Chasing the IS Rabbit with Science…thoughts from a recent seminar

Winter retreat 2014, IS and strain

Winter Retreat 2014, IS and strain in action?, photo S. Russell

I went to an interesting musculoskeletal research retreat recently (I had to give an invited talk, though – no such thing as a free lunch). As an added bonus it also informed my IS practise. So bear with me as I make a short story long.

The insights came during a talk on investigating tendon strain, which in the achilles is a significant health issue. A multi-national group had examined various protocols for healing the achilles tendon (see reference at end). The work kept tendons, sourced from rabbit cadavers, in an artificial environment for a prolonged period of time. Rabbit tendons are very similar to human ones and easier to source.  The tendons were stretched at varying levels of strain for different time periods using a set protocol and the resultant strength measured over time. The work ultimately is to assess what might be best practice in recovery protocols.
It turns out there is a sweet spot at 6% strain ( under 0.25 Hz – a 4 second cycle of 1s graded strain, 1s hold, 1s reduction and 1s release).  Any less strain and there is natural decay, any more strain damages the tendon – interesting news for us IS try-hards. The cycle time was chosen from previous rabbit treadmill studies that varied the step rate ( loading time) and looked at tendon strength after. In humans and possibly related (though its muscle) we know from other researchers that oxygen depletion in humans takes place in the muscles inducing the strain after 6–7 seconds (see 2nd ref below) so its all in the same ball park.
From science to inferences for IS training:
If we consider similarities between tendon and fascia, this provides good evidence (or indication at least) of how much muscle to use, how hard to try and for how long in exercises that seek to build conditioning eg winding, reeling, bowing, balloon man, skin breathing, opening and closing qua,10 of 10 and so on. Many of these traditional methods talk about not forcing, working with intention and have cyclic periods of strain and relaxing. 6% is then something of a middle ground, where there would be good reasons to go a bit higher, perhaps to weed out the connections not wanted or for elongation. Cycle time too might be something to do with the art it is embedded in, to build coordination ( eg bowing) or historical ( eg the shinto rites of spring)
So how much is 6% strain? Good question. Neglecting the complexity of dynamic and static strain, it’s possible to get into the ball park, I think, and discover how we might be trying too hard. 
By putting the tips of your two index fingers together and pushing so they bend back until there is the onset of pain. Let’s call this 50% strain. (It’s a stab in the dark but a reasonable assumption – choose a different number if you want.) Try again and only push half as hard for 25%. Reduce the effort by half for 12.5% and repaet and half that for 6.25%. Its not very much by the time you get to 6%, maybe this is the illusive intention for those of us struggling with whatnthat might mean. 
You can also try  to find 6% strain with this method on an IS exercise of your choice if you think it’s relevant.
Understanding 6% or intention benefits other IS exercises that aim to recruit deep rather than surface muscles. For example, opening the hips (or that component of the qua), where applying too much effort tends to recruit superficial muscles. You can explore this by placing your hands on your buttocks or glutes (or other muscle of choice) to ensure they remain relaxed as you practise. Using only 6% strain in opening the hips should ensure only deep muscles are engaged (with practise), whereas using more effort engages superficial muscles and is potentially counterproductive.
Anyway, the ideas above move from a reasonable scientific foundation to inference and conjecture by a relative IS neophyte. Please take what’s helpful if any and let me know about the rest. I would be grateful for your thoughts and comments to inform my personal practice.
Best Wishes,
Many thanks to Andrew, Mike and Aran for feedback in the writing
The papers
Find then on google scholar, you may need an .edu.x domain to download for free though
Programmable mechanical stimulation influences tendon homeostasis in a bioreactor system
Tao Wang1, Zhen Lin1,2, Robert E. Day3,Bruce Gardiner4, Euphemie Landao-Bassonga1, Jonas Rubenson5, Thomas B. Kirk6, David W. Smith4, David G. Lloyd7,Gerard Hardisty8, Allan Wang9, Qiujian Zheng2 andMing H. Zheng1,*
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013, DOI: 10.1002/bit.24809, Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Biotechnology and Bioengineering
Volume 110, Issue 5, pages 1495–1507, May 2013
Identification of functional programmable mechanical stimulation (PMS) on tendon not only provides the insight of the tendon homeostasis under physical/pathological condition, but also guides a better engineering strategy for tendon regeneration. The aims of the study are to design a bioreactor system with PMS to mimic the in vivo loading conditions, and to define the impact of different cyclic tensile strain on tendon. Rabbit Achilles tendons were loaded in the bioreactor with/without cyclic tensile loading (0.25 Hz for 8 h/day, 0–9% for 6 days). Tendons without loading lost its structure integrity as evidenced by disorientated collagen fiber, increased type III collagen expression, and increased cell apoptosis. Tendons with 3% of cyclic tensile loading had moderate matrix deterioration and elevated expression levels of MMP-1, 3, and 12, whilst exceeded loading regime of 9% caused massive rupture of collagen bundle. However, 6% of cyclic tensile strain was able to maintain the structural integrity and cellular function. Our data indicated that an optimal PMS is required to maintain the tendon homeostasis and there is only a narrow range of tensile strain that can induce the anabolic action. The clinical impact of this study is that optimized eccentric training program is needed to achieve maximum beneficial effects on chronic tendinopathy management. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 1495–1507. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Lumbar erector spinae oxygenation during prolonged contractions: implications for prolonged work
SM McGill, RL Hughson, K Parks – Ergonomics, 2000 – Taylor & Francis
… HICKS, A., MCGILL, SM and HUGHSON, R. 1999, Forearm muscle blood ¯ ow and … and magnitude of blood ¯ow changes in the human quadriceps muscles following isometric …LANOCE, V. and CHANCE, B. 1989, Noninvasive detection of skeletal muscle underperfusion with …

