Have you ever witnessed an Aikido demonstration where the ukes fly left and right, while the tori is barely moving? There is soft ukemi used to facilitate learning in the dojo, and there is also “hard” or heavy ukemi used in daily Aikido training. Ukemi is very important.
Ukemi is receiving the technique, the art of falling. Ukemi keeps you safe. Ukemi trains your balance. It is the channel for the physical transmission of technique. It trains connection. I love ukemi.
The ukemi that is most counterproductive is scripted ukemi. I have been to dojos wherein ukemi training are done by the number, following a sequence of steps. They say this is so that Aikidokas can easily adapt with the movement and maintain safety. However, the glaring mistake this way of training has is its failure to consider the tori’s actual movement. In some instances, the uke even moves ahead of tori! In practicing this way, there is no musubi, there is no connection; the movement is disjointed and tori is left with the impression of being bullshitted. I find this kind of training a waste of time.
In the dojo we train to understand how a martial movement works. We train in pairs to understand the invisible part of Aikido: musubi, atari, and kokyu. If ukemi is trained in such a way that it mimics break-dancing, how can there be an understanding of technique? Aikido with this training becomes empty.
Yes, ukemi should be learned through a sequence of movements, but it should not be so constrictive that if tori moves differently, the entire movement is deemed wrong because they cannot do the ukemi they practiced. (this happens..) Is Aikido a martial art or acrobatics?
I practice different kinds of ukemi. I believe in soft ukemi. I believe in “hard” or heavy ukemi. I believe in honest ukemi. I believe in sincere ukemi. What I do not believe in is fake, scripted and flashy ukemi that serves no purpose. Ukemi can be flashy- it looks spectacular! What I don’t like is the doing of this flashy ukemi without reason. I think ukemi should always follow a natural reaction, and being sensitive to tori’s movement.
In an article by Seki shihan, he said: “Uke cannot exist without Tori’s movement, Uke should move without blocking the movement of Tori. The Uke should adapt his movement every occasion.” (Click this link for the full article: “Body and Soul of Uke“).
The uke should be alive, mobile, responsive.
There should always be an intention toward the tori’s center when being uke. Within the movement, this “being alive” should be maintained, the uke giving the feeling of being like a ball being pushed down in a tub of water. This is maintained until the entire movement is finished. Dead, sloppy and statue-like ukemi is not helpful- it is slow and full of openings. But an auto-pilot uke is even worse. There should be spontaneity in ukemi.
Uke should only move when there is reason to move, otherwise the attack of uke should be followed through.
Although the “scripted” type of ukemi may be beneficial during the early part of training where beginners learn the one, two, threes of any particular movement, as the Aikidoka progresses, I think the level of ukemi should also progress accordingly. Let us remember that ukemi is integral in learning Aikido. I hope ukes learn to be partners in learning waza and not the very walls that stunt the understanding of Aikido.
(Please also see: “The Eternal Allure of Play“)