It’s been a while since I have done a training themed post. With the onset of a series of fresh lectures by my Sensei about Ukemi, I thought I’d chime in with my own personal journey.
Ukemi is one of the most important components of being an Aikido practitioner, it is also from my experiences with other teachers one of the most abstract – and consequently misunderstood – aspects of the martial art. I might expand on this in the future, but for now I’m going to share with you some of the insights that I have witnessed, experienced, failed at, and done in terms of Ukemi.
What is Ukemi?
Ukemi is also the art of protecting oneself during the fall. You see all these spectacular turns, rolls, and falls by aikidoka and you may wonder: “It’s all flashy stuff, but it is real?” My friends, from the injuries that I’ve sustained from not doing ukemi, I will attest that it is quite real.
Ukemi by itself is translated loosely as “receiving with the body”. For a more technical translation view here at Aikiweb. The art itself, for those of us who train in it, is composed of two people – partners: Uke and Nage.
Uke: The person coming in with the “attack” and “receiving the technique” according to the situation.
Nage: The person receiving the “attack” and “executing” the technique.
These are just general translations. I will also get into the “attack” part later.
A good Uke leads to a good Nage. A great Uke leads to a great Nage.
~ J.Wada Sensei
But not necessarily the reverse. Running with this way of being it’s been an interesting ride so far with my Sensei and the senior black belts in the school. Ukemi is emphasized so much here that I have gotten scolded by my Sensei in front of the class for not coming in with a full body presence.
How is Ukemi done?
You see, Ukemi is not falling. This is a big part of the misconception of it in the art, the “falling part”. Most often times you fall in order to protect yourself from the motion of the technique. Take this in mind: some guys are hard-hitting – dominating guys, some are soft – more inclined to help you, most are somewhere in the middle. No matter the person – or body type, one should not simply cave in. The practitioner has to be present in the moment, allowing the body to be included in the movement. In the almost 3 years at this dojo it has been journey (still is) allowing my body to do this.
Take for example salmon going upstream to their breeding grounds/graveyards. If you look at the salmon they aren’t simply going with the flow. If they were they’d simply be swept downstream. Yet they are not fighting the water either – just watch them. They are “going with the flow”, yet to the untrained eye their behavior and actions would contradict this statement (that is so often used in Aikido circles). That’s the best I can describe the feeling.
Ukemi is simply the honest expression of the person who’s simulating the “attack” – one who is allowing themselves coming in with full presence, to be taken into the technique and taken out – either by rolling, falling, etc . Think of every exchange between Uke and Nage as a conversation, as my Sensei would explain it. Honestly I agree with him – and him (there’s two of them).
When I come into “attack” my Sensei or my partners, I allow myself to have the intention of coming in at them. Even at slow speeds and with new people, it is imperative that all incoming Ukes know that their movements simulate an “attacker”. Often times I find myself working with white belts and for my practice as well as improving theirs, I always take the time to show, demonstrate, and have them experience what it’s like to come in on someone with intention.
When one is “attacking”, the uke is balanced; when one is receiving the attack, they are balanced. If one is unbalanced (all it takes it one partner to throw the system off), then it throws off the whole practice. You see unlike most other martial arts where the point is to attack the “opponent” and take them down and hurt them in the shortest amount of time possible, Aikido’s aim is to have its practitioners achieve balance within themselves – a body/mind balance that is one part of a process of growth and evolution in that person.
How can I expect you to prepare for imbalance when you’re not balanced to receive it.
~ R. Nadeau Sensei
Among all of this activity of attack and receiving the attack, uke and nage are balanced. Not just in stance, but in body/mind harmony, their own energies, and that of the situation. As Nadeau Sensei has stated many times (I’ve lost count), the main themes of Aikido is achieve body/mind harmony balance. Now don’t get me wrong; there’s value in the experience of chaotic “street” situations where all hell breaks loose, your adrenaline hits the sky, and you throw every notion in the book out the window in 0.0003 seconds flat. These situations are lacking in many martial arts school and need to be addressed – I for one would love to delve into ways on how to handle high stress situations. Yet in the “typical” rough-and-tumble, put-em-down-keep-em-down martial arts, you simply are not geared toward achieving inner balance, whether martially or otherwise.
There’s still lots to be said about Ukemi. There’s the aspect (of lack of) kuzushi, balance, body/mind harmony, etc. If any of you want, I can delve into any of these into as much detail as my experience allows me to. My personal Ukemi is constantly changing – evolving. If someone were to have asked me what ukemi was six months ago I wouldn’t be this deep or detailed. If any of you would ask me what ukemi is to me six months from now I willing to bet money that my answer will be different from the explanation here. A good example of this would be how my rolls have changed since I started almost three years back. When I began I was the typical white belt – my rolls hurt me more than they helped me. Now I can say with relative confidence that they’ve smoothed out a little yet I can only hope that they will improve with the years to come.
Till next time ladies and gents!