Winter Retreat in Pictures

Aikido Republic Winter Retreat 2014A wonderful weekend away, a time to regroup, spend time with families, do some excellent training and cogitating for the future.

Many thanks to Sunter and Nicholls Sensei for guest instruction, the naughty chef for excellent fare and everyone for making the trip away. Sadly it was a time to formally farewell Eric and Alison as the prepae to move to new Zealand . We love you guys, come and visit us often!
A weekend in photos courtesy of Simon, Neil, Charlie and Dan. Please enjoy and let us know if you would like any taken down

Instructor accreditation programmes

Australian-Sports-Commission-BlueThe next NCAS instructor accreditation course is coming up. The National Coaching Accreditation Scheme (NCAS) is a program of the Australian Sports Commission and recognised by the Australian and all State and Territory Governments. The Australian Jujitsu Federation offers this accreditation for Jujitsu and related arts, of which Aikido is one. beyond being a good practiocner of your art, this course helps fill in some of the gaps. The course  includes: learning and development,  risk management,  appropriate legislation,  biomechanics,  physical development,  group management,  health and safety,  principles of skill analysis,  and more.

If your dojo or organisation doesn’t have an equivalent, then this isn’t a bad way to go. The next course in Qld is coming up in Augest. See


The Australian Sports Commission also offers a free online community coaching course as a starter




Winter Retreat (2wks away) and upcoming seminars

winter-retreat-2012-kumijoAfter our winter retreat fix in July the aikido calendar is really starting to fill up. Here’s a few goings on…

July 25-27th Aikido Republic Winter retreat

Yup its just under 2 weeks away so if you want a space in a bunk room and to book for the catered Saturday dinner, better book in soon! Day trippers welcome


August Internal Strength Seminar in Brisbane

Steve Seymour is here again from Sydney to Brisbane (at Brisbane Aikikai and Bayside Budokai) for an internal strength session with Michael Dyer (Tasmania Kenkyukai). We got our Internal Strength baseline  early last year in Sydney and a satisfactory report card in Brisbane recently.  (see Union of Opposites for his last visit)


October 4th weekend,  Sydney Aikido Friendship Seminar

Andrew Sunter is hosting a friendship seminar in Sydney with a really interesting lineup, we’ll be driving down for that one! Last time was a blast (See Sydney seminar 2013)


Our friends at Redlands dojo have advised Michael Williams sensei will be visiting the Brisbane area (Redlands) in October

Maruyama Sensei will be visiting the country of Tasmania, details on


Takeaway snacks for Aikido from a big week in Elite Sport

bentoIt was a big week this week at work much of it by coincidence a chance to revisit the much vaunted 10,000 hours to expertise (See earlier article )…if you do the math this means training twice a week, with the boat that brings = 50 years to some sort of expertise.
Can we do better?, yes argues Malcom Gladwell of ‘Outliers’ and David Epstein of ’The athlete Gene’ as they challenge the 10,000 hours, arguing the original research was highly variable from as short as 3,000 hours…to as long as well never. David gave a great TED talk on the subject you might enjoy.
Of course Aikido is a Budo and not a sport perse, but there is much dialogue and synergy in the pursuit of expertise and excellence.
What we learn from elite sport (See Aikido as an elite Sport ) can help us get there a bit quicker. Sometimes technology has a role to play (sometimes only as intellectual curiosity though). Here is a sword my lab instrumented a few years back, to which were added some biofeedback to improve learning outcomes. See the story on ABC Catalyst 
Anyways I caught up with some leading skill acquisition people last week at the QAS and Cricket Australia’s conference and a had a quick lunch with David Epstein which really got me thinking. See the full story here

Encountering the Spiral Downunder and in Middle Earth with Gleason Sensei

vlcsnap-2014-06-27-13h07m32s40Encountering the Spiral Downunder and in Middle Earth with Gleason Sensei by Michael Nash

In a small change room in Sydney is my first encounter with a humble yet genius martial artist. We shake hands, like all really great artists he is engaging yet unassuming and down to earth.

I think to myself that is Bill Gleason I just meet…. no entourage…. no fanfare, no star dressing room. We had come a long way to meet him and the engagement never stopped from that point onwards.Sensei Gleason was in Sydney for a 3 day seminar hosted by Steve Seymour from Aikido Kenkyukai Sydney in Balmain. Steve was generous enough to let the Queenslanders come to the “secret Friday night session” prior to the main event over the three day weekend.

