Physical Training Sept 2011
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Zenkenren Iai and the Development of Lower Body Strength
or "Oh!! That's why my leg muscles hurt"

copyright 2010 Mycl Barber, all rights reserved

As the old saying goes, “a house is only as strong as its foundation”. Attend any fitness class, be it strength training, aerobics, or even the conditioning practice of professional athletes, and you will be introduced to the pleasures of freehand forward lunges. As you will see, it is quite easy to use Iaido in the development of leg strength. The "basic freehand forward lunge" exercise uses gross motor skills and works to develop the large muscle groups in your legs, specifically, your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, at the same time improving balance.

Breaking down the basic freehand front lunge we find the following steps:

         Stand up straight keeping good posture, with your back straight, head up, looking straight ahead, feet about 12” apart.

         Step forward as far as possible with the right leg until the upper right thigh is parallel to the ground. Completing this action with good posture will lower the body until the left knee grazes the ground.

         Keep the left leg as straight as possible.

         Step back to starting position.

         Repeat with the left leg.

During the chiburi of Ipponme Mae, you are in effect completing a variation of the freehand front lunge.

Breaking down the footwork of the chiburi during Ipponme Mae, we find the following steps:

         Start from a kneeling position with your right leg out in front of you, right knee bent at a 90 degree angle with the upper thigh parallel to the ground and your left knee bent at a 90 degree angle with the knee touching the ground.

         Keeping good posture, with your back straight, head up, looking straight ahead, stand-up by focusing on your hara, stepping your left leg up to meet your right.

         Step back with the right leg, and as you perform noto (the sheathing of the sword) lower your body down until the upper left thigh is parallel to the ground (both knees should be at about 90 degree angles) until your right knee is just grazing the ground.

         Stand-up by pushing off your back foot simultaneously pulling with your left leg muscles, bringing your right foot up to meet the left.

As you are performing only one “lunge” at a time per performance of the technique, it is much easier to maintain proper posture and distance of the feet. This method greatly reduces the risk of straining the tendons and ligaments often experienced by new fitness enthusiasts. In their attempt to complete the specified number of reps in a given set of exercises throughout their workout, injuries occur as a result of speed, poor technique, and fatigue.

During Nihonme Ushiro, formally the next technique to be performed, the chiburi is done starting from a kneeling position with the left leg out in front of you. If you are mindful of this while you practice, ensuring that you complete the same number of Ushiro as you complete of Mae, both your right and left legs will have had an equal amount of strengthening, maintaining proper muscle balance. Traditionally, this is done by completing either a specified number of each technique before moving on to the next until all twelve of the Zenkenren Iai techniques have been performed - doing five Mae before moving on to completing five Ushiro, for example. Or, one may complete all techniques from one to twelve, and then start over again.

As a result, by practicing Iaido consistently and mindfully, you will create a great foundation through which you will not only get stronger, more toned legs, but also find greater enjoyment in any other physical activities in which you choose to participate, all while improving your overall health and quality of life.

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