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Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

JUDO RON 19- Into the depth of Shizen Tai

When discussing combat situation, the founder of judo Kano Sensei
proposed to maintain a natural posture by which we could accomplish good
technique and overcome our opponent. He said; “You should train as much
as possible by maintaining a natural stance without tensing your body,
particularly your arms and legs, and remaining very relaxed so that you can
move freely"1

In this discussion paper, I shall try to discuss the principles of mechanical
balance found in Shizen Tai as they apply to Randori practices. In this form
of judo training, we try to learn to slip dexterously away from the opponent
and make use of his strength to our own advantage while maintaining our
own balance..

In doing so, we perform several types of movements in the hope of causing
him to loose his balance. We push, pull and displace in order to make an
opportunity and when that opportunity is found, we then move swiftly into
position and perform an appropriate Waza.

In one of very first book written about Kodokan judo by Sakujiro Yokohama
and Eisuke Oshima in 1915, it is said that victory in judo is accomplished by
the union of three principles: Breaking the posture of the opponent, placing
yourself in an advantageous position and performing the Waza in a proper
manner. These conditions became known as Kuzushi, Tsukuri and Kake.

In the following photo provided by the Kodokan archives, we can observe
Sensei Kano performing his Uki Goshi Waza on S.Yamashita sensei. We
easily identify the accumulation of these three aspects mentioned above. The
receiver has been placed in a broken position, Kano Sensei has entered the
ideal zone and he is about to strike with his Waza.

Kano Jigoro, Mind Over Muscle, compiles by Naoki Murata, Kodansha International, 2005
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

At the inception of the Waza, we need to be in a natural posture. What is the
natural fundamental posture? It is called Shizentai. In the period of Samurai,
the latter paid great attention to keeping their posture free and unrestrained
at all times.

Shizentai calls for standing in an upright posture without bending the head
or body, keeping your feet apart and your knees flexible. Yokohama Sensei
recommended adopting an easy and comfortable position, without putting
your strength in any particular part of your body. Being mentally alert, you
should not focus on any one thing and remain calm and peaceful with your
eyes fixed twenty or thirty paces ahead. This is the starting position and
during a contest, this original position must be changed to meet and adapt to
the fighting circumstances.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

It is said that while in the formal fundamental standing position, you can
naturally bear the weight and stress being applied against you and thus save
a greater portion of your energy to endure a greater period of freedom while
fighting. Here under we have the variations of Shizen Hon Tai as performed
by the great technician K. Mifune Sensei 10th dan.

Pictures from: Canon of Judo by K. Mifune Sensei (1956)

In has been proven that making use of variations of Shizen Tai, you are
closer to win a victory in free-play and in a better posture to apply the Waza
of your choice thus avoiding one being applied against you. Mifune Sensei
said:” In order to win a victory in free-play or Randori match, you should do
your best adopting yourself to changes of postures.”2

Mifune K, Canon of Judo, Seibundo-Shinkosha publishing, Tokyo, 1956
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

The adoption and the changing of postures imply that all this standing and
moving about is regulated by some natural forces and mechanisms often
associated with the distribution of weight near the centre of the body and
with the dynamic distribution of that weight around the waist area and
through the legs to effect powerful judo techniques.

A judoka must retain his balance and induce the opponent into a state of
possible inefficiency by forcing him into momentarily instable positions
where his actions are limited. To break the opponent’s posture refers to
Kuzushi or placing him into an unbalanced state that will occur either when
he is standing still or when he is in motion.

An Overview:

Let us conduct a quick tour d’horizon that should identify some of these
natural principles governing our human balance while in natural
fundamental posture.

The physical educator that was Mabel E. Todd once said:
“Knowledge is the way to conservation and a more efficient use of human
energy. The thinking body stands, moves and performs its skills through
knowledge of the natural forces in its dynamic balances.”3

As with most activities performed by humans, the central area of the body
will be critical in maintaining equilibrium and harmony in the performance
of Waza.

Furthermore, we should confirm that there are relationships between the
psycho-physical mechanisms involved in our dealing with the stress of
gravity, inertia and momentum let alone the stress caused by the application
of forces by our opponent and our mental state at that time.

If we are to make use of the judo principle of making the best use of energy
for greater efficiency, we must embark upon the journey of trying to
understand those mechanisms.

Mabel E. Todd, The Thinking Body, Princeton Press, 1937
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

A heritage from far away.

