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Ukemi – through ugliness to beauty ...

... bread and butter of daily aikido practice

Andrzej Krawczyk – the essay for shodan test


Ukemi, which means rolls or falls, is the first element of aikido that we learn after entering the mat. Remarkably, the element which will always be present in our practice.

This is the beginning of our journey, and at the same time the bread and butter. Within an hour of training it's needed to take about 100 ukemi. We can not, however, assume that this amount of repetition allows for lack of concentration and mechanical, based on muscle memory, recreation of learned movements. In fact it is quite the opposite. Ukemi ends each technique, which Tori performs at Uke. This means that roll or fall allows, with full control of the body, safely receive technique with no harm. Therefore, it is very important to perfectly master the "art of falling" and to always be ready mentally to perform it. Always be aware, focused, and even alert to respond quickly and protect your body if necessary.

A conclusion that ukemi is an important aspect of aikido naturally comes to mind, therefore it has become the subject of this discussion.

Ukemi literally means "receiving with the body" (UKE – receive, MI – body). It is the ability to receive of technique throughout the body, is the correct response, which relies on "feeling with the body."

However, before an ukemi could take place there are needed several consecutive events.

It all begins with Zanshin, establish an appropriate relationship between Tori and Uke. It is the willingness to act, connection, awareness of being here and now of both partners. Then the attack is executed. Honest attack is the most important Uke's task, seemingly simple, but in fact difficult. There is a very thin line between honesty and deception. It's easy to fall in the routine because of many repetitive patterns. Therefore, the attack should always be a challenge, an impulse to act. While attacking, Uke gives himself entirely into the hands of Tori. From this point, cogs are ticking and moving on their own. Tori gets out off the line of an attack and neutralize it, thus opens the door to the technique. Uke comes to a point where further attack has no sense. He changes the way of thinking and begins to take care of himself. While ''listening with the body'' he follows the movement, which result in performing an ukemi. Therefore, it can be said that ukemi is freedom. Freedom of movement, mind and body.

However, liberty of ukemi is the result of hard work with the body. Aikido is a discipline of
a thousand repetitions. There is constant and strenuous making a habit of proper responding. In addition, ukemi is the endless falling down and getting up, and thus shaping of not only the body, but especially the fortitude. Therefore through the physical work, ''patience sculpting'' and continuous sharping we get the tool. It is the sensitivity to listen with the whole body, its awareness what at the present moment is the correct move. Following the movement with all senses is much faster than only by eyes. Similarly when two gunslingers confront each other, the one who decides to shot first is always half a second slower than the other, who responds. It is an instinctive action, devoid of everything that unnecessary.

However ukemi is not an end in itself. In fact, there is no aikido without ukemi or ukemi without aikido. It is present and important in all aspects of training. It concerns all five pillars established by T.K. Chiba Sensei:

  • centredness - to focus on the centralization of the body,
  • connectedness - obtaining and maintaining contact with your partner call center to center,
  • wholeness - the use of the whole body and affect the whole body of partner
  • aliveness - awareness and being awake, here and now,
  • openness - open and free mind to all aspects of the present situation.

Working with ukemi naturally combines five of those principles.

Deep breathing, reaching down the center, allows for smooth movement. Receiving technique by the center is the quintessential work on ukemi. With proper centralization it can be safely perform the roll or fall regardless of the throw power.

Continuous connection in which there is no empty gaps, constant tension and pushing, allows to use learned body sensitivity and take ukemi at the right time. Like driving a car with park assistance system: Uke assists Tori during the execution of the technique, is present and alive all the time. Thus Uke is not a victim here. He is looking for opportunities and openings.

Let's look from a wider perspective on all aspects of training mentioned before. Bearing in mind that ukemi is the first part of what we learn, basic movement, brick with which we build something much more substantial: the relationship between Uke and Tori, including student and teacher, and thus a line of communication of energy, knowledge and passion.

By working on such a fundamental element there is a touch of experience something that is beyond the scope of the movement or the mat.

In addition, learning ukemi allows to get to know our own limits, even attempt to break them. Once again, referring to the words T.K. Chiba Sensei, who said that with every training we should drop something, not gain – as it might seem. Only by getting rid of the successive layers we can get to the heart of the matter. This applies mainly to all work on the mat. Rejecting what is necessary achieve a simpler and more efficient movement. Improving the basics, like in the case of ukemi. This is a necessary condition to be able to progress and develop.

What is needed here is a positive force between Tori and Uke. There can not be too much conflict, but also not too much co-operation. Ukemi, by its versatility, has the potential to create such
a relationship. Tori and Uke throughout that relationship try to understand something about themselves, find out possibilities. Although we all come to practice with different backgrounds, we have different experiences, ambitions and expectations, age, level, there is always Uke and Tori who are equally responsible for the technique, which always ends up with an ukemi.

Ukemi is in itself all that is Aikido. It is AI – harmony, unity with partner, peace of mind, opening up to another person or opportunities. It is KI – energy, the manifestation of life, activity, aliveness and body fitness. It is DO – the path that we follow practicing on the mat and all beyond that. Training with passion, with devotion, with the spirit of IRIMI. Path through physicality and ugliness to beauty of self improvement.

Ukemi teaches us to respect what we do. In short, it is more than just a roll or fall.

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