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How to Stay Relaxed During Judo and Jiu Jitsu (Ann Arbor)

Consider your martial arts experience:
    ⁃    Do you find yourself panicking during falls, joint locks, choke holds, testing, or randori (free practice)?
    ⁃    Is your movement so tense and rigid that it is difficult to execute techniques?
    ⁃    Do you ever feel so stressed that your breathing gets shallow, your heart rate increases rapidly, and you get light-headed?

The good news is that your body has developed useful mechanisms to keep you safe. However, the same fight-flight-freeze reactions that might have been beneficial thousands of years ago can be detrimental in modern society.

One of the biggest examples is the physiological response of stress.

The Benefits of Exercise-Induced Stress

During intense exercise, there is a release of endogenous stress proteins that prime the body's immune system. In other words, exercise boosts the body's ability to defend itself. One research paper wrote, "If one were a gazelle running across a savanna being chased by a lion, your body would experience activation of stress hormones… If you were wounded during the escape, the endogenous stress proteins would prime the innate immune response thus improving the efficiency of the immune response" (M. Fleshner, J. Campisi, & J. Johnson, 14).

Arm locks are fun, too.

Good stress releases small amounts of cortisol that improve memory. For example, if you have ever burned yourself, you can vividly remember the sharp pain and smell of singed flesh. Now you probably avoid similar situations to keep from burning yourself.

In another study, heat-induced stress improved athletic performance. Oxygen consumption was more efficient (increased VO2 max), metabolic rates increased, and the cardiovascular system was enhanced.

However, although the body's adaptation towards stress is usually beneficial in short lengths, it is dangerous when it is chronic.


Avoiding Distress

Chronic stress, also known as distress, is detrimental to the immune and cardiovascular systems, mental functions, and the aging process.

According to a Stanford article, it is important to allow the body to return to a resting state for a sufficient amount of time. Most exercise programs have scheduled recovery days. If you are new to martial arts, try to schedule recovery days in your training regime to avoid overtraining.

Balancing Stress and Relaxation

In order to balance stress and move with fluidity, here are a few tips to consider trying:

Upright posture is linked to feelings of power and alertness.

1. Monitor Posture

In a TED Talk, Amy Cuddy discusses how posture impacts the way the brain functions. Posture that is considered high-power increases certain hormones linked to feelings of power and higher risk taking. In a corollary study, researchers found that subjects who felt powerless had impaired executive functions. In other words, the people who lacked power were more likely to make mistakes and less able to plan.

Some signs of tension during Judo are raised shoulders and the "old man" back slump. Aside for the psychological impact, it's more difficult to breathe properly when the rib cage is constricted. During groundwork, keeping  straight back not only

2. Positive Thoughts
A Yale study found that participants moved faster when they perceived an event as positive, rather than negative. Attitude influences behavior!

Martial artists often focus on the profound connection between thought and action. Koichi Tohei said, "Be vigorous and full of energy, and make ceaseless efforts. This means that little things do not discourage you and that you approach all things boldly and with an attitude of determination."

3. Follow the Rules
According to the Social Self-Preservation Theory, when people believe that they will be negatively perceived, their cortisol levels increase and makes recovery more difficult. In one study, "Individuals who posses qualities that are valued by the group are positively regarded, respected, and esteemed by others and have high social standing. Conversely, those that lack these valued attributes or have undesired characteristics receive signals of rejection or disinterest from group members and are lower on the social hierarchy." One way of doing this quickly in martial arts is sticking with etiquette: it makes it safer for you and others!


Presence of mind during fall.

4. Pay Attention to Breathing
In a study that examined people with anxiety and panic disorders, researchers found that shallow breathing made the subjects more anxious. However, simply paying attention to breathing immediately lowered the respiratory rate. This also lowered muscular tension in the body.

During Judo randori (free practice), novices hold their breath. Not only does this keep the body from providing oxygen to extremities, but it also sends a signal to the brain that something is wrong. People often experience panic and light-headedness when they forget to breathe. Exhale on the break fall. Tap out if someone puts a good chokehold on you.


5. Watch Your Nutrition
Make sure you eat enough! In a study on dancers, researchers found that dancers with restrictive eating disorders suffered more stress fractures than other dancers. On the flip side, dietary-induced obesity made recovering from cardiovascular activity more difficult. Don't let your waistline deter you, though. In a study on weight loss and exercise in middle-aged people, muscular recovery improved within 16-weeks.

For more information on our Judo and Jiu Jitsu (Ann Arbor) programs, contact info@japanesemartialartscenter.com.

Serving Southeast Michigan:

JMAC students come to practice from throughout Southeast Michigan, from such areas as:

  • Ann Arbor
  • Birmingham
  • Bloomfield
  • Brighton
  • Canton
  • Chelsea
  • Clinton Township
  • Detroit
  • Dexter
  • Dundee
  • Fenton
  • Fowlerville
  • Grass Lake
  • Howell
  • Inkster
  • Jackson
  • Lansing
  • Livonia
  • Manchester
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  • Monroe
  • Novi
  • Okemos
  • Pinckney
  • Plymouth
  • Rochester
  • Romulus
  • Saline
  • Southfield
  • Tecumseh
  • Troy
  • Whitmore Lake
  • Wixom
  • Ypsilanti
  • University of Michigan
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Michigan State University
  • Washtenaw Community College
  • Oakland Community College
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Ann Arbor - Martial Arts Mecca

For the prospective martial arts student, Ann Arbor is a mecca in the Midwest. More than any other location in Michigan, Ann Arbor has a wide variety of martial arts styles taught by many well respected sensei (teachers). You can find training opportunities at community centers, college and university gyms, health clubs, fitness centers and dojos (training halls). Among the styles available are: aikido, iaido, judo, jiu-jitsu (also called jujutsu), karate, kendo, kung fu, MMA (mixed martial arts, sometimes called BJJ) tae kwon do, tai chi, and many westernized martial arts systems. At JMAC, we offer world class instruction in judo, jiu-jitsu, iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), and karate for kids.


