SELF-PROCLAIMED sheep whisperer and shearer Pera Davies would like to see the world’s shearers hitting the yoga mats during their breaks.
The New Zealand shearer has applied martial arts philosophy and yoga to shearing in a unique combination of mind-body techniques called ‘Stand and Deliver – Shear-Jitsu’.
His 12-month contract with Australian Wool Innovation, initiated with the support of AWI shearing industry development co-ordinator Jim Murray, finishes at the end of this month. It involved showing his techniques to shearers and shearer trainers in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, and developing four instructional videos.
Catching and dragging heavy sheep, tiredness, back pain and injury risk are endured by shearers the world over to harvest wool, but Pera (pronounced Peta) Davies believes he has solutions for physical problems caused by traditional sheep handling methods.
By taking out some of the “hurry”, pain, and injury risk out of shearing, he believes his Shear-Jitsu techniques and philosophy can help shearers to deal with the frustration, fatigue, practices and attitudes leading to mistreatment and injuries, and drug use to manage pain or tiredness.
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Pera, 55, has been shearing for almost 40 years and has shorn almost two million sheep, but in 1986 “nine years into the game” when and his wife had their first baby and a mortgage, lower back involving his L4, L5 and S1 vertebrae stopped him from working.
“It’s the most common injury in shearing and which puts everyone out of shearing.
“To get over the injury I had to get smart.”
Martial arts techniques with science equals Shear-Jitsu
With the help of his brother Dwayne now a successful Karate instructor he applied Jui Jitsu martial arts techniques and philosophies to shearing to develop Shear-Jitsu. Pera enlisted the help of his son Mal, a degree graduate in sports and exercise science, to examine him and put the science behind Shear-Jitsu to help him understand his injury, spinal structure and dynamics.
“I’ve kept it simple, but we can target every stretch to the muscle.”
Pera recovered from his injuries enough to attempt a world nine-hour strong wool ewe record in 1989, shearing 604 sheep to miss the mark by one. To get back shearing, Pera had to learn new techniques and develop a daily management plan, taking a holistic approach – to create a system “kinder” to sheep and shearer.
“There are three things you have to do; you have to understand what’s happening, then you have to learn how to manage that and then you learn the technique.
“You have to be educated on injuries to understand the injury and manage the injury,” he said.
Time and body management starts in the catching pen
Pera Davies’ Stand and Deliver – Shear-Jitsu system involves time and body management techniques, including yoga stretches, that help a shearer to prevent injury to themselves and the sheep. This involved firstly walking sheep to the front of the pen, then dragging for only a short distance in a straight line to minimise knee, back, hip and joint stress. The yoga stretches aim to rehydrate back discs; increase flexibility, digestion, blood and oxygen circulation, and; calm the mind.
“We are developing yoga mats to go with the resources.
“Yoga calms the mind and we need to slow down,” he said.
“At the moment they are shearing like a courier van driver and they run everywhere, but we don’t need to run – that’s part of the holistic approach.”
The Shear-Jitsu exercises also helped the gradual release of nitrogen from joints, one cause of joints ‘cracking’.
“Shearing doesn’t start on the board, it starts in the pen and unless you address that you are not going to address shearing.”
Pera said there was a discipline needed in shearing around respect for animals.
“We have to work with animals, not fight with them.
“I actually call myself a sheep whisperer – I teach sheep handling in a good way,” he said.
“I call it the art of shearing with softness.”
Shear-Jitsu technique means power
Pera stands about 174cm high and weighs around 82kg, but with his techniques maintains he can handle any sheep including those far heavier than himself, without injury.
“I get inspiration from a guy called Royce Gracie from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who was the same weight as me and yet won the United Fighting Championship 1, 2 and 4 titles (and drew in UFC 5) against bigger men.
“He developed a method of jiu-jitsu and took on the biggest men in the world and won, which proved to me that it doesn’t matter how big you are, if you have technique, technique will always be power,” he said.
Shear-Jitsu promoted the concept that a smaller weaker person can successfully influence a bigger stronger sheep by using proper technique and leverage, he said.
“If a shearer uses hardness to counter the force of a stressed animal both sides are certainly to be injured at least to some degree,” he said.
“Shearers are taught to meet it in softness, follow its motion until the stressed animal exhausts itself or can be safely redirected, principles of yin and yang,” Pera said.
“The technique Stand and Deliver speaks for itself; I walk the sheep out, instead of dragging the sheep out.”
Change will be generational
Pera said it was practice of dragging sheep out to be shorn that was killing the industry.
“Unless the industry gets rid of the drag, we will always have the L4-L5-S1 injury that puts shearers out of work.”
Recognising that it was difficult to “teach an old dog new tricks”, Pera said there was a need to develop Shear-Jitsu culture in the next generation of shearers and farmers.
“I believe it will be a generational change, but it won’t be a long one, once the attitude is out there.
“We are not going to change the old boys, but we can change the new generation and the next ones coming on through education.”
Pere said Shear-Jitsu met AWI’s productivity and animal husbandry objectives, “because I believe it is easier on you and it is easier on the sheep.”
Pera said the Shear-Jitsu principles can also benefit all shed staff and others outside the wool industry. There was also a need for Shear-Jitsu train-the-trainer program and a need to talk with wool shed builders – see Ballarat University’s 1998 report “The ergonomics of sheep shearing’.
“You know 80 percent of the world’s population suffers chronic back pain, shearers think they are the only ones, but they’re not.”
Pera believes Shear-Jitsu has given him the confidence to believe he has a lot more shearing in his legs and back.
“I’ve got as long as I want.
“I’m in charge.”
Contractor teams lining up for Shear-Jitsu
Mr Murray said Pera’s involvement with AWI would be ongoing, including expanding his role to train novice shearers.
“If we introduce Shear-Jitsu or other new technology at that novice level, hopefully they will be more accepting of it and willing to take it on.”
Several contractors wanted their entire teams to undertake ‘Stand and Deliver – Shear Jitsu’ training,” he said.
“What Pera has done is formalise what some of us used to do occasionally but without any discipline.
“He’s packaged it up very very nicely and it dead-set works,” Mr Murray said.
“This is something that everybody can take on, which doesn’t cost any money; it’s change of mindset, change of technique, it doesn’t slow you down – it’s a good thing.”
Mr Murray said sheep were not going to get any smaller.
“So we’ve got to come up with ways and means of addressing those risk factors and what Pera’s is doing basically eliminates catch-and-drag injuries because you are not putting that dead-weight on your body.”
Next week Pera will take Shear-Jitsu to France for the first time to continue his mission.
“I’m being proactive by taking it to people who do want it.
“It should be in every woolshed in every country everywhere,” he said.
“But it’s for everyone, I reckon my best market is actually white collar workers.”