Our inner mechanisms for establishing breathing, locomotion and
mechanical balances are naturally present in all our body tissues and tied to
our structural making. Our body is made up of a multitude of components:
bones, tissues, ligaments, soft and elastic muscles, joints, water and other
chemicals. Our central nervous system and our brain govern our actions and
reactions. We need to accept the importance of our mental abilities and
psychological processes have on the other functions of our body. To operate
efficiently and to conserve our energy and balance, our body parts need to
have proper balance and be integrated.

We are composed of million separate cells possessing individual
characteristics which are organized to survive through balancing forces,
attracting, transporting, acting upon and repulsing each other as need be. We
are made of living micro organisms that breathe, assimilate; display
irritability can repair, mimic and reproduce themselves.

Each cell has a special role to ensure the whole system is maintained alive.
The cells which perform various functions are combined into groups known
as system such as the muscular, bony, nervous, vascular or glandular. All are
capable of responding to various external and internal stimuli.

Every sensation and activity as well as every thought causes a change
somewhere in our organism. The latter has nevertheless a marvellous
capacity for running smoothly and accurately under most circumstances. Its
balanced adjustments may however be disturbed by jarring forces or stresses
whether they are physical, chemical, interior or exterior. It is also seriously
impaired by the deliberate imposition of a fixed idea or an emotional set that
will at times govern its reactions.

When we analyse the posture of Shizen Tai, we detect the presence of the
psychological dispositions, the bones and structural muscles that form the
key components in maintaining our balance and ensure proper control of our
locomotion via the muscles of the pelvic region or girdle.
This is the area we will now focus upon in this discussion.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

Our memory likes to recall what has happened to the whole body and not
only to a segment or a part. We tend to be good at capturing the whole
situation. If we reflect upon our reactions to events, we will note that our
behaviour is rarely rational and tends to be more emotional. This is likely
due to the fact that for every mental stimulus supporting our feelings, there
is a muscle change occurring.

Our posture carries its meaning and identity whether we are standing, sitting,
walking, running, awake, asleep or fighting. It is capable of pulling all the
life or energy we possess and direct it towards our brain which will send the
appropriate signals back down the spine where it will reach the legs for an
eventual movement.

The physical education specialist, Mabel Todd once said: “Watch any man
as he walks down the avenue, and you can determine his status.” 4 We can
rephrase this observation by saying: Observe the judoka in his standing
posture as he appears before you and you can tell his level of technical

We can not avoid carrying with us, the heritage of our past, be it physical,
emotional or biological. Centuries of human evolution and yesterday’s
actions are all recorded within each one of us. It is said that our structure
elements maintain their own memory. We may forget things from time to
time; yet, our total body keeps a record of all our emotional thinking and
physical actions. The good and the bad elements have left their signature as
we can witness when an old injury comes back or when we recall good or
painful events.

If we try to dissect any of our activity, such as lifting or throwing an
opponent, it will be almost impossible to segregate what constitute the pure
intellectual activity from the motor skills or the social factors involved. We
are more than one element or particle, we are an integrated unit where every
stimulus placed on any one part will be received and transmitted to other
parts in order to respond appropriately.

Mabel E Todd. The Thinking Body, Princeton New-Jersey, 1937
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

We may react differently from one another person since the quantity of our
elements involved in our response is associated with our individual social
upbringing and behaviour, as well as our physical and mental states. There
lay both our individual strength and our weakness.

Composite Balance

By recommending the adoption and use of natural fundamental posture in
combat situation, Kano Sensei understood that our true strength depends
upon the composite balance of all our energy centers and their subsequent
intelligent usage.

With the understanding that about 15% of our total energy is available for
mental activities and that 85% of the remaining is used to care for our other
natural upkeeps, we should make a greater effort to make intelligent use of
both portions. By doing so, we could build sufficient reserve and ensure we
maintain proper balance. Achieving maximum physical economy of our
energy is related to having internal systems working in balance and unison.
In Shizen Tai, their alignment provides for proper function of that function

When pressed by external forces such as those applied by our opponent, we
should recall that in our early survival period, and today still, we depend
upon our cellular functions to meet and accommodated themselves to all
kinds of interior and exterior forces or stimuli. Over times we have dealt
successfully with a multitude of opposing forces and have survived fairly
well. Our own existence is that of a constant struggle for equilibrium. In the
judo match, the situation is similar.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

As we brake down the components involved in Shizen Tai, we discover that
the human skeleton is at its center. We can trace inherent lines of force that
go through our bone structure and the alignment of its parts into an “S”
curve provides us with a picture where our weight is distributed along four
smaller curves and that each part influence the other.

