Keep your muscles relaxed, and only tighten them to finish an already successful move.
Be mindful of your muscle tension. Pay conscious attention to whether you are tensing up, or being relaxed and fluid. In almost all situations, being relaxed is the right option.
You want to avoid tensing your muscles because:
- it fatigues your muscles
- a tense limb is easier for your opponent to control and manipulate
- a high-level opponent will sense your muscle tension and use it to predict your next move.
Muscle tension is a natural fight-or-flight response to danger. It’s common, and natural, to tense up when you feel threatened. This is why beginners are often tense when they roll. It takes discipline and training to learn to stay loose under pressure, calm under fire.
If you find yourself tensing up to complete a technique or defend yourself, this is a good indication you’re not doing the technique properly. You’re trying to rely on strength, rather than efficiency, to finish a technique. Work with your training partner to find the more efficient method.
There is one situation where you should tense your muscles: when you have successfully secured a technique, your opponent cannot defend it, and you are already being as efficient as possible. When a move is already being applied with maximum efficiency, it’s okay to use strength as an “exclamation mark” to amplify the power of the move.
- When to tense your muscles: To add a bit of power to an already efficiently-applied move
- When to relax your muscles: Literally every other situation.
“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” — Bruce Lee