When I started judo and aikido way back in 1990, our warmup routine consisted of a lot of static stretches. In judo we performed a lot of stances that seemed more like what our kicking and punching colleagues were doing. We rotated almost every joint in its full range of motion in both directions as well as extended and flexed each joint to just past its normal stopping point. After this we would do some more aerobic exercises mostly involving ukemi. Aikido warmup was similar. I have continued this warmup sequence wherever I have trained or been asked to teach over the last decades with only slight variation.
I have tried to become more rational about martial arts training over the years so I thought I should take a look at our warmup. Dr. Allum, one of our yudansha, is also a sports medicine physician by training. After talking with him, I discovered there is no good data that static stretching is beneficial for injury prevention in the short term. I noticed my teacher for my morning boot camp exercise class has moved static stretching to the end of class and the beginning starts with more dynamic work designed to increase the heart rate and use large muscle groups.
In Oklahoma City, Matl Sensei led a warmup that was different than any I had seen – more dynamic and judo specific. I also searched the internet to see if this wheel had already been invented. I cold not find much information. I did find this link which describes the Japanese national teams warmup which seems very dynamic and heart rate increasing. It also seemed to have the advantage of being performed in a relatively small space. I found a lot of videos and descriptions of the warmups that I remember. The best I came across was Rhadi Fergusen’s youtube video of his warm up routine. Most all of his items are judo specific and are not static stretches. A lot of his warm up is similar to what we have started here.
In addition to taking this information into account, I also thought our martial arts warmup should have some applicable utility to technical maneuvers and not just a strength training exercise. With this in mind, we have been retooling our warmup over the last six months at Mossy Creek Dojo. What follows are short video clips of our various exercises done during our typical warmup along with a description of what I feel you are getting from the particular exercise.
First is a jump squat. Bend down with back straight, touch the mat, then jump up both hands to the ceiling. This movement gets the heart rate up quickly, involves large muscle groups, and reenacts the typical motion performed during most koshi waza techniques.
Second is bridge onto opposite shoulder. Try to touch the hand to the mat. Feet should be tucked far under the butt and push hips up to the ceiling. This movement obviously (along with shrimping) is one of your most important ne waza maneuvers.
Third is a roll over to try and touch the feet to the mat on the opposite side while lying on your back. If flexible enough then both feet should touch down and you may even walk them around the head to the other side. However if you are not flexible enough then you may support your far outside leg with the same arm. This spinal flexion position is used in the opposite rotation (shoulders moving down and feet still) for certain tachi waza like seoi nage. The movement as shown is used in ne waza for instance the granby roll.
Fourth is a sit out rotation that provide range of motion exercise for the shoulders and simulate sit out escapes in ne waza.
Fifth is a hip switch. This movement is used both in ne waza to change from kesa gatamae to say ushiro kesa gatamae. Also this is the hip switch used in tachi waza as well. A similar movement is in the aikido tai sabaki kata although from a standing position. I kept a lot of these exercises on the mat as it provides more upper extremity work than doing them standing.
Sixth is everyone’s favorite shrimp. Pin the shoulder to the mat and use the foot to drive the hip back as well as up. Along with bridging this is the probably your most important skill to have for ne waza. This movement provides movement on the ground as well as escape options.
Seventh is the chest pull. Raise feet off the mat so you do not push with the feet. Reach out with the arms supinated (palms toward the floor). Pull yourself forward while pronating (turn palms toward the ceiling). Except for cleaning the mat pretty good, I used to think this was mostly a strength exercise; until this past winter clinic talking with Matl Sensei. He specifically uses the pronated position of the arm as much more powerful to hold someone’s head to your body in ne waza. So this movement made the cut.
Eighth is the chest crawl which we call the salamander. Put both hands behind your back, pin the shoulder to the mat, pull foot high to the hip then push forward. This movement also cleans the mat but also is a good way to move on the mat as well as learn to keep pressure on your opponent if he were to be under your chest.
Ninth is a log roll. Pick up both arms and legs off the mat then start rolling using the core muscles, everything between your neck and your pelvis. Rolling is easy but since most people’s hips and shoulders are different sizes they tend to roll in circles, sort of like rolling a cone. To roll in a straight line requires more control of your core and in a small dojo is necessary to keep from running over your training partners.
Tenth is our ukemi drills which change depending on who is attending class and what we are trying to cover. I did not video any of our ukemi. Obviously ukemi is useful in all martial arts. Ukemi may be the most important physical maneuvers we actually learn in the dojo. It did make me feel a little good when Matl Sensei taught some rolls from a kneeling position that are the same as the method we have been teaching.
Our warm up now takes 10 minutes instead of 15 minutes and at the end of it everyone is breathing a little hard and ready to start learning. I have thrown out some old standards like the push up as I had a tough time making the push up much more than a strength training movement. We will continue to tweak this process over time.