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Martial Arts: One size does not fit all!

Posted Jun 22 2010 12:00am
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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