Knee joints are the biggest joints of the human body. With several axes of mechanical load meeting, there they are one of the most mechanically complicated complexes of the body. Every day they bear tons of load, making thousands of movements that are not just flexing and extending.
Knees are strictly “ligamentous” joints. That means that their stability and basic functions are governed by ligaments and ligaments only. Muscles are only for precise and fluent joint play. Healthy muscles only – to our surprise – decelerate those joints, but also influence their range of movement if they are not elastic enough to let them work in their natural range of movements.
To any aikidoka in the world, suwari techniques are also historical connection with tradition of Japan. It is a part of inherent integrity of AIKIDO.
Since aikido techniques do not involve mechanically fully flexed or extended joints they work in semi-flexed and semi-extended positions. For knees, this means we are in an unstable situation that deserves more attention than locking in maximal extension or flexion. And here is the moment where we need good muscle action.
Since almost all techniques (if not all) are performed in slightly flexed-knees positions, knees are very hard workers that do need to be taken care of tenderly and well. What is the meaning of that expression? What does it contain on the very bottom?
From my point of view that means:
1. good warm-ups before each aikido session and good session ending to calm down the joints,
2. stretching routine as a part of each aikdoka’s life to keep the joints soft and endure enough to stand the weight of her/his body moving sometimes very fast, sometimes in very low positions,
3. proper tissue softness of all muscles surrounding knees (rear thigh muscle group, quadriceps muscles and calf muscles).
Now a little bit of function facts:
1. quadriceps muscles are not the most important knee muscles despite common opinions on this fact – they pass exactly the midline of the knee joint (crossing patella) and cannot do any stabilisation action because of this; they significantly decelerate flexion of the joint,
2. calf muscles along with rear thing muscles are major knee extensors on the condition of placing your foot flat on the ground; knee joint is the strongest when foot is placed on the floor with all rear muscles engaged,
3. external thigh muscle groups can generate unnecessary friction between patella and femur bone and need to be as soft and relaxed as possible (it does not equal to weak),
4. knee joints are “receivers” from hip joints that means that any – even minimal – functional changes within hip joints will reflect in knees (you may not realize there is something wrong going on within the hips but feel discomfort in the knees – it may appear as symptoms typical to knee injuries as well),
5. knees respond to lower back and pelvic disfuntions and we must be aware of this fact too when talking of knee structural and functional pathology.
When applying aikido techniques knee joints act like springs and they must be springy enough to cope with this demand. The ease of using them comes together with grace of the whole body. And grace is consequence of the whole body condition. Since the locomotor system reflects our spiritual state (mixture of emotional heritage and presence), movement patterns may differ from day to day as well. Speed, precision and gentleness connected with firmness are also a part of knee joint function. Treating your knees good is a part of every aikidoka’s life. Be good to your knees.