Abstracted from: The Thinking Body

Let us have a few words about our bones. They generally provide four
functions: they have an organic function when they manufacture blood cells;
they provide the protective shell to house the brain, spinal cord, heart, lungs
and viscera; bones are used as containers to balance weight and they support
and bear the weight of the body during motion action. Their general utility is
thus revealed when muscles activate them.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

As we have observed, the spinal cord is the critical element for weight
support and movement. Myriad of muscles and tendons are attached to it.
Even the strength of the arms and legs depends upon their association with
the spine. The great muscles binding the pelvis and legs to the spine extend
deep into the trunk and some even reach high up into the thorax as shown in
the following diagram.

There are other important muscles groups involved in our movements; the
more obvious are: muscles of the thigh, calf and foot but the essential
structure to support the body weight and control our displacement rests in
the lower spine area. It is the lower spinal cord that takes the leadership and
becomes the power, the protective and the coordinating centers for both
structural and organic rhythms.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

The power of the Brain

We stated earlier that our body has a natural power to deal with gravity,
inertia and momentum. Let us not forget that it is our nervous system that
controls the mechanisms to make the appropriate adjustment. It makes use of
a special tool called the proprioceptive or perceiving function from organic
sensations. Through this capacity, we can identify the feeling for movement
found in all our skeleton and muscular systems (Kinesthetic); the
identification of our position in space derived from the labyrinth in the inner
ear and the miscellaneous impressions from other internal organs.

Kinesthetic sensations are scattered within muscles, tendons, joints,
ligaments, bones cartilage and other tissues. The labyrinth or vestibule feels
the position of the head and the body weight in relation to earth and the
direction of movement in space. Sensations from the viscera and vascular
systems are also communicated to the central nervous system and used to
complement other information sending the appropriate signal or stimuli to
the muscles for appropriate reaction.

With these natural instruments, we are able to adjust selected muscle groups
and recognize the smallest movement in need of coordination. We can
estimate power, distance and span of movements needed to perform an
activity and launch the muscular reaction automatically in response to the
stimuli or impulses and activate the bones in an orderly fashion to meet the

It is possible to improve what nature has given us through our proprioceptive
sensations by doing repeated experiences where sensations are perceived
such as when we do Uchi Komi. By repetitions, response and timing can be
perfected and practice until an intricate série of auto-reflexes is built up for
each type of movement involved in learning new skills.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

When engaged in a judo match, our structure will be subjected to several
types of stresses. We can encounter torsion, pull, push, shearing and
bending stresses.

The five mechanical stresses or forces associated more frequently are: a
vertical pressure downward occurring naturally by the pull of gravity and by
the external force applied by the opponent who is trying to place his
Kuzushi. We also experience a second stress of an equal force pulling in a
different direction, that of our resistance to the former. At times we can feel
the effect of a twisting force initiating a counter swing such as when we are
forced to turn in one direction or the other with or without our feet forming a
stable base. There is also a force that causes us to slide from side to side
either by our own initiated movement or when pulled or pushed by the
opponent. We can not discard the force applied by the various Kumi Kata of
the opponent that causes us to bend or slant in a given direction.

Torsion stress cause parts of the spine to twist about the core axis. Shearing
stress or shear is caused by a force directed against the body at an angle to
cause one part to slide over another other. Bending is the combination of
tension and compression forces applied in such a way that we fold down and
the spine is weakened in its support function. In all circumstances, we find
an uneven distribution of the weight or a too heavy top load to carry. .

The imposition of any of these stresses threatens the retention of our
balanced state and our integrity to remain in an erect posture. If the stress
continues beyond the ability of the body to resist, we will either succumb or
fall. To maintain the strength in our natural posture we must either meet
theses forces with an equal amount of force to sustain their influence or use
a combination of other mechanical means to avoid them such as moving
about and around it or absorbing the blunt of it in a withdrawal action.

