The tall and the short of it, part 2

Time to continue what I started thinking about last time regarding different approaches to aikido and judo for taller and smaller players.

For starters, I realized that I could add another basic dimension to what I've already mentioned. I talked about breaking uke back for taller people, and breaking uke forward for shorter people and then mentioned compressing shorter people and extending taller people. I'm noticing that the overall height of your hands (at least in aikido) seems to have some effect as well.

If you're tall, like I am, and you hold your arms at chest level, this will naturally put a shorter uke's hand at his own shoulder level, or ideally, higher, where they're weaker. However, if a shorter tori hold their hands at chest level, it only brings a taller uke's hand to his navel level. He can still function relatively well there. But, if a shorter tori holds their hands at navel level, it tends to bring a taller uke's hand below his waist, which means he has to bend over a little. So basically...

Taller people—keep your hands at chest level and force a shorter uke to work too high.

Shorter people—keep your hands at navel level and force a taller uke to work too low.

As always, there are exceptions to the rule, but it's an interesting common aspect I've notice with different practitioners that seems to work well.

Okay, so now let's look at junana hon kata from aikido, or at least we'll start with the first section, ateme waza:

1) Shomen ate
Tall: The traditional step to the inside and push at 45 degrees or so to the attacking angle seems to work well enough.

Short: The main problem with shomen ate for shorter people (indeed much of atemi waza) is that you have to reach up to get at uke's chin, often putting your hand above shoulder level. Now, you can do shomen ate to the chest, and it works, but it's rough on uke and even dangerous. Rather, I've noticed that if a shorter tori does the long, turning version, which spins uke 180 degrees, uke's head actually slowly lowers until it's about tori's shoulder height.

2) Aigamae ate
Tall: Again, the traditional straight balance break, turn and push works great.

Short: And again, we have the problem of a shorter tori having to reach up to get at uke's chin. So, for many of the 17 (if not all, really) doing a backwards balance break seems to work really well. It accentuates a taller uke's natural tendency to have to "reach down" for tori, and puts him in a hole. As he rises, his head is right at tori's shoulder level.

3) Gyakugamae ate
Tall: Traditional straight balance break. When it comes to the hand in the face part, however, I've noticed that, being tall means my arms are also usually longer, and I tend to slip rather deep, with my whole arm across uke's top half (lifting the chin palm up, or pushing across palm out). Shorter tori's are better off, it seems, sticking with hand only on the chin.

Short: A backward balance break works marvelous here once more to get uke's chin down to their level. I think it's important to make note to shorter students that the laissez faire "eye threat" method of doing number 3 that so many people are fond of has a much lower percentage of working when a small person tries it on a big person. I make sure to teach them to not be shy, that seriously lifting uke's chin is the key to break his posture backward (which, as I mentioned, is not going to be a short tori's strong suit, but we're making it work for them).

4) Gedan ate
Tall: Straight balance break. Now, when it comes to the fit in, I've noticed that I tend to be rather high, and break uke's balance back. Technically, it's not really a gedan "low" strike but pretty much the same as gyakugamae ate except that I'm under uke's arm.

Short: For shorter tori's, however, breaking uke's posture low at the hips works quite well.

5) Ushiro ate
Tall: The usual.

Short: The backwards balance break works well, of course, but you could also step to the outside and get uke spinning like you're going to enter irimi nage/aiki nage. This also bring uke down low so his shoulders are within reach. Either way, just remember you don't want to reach up to get at uke's shoulders. By the way, you can also hook each hand around uke's waist from behind, and collapse him that way. Unconventional, but it's dropped me more than a few times.

Next, we'll look at more of the 17...

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  1. We had a seminar with Yoji Kondo, who is pretty short (around 5'2"), a while back. He was asked how he would apply Ushiro-ate to me, at 6'5". He used the waist as the leverage point and it nailed me.

    We suggest that approach for most folks when dealing with me. The only downside is that you're not often going to get the flying feet that effect that you can when doing ushiro-ate from the shoulders. That doesn't happen very often, anyway, so you're not losing much.


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