Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Martial Arts: One size does not fit all!

As a small person (5ft 3in) I am constantly made aware that the world is designed for bigger people. Trouser lengths are generally too long, supermarket shelves are often too high and in martial arts - weapons are often too big!

My bo is a standard 6ft long - that's nine inches longer than me. This makes a difference when manipulating it compared to a 6ft man manipulating a bo the same height as himself. When I spin the bo in front of me I have to hold my arms slightly higher than a taller person else the bo will keep hitting the ground!

Then there is my bokken. A standard bokken is 40 inches long, this is 8 inches too long for me and much too heavy. It is probably equivalent to a 6 foot person wielding a bokken of 50 inches and 1.5 times the weight of a standard bokken. I have overcome the problem by buying a child's bokken - it is 32 inches long and is half the weight of a standard bokken. It is a beautiful bokken to use in sword kata but useless when practising self-defence techniques because it is too fragile to be hit by another bokken! So I have to use the standard bokken for self-defence.

Tonfa are not such a huge problem because they do come in different lengths - mine are a mere 16 inches which is about right for the length of my forearms. However, the length of the side arm is not proportionally shorter compared to a longer tonfa. My hands are quite small and narrow so when I grip the tonfa there is still a lot of side arm protruding from my hand. This means that when I twirl the tonfas my hand gradually slides down  the sidearm and I lose control of it! Why don't the manufacturers make the side arms proportionately smaller on a shorter tonfa?

I am often told that size doesn't matter in martial arts. I would really like to challenge the 6ft 2in, 18 stone guys who say these things to find themselves a 7ft 6in, 25 stone opponent and then come back and tell me size doesn't matter! Size and weight = power, and technique cannot always overcome a large size/weight differential. Even Darrell Craig, in his book Japan's Ultimate Martial Art, recognised the problem when he said: "I find that many jujitsu techniques work only if you are stronger than your opponent".

Anyway, I will moan no more about this because on Sunday night during my jujitsu class, my instructor showed that he was an enlightened man! Even though he is a 6ft 2in, 18 stone guy he recognised that I could not and should not attempt to do a body drop using a standard technique. The risk of a knee injury if a big, heavy opponent was swung across my outstretched leg was too high. Instead he taught me to do it with my foot turned inward so that my knee would just bend if too much weight was on it (rather than dislocate or get an ACL tear). He also taught me a reclining leg throw in which the standard technique was varied so that I effectively wrapped my leg around the opponent's leg and then sat on  their thigh, using my body weight to help push them over!

My sensei recognized that one size does not fit all. He did not patronise me or make me feel inadequate for not being able to manage the standard technique. He just acknowledged that I am not a 'standard' size and thus a 'standard' technique may not work - so there was no point in teaching it to me. He treated me as an individual, assessed my needs and taught me appropriately. I am very grateful for that.

Have you had problems with training due to not being 'standard' in some way? How is it overcome?
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10 comments:

Michele said...

Nice post!

In the past, I had shoulder issues so I prefer lighter weight weapons for kata. Since kobudo is a large part of our curriculum, I have a few of each type of weapon. They range in size and weight.

The problem with some brands of weapons is that they adjust the length but do not modify the handle.

Crane Mountain Weapons makes excellent custom made weapons. You can choose the type of wood and some design components of the weapon. I have a pair of nunchaku and kama.

I am glad martial arts are not "one size fits all". There are options, variations and opportunities for different body types and mind sets.

SueC said...

Hi Michele, I've just checked out the Crane Mountain website - it looks ideal. Not sure if they would post to the UK though - may be I'll drop them an e-mail. Thanks for the tip :-)

Perpetual Beginner said...

Being the height of the average US male has been a big help to me in terms of learning technique without having to modify much. You are fortunate in your sensei, though. I have found that the majority of really big, strong men underestimate how much they're using their size and strength to make their techniques work. My sensei is actually shorter than I am, but our other black belt is 6'2", and my husband (blue belt) is 6'6" - both get bewildered when something is easy for them and tough for the rest of us.

SueC said...

Hi Cindy, I expect being very tall or heavy brings its own problems as well. I've noticed larger people aren't so keen on being thrown. I've heard of one or two large people breaking ribs after being thrown. 'The bigger you are, the harder you fall' I suppose!

Felicia said...

Your post made me smile, Sue - because I usually have the opposite problem because I'm tall (6'2") and light (150 lbs soaking wet) with a narrow waist and broad shoulders. The debate after class last night was about what size to order my new heavy-weight gi in, as a 5 fits my shoulders and has enough length for my arms and legs but is too big (it gaps across the chest second I move my arms - and I wear a gi-colored Lycra tank underneath just to counter this problem, but still). A size 4 is too short for both my arms and legs (I look like Steve Urkle or Pee-Wee Herman!). Ughh - Is it too much to ask for some manufacturer to make a 4.5 or a gi top that is narrower in the waist for FEMALE martial artists?!? Gheesh...

I hear you about the tonfa and bokken, but did you can order 4'2", 5' or even 5.5' bo staffs? My son has now gone through several sizes since he started at age 10 (5' bo) and is now 16 and almost my size (a 6' at last!!). Check out this page at Sakura Martial Arts: http://www.sakuramartialarts.com/Martial_Arts_Weapons_Bo_Staff_Straight_Hardwood_p/wea-4000-a1.htm

But I'm happy to hear your sensei helped you modify your techniques so they'd work better for you! Mine has done similar for me when we drill take-downs from ippon kumite techniques -especially when my uke is a 6'2" DUDE who outweighs me by 50 lbs. In a strength to strength battle with someone the same height, especially when that someone simply has more muscle mass (and I lift regularly, just don't have the testosterone reserves my male training partners have, LOL), chances are we're gonna get our heads handed to us no matter how solid the technique is. I love, love, love when instructors see that and help us to adjust accordingly...

Great post, Sue! Thanks for sharing it :-)

SueC said...

Hi Felicia, I know where you're coming from with that height to width ratios with gis! A size 4 fits me on length but would nearly wrap round me twice on width. A 3 is better on the width but the sleeves and legs are on the short side. Fortunately I prefer the shorter sleeve and leg length so it's not a problem but I don't think the gi was deliberately designed like that!

I didn't realise until recently that a bo could be shorter than 6 feet. I assumed that if it was shorter it was called something else and was a different weapon! I know better now. I may consider buying a 5ft 5in bo if I can source one in the UK.

Thanks for your comments. Here's to enlightened instructors everywhere!

Frank said...

Hahaha... I had the opposite problem, when I lived in Japan. I'm pretty standard at 5'10," but all of the doorways, countertops, sinks, tables, chairs, beds, and everything else you can imagine, seemed to have been made for someone about five inches shorter. It made for a lot of comical situations, and I felt like Gulliver among the Liliputians, but it also made for a lot of back pain, head pain when I'd smack my head on stuff, and I felt like I walked around with my shoulders hunched, all the time.

SueC said...

Hi Frank, perhaps I should go to Japan - sounds like a world made for me! Thanks for sharing.

Michael said...

I agree to that your very fortunate with a sensei that guides you well.
Keep it up,not much of a big guy myself.

SueC said...

Hello again Michael, thanks for reading my blog and commenting.

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