This simple gesture was well received as many of us were a little nervous venturing into enemy territory during a State of Origin campaign.


The Balmain venue was perfect for the twenty odd we had on the mat and the regulars to the dojo were extremely welcoming. With the smaller numbers Sensei Gleason was able to review some basics that he wanted us to grasp so we were up to speed.

You know that feeling when you break up to attempt to recreate what Sensei has just spent five minutes explaining and demonstrating, and he walks toward you, but before he gets to you he says, ” Ok, Ok” and we all stop………  only for the concept / technique to be demonstrated again.

He then proceeds to say something like “Not like this”, and you know that it was you doing it ” NOT like this” rinse and repeat …….. ” DO like this”.  That happened a lot.




Despite our inadequacies the basics of  where the power comes from, rotating femurs was relentless, it sunk in a little. It had not struck me then, but now a few days post seminars I know the message. How many times have you been told be soft, …………don’t use your shoulders………. don’t push…….. don’t pull. Well, many of you may not have been told as many times as I have, but NEVER are you told HOW to achieve this state. !!!!!!

The message is a simple one, the power comes from your legs specifically your rotating femurs generally in opposing directions, keeping the hips square, working with a connected upper body. Sounds easy … isn’t…. but it is formidable. Keeping it very simplistic, this allows you to relax the shoulders completely and your opponent cannot tell where the power is coming from.


There is of course much more to this and the attendees are expected to have a basic understanding of  what is termed internal power.Sensei is creating opposing spirals within his body through his hara, and this gives birth to aiki…….. now where have I heard that before ?? Once you discover this reality you are free to relax the upper body and the driving force becomes the lower body, it is the answer to being soft yet powerful, the quest all Aikidoka seek.


It is not for me to elaborate or attempt to explain this in more detail, but be sure it runs very deep and the combinations are endless. What is clear to me though is that a simple explanation can now be offered to those who want to be soft yet powerful……. it takes the art beyond technique and therefore allows you to move into a mode of training without restriction…….. never endingly so!


I had the pleasure of doing it all again in New Zealand this time under the invitation of  Henry Lynch and Riai Aikido in Auckland. You could not find a more friendly and welcoming group, I will be forever grateful to Henry and Danny for there hospitality. Some of us need to be shown things more than once,…. that is why I backed up again in New Zealand, you never know how many opportunities you get in this life to encounter people like Bill Gleason so I jumped in again, along with quite a few of the Sydney crew.

As the Thai’s say “same.. same but different”,  Sensei’s Gleason’s explanations were similar but each time you here him he has a slightly different anecdote or reference it helps embellish the main points. His grasp and back catalogue of information in our art is breathtaking.


The quotes : “never retreat’, “technique comes about if uke is skilled enough to avoid the atemi”,  “mind is in the hands”  are all very descriptive and help solidify his principles. Watching Sensei it seemed all things were a spiral, they all began to look the same, they are !!  Why is it so difficult then to master?


I think I made small steps in grasping some of the principles as the… “Ok Ok’s ”  coming from  Sensei Gleason were less a result of my efforts as the seminar progressed. This meeting for me helped me see the principles I had been exposed to last year in Hawaii with a man who is equally driven to get Aiki back into the martial arts.

At some points it was a little like deja- vu, watching Sensei Gleason in action, the movements are universal.  Only this time it was specific to Aikido, and connects a lot of the dots. Sensei Bill Gleason is especially passionate that the art continue in all its technical aspects and traditions, just that it be done including all that the founder intended.

His mastery of Aikido is something everyone should encounter at some point in their journey and his acknowledgement of past and current influences coupled with the classic beginners mind, is an inspiration.

The other aspect that Sensei Gleason made comment on and is indeed a change in thinking was the fact in Sydney we had eight different “styles” on the mat and I believe five or more varieties co -habituating in New Zealand. This co-operation and adoption of key principles across multiple styles is a refresher that needs to be congratulated and encouraged.

Many thanks to Sensei Gleason, Evan, Steve, Henry, Danny, and all those great people who took the time to taste real Aikido in a modern context.

Michael Nash





Winter Retreat July 25-27 with Guests Sunter and Nicholls Sensei

Bell Misogi - Winter retreat 2011

Bell Misogi – Winter retreat 2011


Kumijo Winter retreat 2012


Pre dinner fireside Winter retreat 2013

Hi Everyone,

An open invitation to our 4th Winter retreat. Winter retreat is just a few short weeks away. This year we will have both Andrew Sunter and Jim Nicholls Sensei as guest Instructors. This years retreat will examine the purpose behind Kata, weapons training and the meditation disciplines as well as on Sunday morning a led open discussion on Budo and community in the West

You are welcome to come for the full weekend of a day. Camping should be booked via the Biggriggen website. Bunkrooms through the dojo,  Costs are $15/bed/night which you can pay to me on arrival. The Saturday night dinner err.. feast is $25 which i’ll need before so the Naughty Chef  can do all the shopping.