Aikido and shoulders


Shoulders are everywhere in aikido… Bare-handed or armed – we use shoulders.

Shoulders are very mobile joints but open to so many limitation factors. Their stability and function are governed by anatomical structures such as short and strong shoulder blade originated muscles, superficial trunk muscles and passive stability apparatus as capsula and ligaments. Shoulders are „open” to very many injuries (static and dynamic) – and that makes their behaviour a maze of a great deal. Since all aikido techniques are hand techniques – they involve shoulders, they force shoulders, they pull shoulders, push and compress them, twist them, make them accommodate to body movements (rib cage mostly).

Shoulders are operated by distant muscles as well: for example latissimus dorsi that attaches to pelvis and lowers the arm and rotates it internaly, levator scapulae that goes down the neck to shoulder blade and controls its rotation (sliding on rib cage, we call it a anatomical but false joint), very strong and wing-like wide pectorals that are internal arm rotators and functionaly – elbow extensors etc.

There is just one tiny bony contact point that delivers all forces from shoulder to trunk and back again (in accordance to saying about one point of support and moving the whole Earth) – it is your clavicle (key bone, clavis – lat. key) and that bone is a real key to arm and shoulder efficiency. Without it there would be no stable arm movement, no strong arms, just a limb hanging down from your trunk.

A close view on the shoulders show us complexity of that joint group: 5 joints combining into one great mechanism that is to work smoothly in conditions of free arm moves and resisted arms as well. Some of them are true joints, some are falls but they work in one team called scapula-arm joint or arm joint or shoulder joint, whatever.

Articular surfaces, their angles and shoulder blade position on rib cage determine basic movements of shoulders, muscle action and fluency of that complicated group of co-working tissues. We elevate, depress, rotate (twist), elongate and shorten out arms and that is what shoulders do for us. All those are possible on that little bony point that has to accommodate to action demands too. Shoulders are mostly muscle-operated joints and that is how we classify them. Briefly speaking strong flat serratus short muscles compress and control shoulder blade against the rib cage, short scapula muscles stabilize arm bone on scapula and control its rotation mostly and long muscles give it action. Shoulder is covered by a hood of deltoid muscle and suspended on muscles that attach to its upper regions.

It makes no point to go through very precise analyse of muscle action in various movement phases, it is not the point if this article. Let’s concentrate now on aikido having shoulders in sight.

Arms are everywhere in aikido, I would state this. They touch through hands, receive pressure from attacking partner (receiving partner – uke), they are to feel the resistance and play between two aikidokas (menuchi), they in fine act as our responders, they speak for us in every applied technique. Feet move us from place to place, knees are responsible for springy and smooth movements, hips give power to what we do and shoulders act! They complete every throw what shows the greatness of many spectacular techniques! Many sensors within the shoulder complex co-work with the whole body coordination blending into read-analyse-act process. It all happens in no time at all when needed so just imagine the speed of information flow within. Nervous system has almost no limits in transmiting data, it learns how to work overloaded and free from too much crowd on synapses. With locomotor system at hand it uses our body as its executive performer, excellent performer I should say.

Since shoulders are everywhere in aikido as has just been stated, they also participate in falls, they hit the ground and can get injured easily. Let me concentrate on this aspect now.

 I find shoulders disorders in basic groups below:

1.      injuries from falls, hits, sudden pulls etc. and incorrect postural habits

2.      incorrect tension of certain muscles (static imbalance) leading to worn-out syndrome,

3.   away-from-joint factors such as emotional compression within (anger, agression – coupled with temporomandibular joint syndrome and pelvic and hip complex syndromes).

Ad.1 Falls and other injuries can tear ligaments, pull muscles out from their attachment spots or tear them within the belly. That all requires medical help and reasonable solution. Diagnosis is usually made with ultrasound or MRI devices. Plaster is very often a treatment of choice but – if possible – some other techniques are possible (arthroscopy with its wide range of treatment ideas). Bringing your shoulders back to life after immobilization takes time but also teaches how to use them well, synchronously and with tender care.

Ad 2. Incorrect elastisity and lenght of muscles are governed by ignorance of stretching need. Each joint , to work well as has been said often, is to be supported and governed by elastic muscles, age is not a significant factor here. If – because of wrong excercises or simply lack of any caused by prolonged sitting work – those muscles and ligaments tend to shrink, contract and remain in that state for longer, that will turn pathological chains on and sooner or later cause some health problems somewhere within the body. Worn out syndrome is the most known effect of that ignorance. The best and easiest solution is stretching, bringing elasticity back to normal. When applied well – we feels improvements of the problem and sometimes, what suprices most, very distant from the painful spot. That is the effect of disarming the pathological chain reactions with a simple weapon – stretching.

Ad.3 The away-from-joint factors are the most difficult to read and solve (treat) since they involve our personality patterns that live with us and are part of our thinking, reacting, feeling etc. They are so very part of us we cannot sometimes understand living without them despite all obstacles they throw on our path. Pinned they yell for help but if we decide to fight them – positive changes will start and the whole body system will change into something new, into something sunny.

Shoulders are „sender – receiver” joints that means they detect and cumulate tensions of various origin from the body and send them further down the limbs. The most frequent away-from-joint factors are emotional tensions cumulated in cervical and thoracic spine region. Unsolved shoulder disorder may end as frozen shoulder, chronic pain, trophic changes, thoracic cage disfunctions and other. 

As presented – shoulders are very interesting and complicated pars of our body.  Since – as has been emphasized in this article – they are everywhere in aikido, they should be well treated, excercised and revitalized.  Warm ups, warm ups, warm ups…  Stretching connected well with resisted work outs, pinch of massage sometimes, and intelectual freedom. This looks like a prescription for healthy shoulders.


Aikido and hands
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