Ukemi is important!

Another good showing on Saturday, with another beginner and another prospective one.  With so many beginners, we worked mostly on beginner stuff.  Interestingly, the more advanced people could improve their basic skills also.

In some ways, ukemi is more important than anything else we do.  It is important so that we don’t get hurt, of course.  As uke, we need to flow with the technique, never allowing separation between us and nage.  Yes, we can be stiff, but that almost guarantees injury the first time we work with a nage that is both capable and doesn’t care about hurting us.

Ukemi is also the key to learning aikido.  It is easy for uke to mess up beginners.  Just attack differently each time, and arbitrarily fall or not fall, and the beginner will soon quit in frustration.  Another way to mess up a beginner is to point out every little detail he does wrong, especially if what he is doing isn’t really wrong.  Nage will learn most rapidly if uke gives a consistent attack every time.  Giving corrections and advice is the responsibility of the teacher.  Uke is not the teacher, and should just take ukemi.

I have noticed one or two ukes being lazy.  Especially working with beginners, they will go part of the way into the ukemi, then break off and tell nage they did well.  This weakens the practice for both parties.  It is not uke telling me I have the technique that really matters.  What really matters is that nage learns to feel it when they take control of uke and throw or immobilize him.  They need to feel the technique to completion.

Ukemi is also the key to learning how to do a technique.  By studying how nage moves, how he does the technique, uke can learn how nage makes the technique work, and how to improve when it is his turn to be nage.  It is quite difficult to tell what somebody is doing while watching from the sidelines.  It is almost as difficult to tell what is happening as nage.  It is when you are uke that you can really tell if a technique is working, and why.  This is particularly illuminating when a really great aikidoka throws you, and why people vie for being chosen as uke at seminars.

One problem I noticed is that if nage is too concerned about injuring uke, nage will hold back, and will not feel the effect of his movement on uke.  Of course, nobody wants to injure uke.  (At least nobody I want in my dojo.)  However, uke must get better and better at taking ukemi, so that nage can put more into their technique without injuring uke, and thus both parties learn more.

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