Our model of stress-resistance will vary with each one of us. We are
composed of substances of different degrees in fluidity and density; it is
through this variety and combination that we will develop our strength to
cope with external forces. Like many other structures, we vary in our
abilities to resist. Substances too brittle, too stiff or too soft will break or tear
easily under stress.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

For survival reasons, we should try to respond to stress by conforming more
as would elastic or malleable substances do when withstanding the pull,
pressure or combined stresses and then regroup when the stress has
subsided.. This is in my view, the real content of “Ju “in the expression of
judo meaning the way of flexibility, suppleness and agility.

We should not underestimate the capabilities of our body to further oppose
forces or stresses with animated energy brought from other parts as need be.
Our balance depends upon the right weight distribution but some of that
amount of weight can be compensated by the use of other alternate energy

We have proven many times in the past that we are capable of performing
repairs to broken or worn parts while accumulating some energy for future
use. When under stress during a judo match, we notice that these situations
sometime demand that extra muscular effort or energy is supplied to the area
of need and that supply is in excess of what is really called for.

We have to avoid being forced to hold uncomfortable and ill-aligned
postures as they impose peculiar strains upon our spinal structure which may
result in unforeseen injury. To re-establish balance we may have recourse to
a displacement of one of three units of weights: the head or skull, the thorax
and the pelvis area. If these are re-aligned towards the center in relation to
the axis of gravity there should be no unequal strain exercised upon the
ligaments or muscles at the joints and we should be able to resume the
proper posture.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

When we suffer from continued attacks to dislodge our stability and place us
in broken postures through the application of Kuzushi or Kumi Kata, our
resistance will diminish with time. Muscles do get fatigued easily and to
prevent an early weakening from occurring we may need to resort to
alternate mechanisms associated with coordinating bodily activities. Vision,
hearing and the sense of touch are such allies found in our sensory
sensations. Distance, versatility and a variety of angular displacements must
be considered. We have to identify more accurately the stressor and be
prepared to share its load.

We should also make a greater effort to use the power found by the “S”
curve of the spine particularly at the lumbar area where the muscles are
stronger and more numerous. Such recourse is frequently named: Hara Gi
We can easily observe in the overall spine structure the presence of four
segments or smaller spinal curves in areas known as the cervical, thoracic,
lumbar and pelvic regions.

It is the alignment of the successive curves made from the placement of the
vertebrae that gives it its power to support weight and renders its flexibility
to adjust in accordance with the load distribution. As each vertebra receives,
supports and transfers weight to one another they are complementing each
other because of their angle, size and composition.

Considering that the lumbar curve includes only five vertebrae, we must
attest that these are massive and with their attached muscles constitute a
large proportion of the lower trunk. The action of the lumbar spine is
therefore very powerful. The pelvis zone will serve us well in three
functions: it receives the entire weight of the head, shoulder, and trunk and
transmits that load to the legs. It provides the mean for weight bearing,
transmission and movement.

To round up our considerations about the spine, let us say that for the spine
to move the body weight economically, it must be free of unnecessary pulls
occurring at any of its attached parts. Only then can it pass the weight freely
through the pelvis and on towards the thigh joints. We want to make use of
the rolling and rocking actions of the pelvis to stabilize the cumulative
weight transfer down to the femoral bones and the legs in total thus assuring
a rhythmic cadence. Elaboration on this subject will be made in a later
discussion paper.
Discussion and investigation into selected judo topics by Ronald Désormeaux

The last factor of this paper deals with the placement of the head. You will
note in the pictures of Mifune Sensei that the head is kept straights at all
times. By keeping the head up straight, it facilitates the global vision and
supply the orientation cue for the balance of the whole body. The eyes, ears
and sensory sensations are all at work to provide the general orientation and
spatial orientation.

Should the head be forced to be positioned off its center, the upper or
cervical curve of the spine will be disturbed and induce a fussiness feeling
and a lost of balance requiring the assistance of compensatory efforts by
neck and back muscles to restore it on its axis of support on the atlas bone.

We have only scratched the surface outlining the reasons why the use of
Shizen Tai should be pursued. Murata Sensei of the Kodokan once said that
Kano Sensei championed practical theory versus idealism. With Shizen Tai
Kano Sensei submerged the ancient theory of jujutsu: “ Ju yoku go o seisu”
(softness controls hardness) and demonstrated that Shizen Tai best illustrated
his new principle ; “ Seiryoku Zenyo Katsu Yo” (best used of one’s energy).

May your Reflexion be put into practical action.

Gatineau Québec, Canada, August 2009