Oct
01

“Advantages of seiza and shikko in the eyes of a physiotherapist,” by Bartłomiej Gajowiec

morihei-ueshiba-seizaSeiza, the basic sitting position in Far East culture, and shikko – simply speaking – knee walking, are two fundamentals of aikido.

Many parents and dojo members ask me if these exercises are healthy and harmless to the locomotor system. My answers come from anatomy and physiology, as always.

Seiza

The hips are the key to those answers in aikido, as a martial art. As we sit in seiza, the hips control the pelvic girdle while in a relaxed position. And as we know, the pelvis is the basic supporting structure of the spine. If the spine rests upon a correctly positioned pelvis, it will not need much effort to remain vertical, harmonious and balanced.

In seiza, the whole body is positioned for correct breathing, especially, breathing that reaches the pelvic floor which is how we understand to be the correct way of breathing. That places seiza far ahead of any other sitting positions, no matter how modern and technicaly developed chairs are used. Seiza relieves your spine from the stress of chairs, car seats, sofas. It allows the spine to use its whole mobility potential, elasticity and softness.

Shikko – knee walking

From my point of view I see only advantages to this exercise.

So I start with the hips again: the hips connect your legs with your pelvis performing movements with the short rotator muscles (external and internal), and help to control the centre of gravity. That is the answer to stability in all techniques no matter they are executed whether at a low or high level. The short but very strong muscles of the hips need to be elastic and strong to cope with the challenge of coordinating our locomotor system. Thanks to these muscles, our body does what we need it to do, the right side of it communicating with the left, the upper with the lower. The hips are simply the locomotive brain of the human body. When shikko is performed correctly, the body posture is balanced and the spine is not forced to make unnecessary and harmful movements. And if we manage to connect shikko with proper breathing, the body will thank us for that with grace.

What about the knees? Is there a problem?

The knees in seiza and shikko are properly and safely locked, so their sensitive construction and function are not in danger in any way. Seiza is immobility and does not place the joints at risk. Nothing bad happens to the knees while sitting in seiza. When moving, we use only a small but extreme part of the total range of joint movements. As I often repeat, if we decrease the range of movement of any joint, it leads to joint limitations and inefficiency of movement. This is a part of degenerative disease. The knee patella is safe in both seiza and shikko and there is no need to worry about its surfaces or anything else.

And what about the feet?

The feet are not a concern either. In seiza, we place them in a position of extreme flexion that helps to preserve passive movement for years. In shikko, we support the body weight on the joints that connect the toes with the middle part of feet in a way that promotes all foot dynamics and passive strength. This exercise also stimulates the long and short foot muscles to function properly. Strong and elastic feet equal long life for these body parts. And when we step into older age, these parts will work much much better than feet that lack the correct shape. Extreme range of toe movement results in excellent leg extension, and easy and long steps and the ability to walk lightly without the need for compensation using the hips, pelvis or spine.

Conclusion

bartolomeij-gajowiecBoth seiza and shikko have been tested for centuries by Far East movement masters and have proved their value. Both exercises are excellent for promoting health and conditioning the body. Several thousands years of tests cannot be wrong. To preserve the elasticity and longevity of the hips and knees, we should practice seiza and shikko. As an illustration, ask some of your colleagues to walk across the dojo in shikko if they are not familiar with this exercise. This will display the side effects of prolonged sitting while resting or working and not working out. It is worth the effort to abandon our sofas, chairs and beds and land on the floor to take care of the most important aspects of our physical and emotional body. It is there to serve us for a lifetime. It is also a part of what I understand to be physical awareness and care of the body.

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Comments

  1. Keith McInnis says:

    Wonderfully informative, scientific analysis of the benefits of seiza and shikko. I’d love to see a follow-up on the issues many of us face such as ankle stress, tingling and numbness and toe extension.I know the common response is if you have these symptoms you’re doing it wrong. I wonder … I started martial arts as a child and even when I was 10 I couldn’t get my toes to curl under and try as I might to stretch them I still barely manage to get them to flex in the way I see so many others doing! I accommodate by using the ‘flat’ of my foot (the top). The benefit of that is I’m less likely to get an injury by hyperextending the toes in a fall during suwariwaza. Still…it does make me feel like I’m cheating! The points about knee stress, hip flexion and spine positioning are really important. When new people come in from dozens of hours per week of sitting they initially have trouble in seiza. As they adjust they comment on their low back improving and that when they work now they will sit differently in a chair and get up more often. Another example of the health benefits of Aikido training!

  2. What if you sit in seiza and your posterior does not touch your heels? And you cannot flatten your feet so that they are fully flat on the ground???

  3. Dianti henri says:

    “Both seiza and shikko have been tested for centuries by Far East”
    Tested 99% only by Japanese you should say.

  4. John Hillson says:

    A good article. Some thoughts – as a Shodan, I was wanting to get my toes to bend more like Mr McInnis wanted, and I tried to sit more in Shikko-dachi. I found that I had developed some arthritis in my toe joints from years of skiing, and all I got from trying to force the toe further was not more stretching, but rather more bone on bone and worsening arthritis. Smaller joints are harder to correct with existing surgical options so they are better off being protected.

    While this level of flexibility is helpful and healthy, any exercise can be contraindicated if the joints used are injured or unhealthy. Swimming is something to approach very carefully if you have a shoulder injury; seiza and shikko are not automatically healthy for knees that have already had some injury. Another issue is the duration of exercise – some of the marathon sessions do cut off blood supply. Some of O Sensei’s students have had feet amputated, some have had strokes.

    I advocate a ten minute session of suwari- waza on a regular basis and no longer. ( Like any other exercise – regular walking is more healthful than extended marathons unless you have specifically trained for such extended sessions.).

    A larger question for me was why do it? Suwariwaza is a good adjunct to newaza, hanmihandachi is a good way to explore a physically superior opponant, and working from the knees isolates the expression of the hands more so than the legs. For modern uses, people have to be able to function from behind a variety of cover.

    Many of the same structural things from seiza can be explored in standing meditation, and this makes Aikido more accessible to the larger population. For myself, when I could meditate from standing I did not find injuries distracting me from my internal practice.

    While shikko sees some strong advocates, in wartime Japan soldiers were probably wearing boots. Yoshinkan started off as a security firm, and the variations in the pins practiced are all appropriate for people in boots.

    • Other thoughts – meditation benches can provide the same postural benefits as described for seiza above. As we are a martial art, everything posture wise described for seiza and shikko should be possible for students to practice from standing, from Hanmi, from moving.