Aikido is a martial arts descended from jiu-jitsu. It includes joint locks, throws, takedowns, and pins. The philosophy of aikido is a peaceful one - to use the attacker’s energy to neutralize his or her attack without causing injury. Aikido is taught in several forms, such as Aikikai, Ki Society, and Yoshinkan. Aikido was founded by Ueshiba Morihei, who studied with Takeda Sokaku, the most famous practitioner of Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu. Its principles can be found in almost every Japanese martial art, especially jiu-jitsu and judo. Read more about the physical and philosophical principles of Nihon Jujutsu.

Iaido in Ann Arbor

Iaido is Japanese sword drawing. It was created by the Samurai to defend against surprise attacks by an armed opponent. Most iaido involves the practice of pre-arranged forms, which are excellent tools for training the body, improving concentration, and entering into a meditative state. Finding a talented instructor in iaido with legitimate credentials is rare … in the Midwest it’s practically unheard of. For those with a desire to compete in swordsmanship for sport, kendo is the activity of choice. Those who are willing to endure an occasional whack on the head may pursue bokken kumite (sparring with wooden swords) with our director’s authorization once they reach black belt at JMAC. Read more about iaido at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Judo

Judo was founded by Professor Jigoro Kano. It is both a martial art and an Olympic sport. It includes throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes. It is among the most vigorous of martial arts and is very popular with children as well as adults. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers classes in judo for children as young as 6 years old, and for adults (starting at age 16). One fact not widely known is that sport judo is a narrow cross section of the complete art of judo. Proponents of the entire art, such as Satoh Tadayuki Sensei of Waseda University in Tokyo, recognize that the founder’s vision encompassed not only “judo” throws, but joint locks, takedowns, redirection, strikes, vital points, dynamic ukemi, kata, and weapons. Judo training at JMAC includes many of these opportunities. Read more about Judo at JMAC.

Ann Arbor Jiu-Jitsu (Jujitsu / Jujutsu)

Jujutsu - which is also written "jujitsu" and "jiu jitsu" - is the ancestor martial art of aikido and judo. Although it includes many of the techniques found in aikido, as well as many more combative techniques that did not find their way into aikido, the philosophy of jujutsu is more practical. Techniques are applied more directly, with a greater emphasis on pain compliance. Those who study jiu-jitsu over the long term improve their fitness, concentration, and ability to defend themselves. The Japanese Martial Arts Center offers serious jiu-jitsu classes for adults starting at age 16. You can learn more about the differences between Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiujitsu.

Karate – Kids Karate in Ann Arbor

Karate involves mainly strikes, kicks, and blocks. It was originally developed in the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa), and was later exported to Japan before finding its way around the world. Karate is an excellent martial art for those who prefer striking, and helps develop physical strength, stamina, and confidence. There are many forms of karate taught around the world today, including Shotokan, Shorin-ryu, Chito-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, and Kyokushinkai. If you’re looking for a way to help your child learn enthusiasm, fitness, discipline, and manners while having a lot of fun, consider the kids karate program at JMAC. We have an incredible core of talented instructors who have made it their business to inspire kids to be their best. Read more about our karate program for kids.


Kendo is a sport descended from Japanese swordsmanship. In Kendo, participants wear padded armor and attempt to score points by striking vital points with bamboo swords called "shinai." Practice is fast paced, involves much spirited shouting, and is a lot of fun. The Japanese Martial Arts Center does not offer kendo, but can refer you to a reputable kendo instructor in the area.

Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art that actually includes many sub-styles. Like karate, kung fu involves strikes, kicks, and blocks, but also includes many esoteric motions that can be applied to take down or otherwise defeat an opponent. Kung fu often appeals to imaginative people because of the many references to animal forms, but it is also a very challenging and practical martial art.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

MMA (mixed martial arts) to a modern competition-based collection of techniques. Most MMA schools teach striking as well as grappling. Although not a traditional martial art - and thus lacking many of the character development and spiritual aspects of ancient Asian arts - MMA is nevertheless a fantastic form of exercise and a lot of fun. Because many MMA fighters have employed judo and jujutsu successfully, the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers private instruction to top-level competitors as well as occasional workshops for our members.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do is the Korean counterpart to Japanese karate. As a striking art, it includes punches, kicks, and blocks, but typically Tae Kwon Do emphasizes more kicking than does karate. Competition (usually for points rather than full contact) is very common among Tae Kwon Do practitioners. It is an excellent form of exercise, but seems more susceptible to commercialization than more traditional arts such as aikido and iaido.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is another form of Chinese martial art. It is usually taught with slow, controlled movements and deep stances. There are many health benefits associated with Tai Chi, including strong bones, cardiovascular health, and calmness.

Getting Started in Martial Arts in Ann Arbor

If you are considering taking up martial arts, you will find many superb opportunities in and around Ann Arbor, including outlying cities such as Brighton, Canton, Howell, Northville, and Plymouth. Students from the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Cleary College, and even Michigan State University have supplemented their education with martial arts and found that the physical activity helps them concentrate on their studies. We think the Japanese Martial Arts Center offers the best programs in Michigan, but we’re interested in people who are willing to work hard and do what it takes to become truly accomplished. We encourage you to look around to find the martial arts club or school that best meets your needs.