Ukemi – Aikido’s other Half
Consuming up to one half of our practice time, falling is crucial to good Aikido. It is my opinion that when one can master the art of falling, logically he/she can master the art of Aikido. I don’t believe one can truly master Aikido until they can master the fall.
I remember the first time I saw a young guy getting flung about the place. He was only 19 and I was 32 at the time (with the mental maturity of a 19 yr old) and I remember thinking “I’m gonna do that”. Whatever our motivation, be they shallow, one must find the time to pursue this part of the art with some vigilance.
In my case as a moderate paced leaner (notice I don’t use the word slow-apparently it’s un-empowering) I had to practice extra-curricular activities in order to speed up the process of falling. I would get out all manner of soft mats (we have gymnastic mats available) and practice difficult over the top falls, bridge falls etc. and slowly reduce the size and volume of the mats until I could do them on normal tatami.
And from that inspiration, I consumed endless amounts of videos on falling seeking out all the variations that I could. My first Aikido style was Yoseikan, which due to its style requires quite a lot of Break Falling. Many techniques required this and it turns out a blessing in disguise. More recently, I have become enamoured with the soft style or feather falling and have been working on perfecting that.
The beauty of having so much variation in my falling means, that a feather fall can quickly become a break fall if someone holds onto my arm and in reality I don’t have to think about falling at all as something naturally presents itself. To be honest with you if I have to demonstrate one type of falling it is very difficult as it requires thought which is generally something I’m not used to. I guess it’s a bit like performing kihon when in reality your natural movement is based and what uke gives you rather than a predefined form.
The journey to a goal is quite satisfying and although not achieved with complete perfection (it can never be so), it is satisfying to just launch an attack at someone without thought of the repercussions. I guess in this way you really are able to feel a genuine technique performed on you from a good Aikidoka.
The benefit of good falling really allows you to explore yourself moving in the air and feel the movement of your training partner. It is this way that you become very much sensitised to the application of technique and can reciprocate more easily. Having a free mind and time while falling really allows you to experience Aikido in its fullness.
In a sense, you are really practicing a gymnastic type skill set with all the benefits that come with it. Particularly for those of us in the more mature brackets we need to maintain as much of our core strength as possible.
I urge you to make Ukemi your No.1 priority in training. Try to get twice as many rolls in as everyone else. Do extra falling practice. Get a partner just to throw you round for a bit. In my experience those that embrace the ukemi generally have more success with Aikido.
If you’re a teacher, lead by example (if possible) and if you’re good, try to inspire, just as I was inspired but most importantly GET IT DONE!