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Aikido from the Inside Out



The art of falling

Ukemi is an active endeavor

Lower yourself intentionally

Breathe during ukemi

A common misconception among beginners is that ukemi, or the art of falling, is thought of as the passive, difficult, or the less desirable aspect of aikido practice. The "fun" part is throwing people. The boring part is getting thrown. But there is a different way to approach ukemi that will make it more interesting, considerably easier to learn and perform, and more effective.

Ukemi is an active endeavor

Even though, as uke, you are being thrown, ukemi is still an active endeavor. Uke really has two roles. The first is as the attacker. Uke needs to give a good, clean attack in order for nage to benefit from the practice. Learning to commit to your attacks is a study all its own. Once nage blends with your attack and starts to redirect it, your experience changes. Now you're not leading, but following. Nage has taken the lead and is directing your energy.

The mistake many beginners make at this point is that they become passive. They just let nage drag them around and toss them to the ground as though they were sacks of rice. As uke, you want to always be active. Instead of being pulled around and thrown to the ground, you realize a tremendous advantage if you actively following nage's lead, moving under your own power and direction. At some point, nage may do something to take your balance beyond recovery. Once you notice that your balance is going, you actively disengage your interaction with nage and lower yourself to the ground! Notice who's doing what in this description. Uke should always feel like he is in control, even when being thrown!

You always wants to feel in control, even when being thrown.

Lower yourself to the ground intentionally

Let's use shomen uchi ikkyo as an example. You give a good, clear attack to the top of your partner's head. As he performs the ikkyo, your body is bent over and your energy is directed to the ground. You can simply be slammed to the ground like a wet towel, or you can be active. To be active is to lower yourself to the ground intentionally. At each point you want to be in balance. Your partner is continually taking your balance and, by performing active ukemi, you are continually reestablishing your balance. This dance goes on all the way to the ground or to an immobilizing technique performed on you.

The tactical reason for this method of practice is that if your partner provides an opening, you are in position (that is, in control) to move through that opening. You may be able to reverse a technique on your partner if you are in balance and control of your own falling.

The method of active ukemi is very simple. Once you feel your balance going, don't resist. Take a step or two to recover your balance and then lower yourself, under your own control, to the mat. Of course, your speed will have to match your partner's.

To get a feel for what this is like, imagine you are uke. You strike at nage and imagine that he is performing a technique on you. Go through the movements of "his" takedown on you in slow motion. If you are performing the movements under your own control, you'll be able to stop and reverse the movement at any time. You want to have this feeling (control, reversibility) when someone is really throwing you.

If you can take ukemi this way, you provide a valuable aid to beginning students because you effectively "teach" them the throw or technique by the way you take the fall.

A more advanced version of ukemi is when you move in an unexpected direction (that is, not the place where nage expects you to fall) after losing your balance. This may upset nage's balance and suddenly nage is taking ukemi!

Breathe during ukemi

Breathing is very important in ukemi. If you hold your breath, your body won't be soft and limber and you'll wear yourself out. If your ukemi seems difficult, use your breath to help take the fall.

If you control your own ukemi, breathe, and stay relaxed with the feeling of ki flowing through you, ukemi will be a completely different experience. You may end up finding ukemi to be more fun than throwing!

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The martial aspect


©1993-1998 Howard Bornstein