get less tired and use your energy more efficiently. You will be more sensitive to your opponent's intentions and be able to anticipate attacks earlier. Your techniques will work better because your body will move more freely in a coordinated way. Your balance will be better, your confidence will improve, and you will have more fun.
This is the essence of Judo. Ju means gentleness, softness, yielding or pliability. These are all qualities associated with a relaxed state of mind. Learning to relax is the key to dealing with difficult situations, and there is no better way to train yourself than through the study of attack and defense in Judo.