Ukemi… the art of falling… or receiving or…

This is a repost of a response I gave as part of a discussion on ukemi initiated from the post by Aikidojournal…/shihonage-show-vs-realism-…/ shared on FB here:

What follows is one of my (lengthy) responses.

In my opinion ukemi, although translating as “receiving (techniques )” is, in aikido, the result of three fundamental interconnected branches of ideas.
1. Basically ukemi should provide safe and challenging training environment. The ability of Uke to receive potentially severe techniques and the ability for Tori be able to ramp up the severity.

2. Since aikido is not merely about winning or loosing we aim to work together in training. All the time. Ukemi therefore should also serve and aid in that collaboration. It should provide the partners with a feedback loop of information relevant to the basic idea behind our techniques. It should provide a framework, such as where the angle of attack is, where the force is providing pressure, indication of intent and openings and so on, on which we can work to polish our techniques. If this is to be possible at any but the lowest level Uke has to be able to provide this feedback and be sensitive enough to receive the rebound from that feedback forming the loop. That demands a high level of sensitivity and mobility.

3. Ukemi should (or perhaps “could” is a better word) ultimately function as a tool for the person to be free of fear. With fear comes tension. Tension blocks the ability to connect with one’s own body which, in turn, prevent the ability to connect with a partner and, thus, takes away a necessary conditions for number 2 above. With a high level of ukemi it’s possible to be free of fear and finally be able to truly listen to the signals and movements in your own body and be open enough to detect all the signals your partner sends out. It takes a lot of practice. Sometimes one has to allow oneself to move outside the box to work on these things.

Too many times I find and observe ukemi that at best stop at number 1 above. Particularly in the flavor of aikido I consider myself a member of. Many times I simply attribute what I perceive as pure laziness – It’s easy to justify not having to be mobile or sensitive (although most wouldn’t even recognize their own failure at this department ) by claiming to being “true” to the basics and budo-like etc.

It’s not that one of these points above are more important than the others. They are all interconnected and serve to enhance each other. At different times in one’s training one might have to study them individually though, and different people sometimes find comfort more in one.
Both Saito Sr. and his instructor the founder would frequently throw people in such a way as to demand spectacular falls, including shihonage, and we can hardly accuse them from being untrue to the message of aikido wa budo de aru – Aikido is (first and formost) budo!

/Jakob Blomquist

(Photo by Lina Jansson and Jakob Blomquist: The Author taking ukemi while teaching)

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