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The Ukemi In Aikido

Kawaraban No. 42


by Kenji Shimizu

`You should think of ukemi as being the secret to aikido`. This is my personal experience. During my uchideshi time the founder made me fall without questioning, on top of this I was scolded mecilessly when my ukemi was bad. I had so many painful experiences, that I continiously worried about whether there would be ever any progress, if I would do things like this. Having made it in Judo to the fourth dan grade and thinking I did good ukemi, I doubted that I had to be scolded like this.

But that was a mistake. I had forgotten to put Judo aside and start from zero. I only took my ukemi as I pleased. Yet I was made to become aware of the fact, that my body didn`t move as one with o-sensei`s body. When I think about it now I feel ashamed, that I thought it would be good just to take a showy ukemi.

Ukemi means reading your partner`s breath, and if one will not respond towards the nage (the person who throws) you cannot speak of true ukemi. Mastering ukemi means noticing the signs of your environment, which enables you to deal promptly with the circumstances. The bamboo for example moves according to the relative strength of the wind, and when the wind stops, the bamboo returns to its original state. That is completely natural and it is alive. In aikido we don`t fight for victory or defeat´.It is a way where we improve ourselves through training by repeating the techniques. It is important that you always can correspond with shite (the person, who is executing the technique) whom you are facing.This however is very difficult.

Though it is hard to learn a natural ukemi, an ukemi without force, you have made a huge progress in your technique whenever your body understands a little bit more about it. That may be, because you have learnt to utilize the executing person`s breathpower in your own technique. And in my case, I was uke of o-sensei...

At the moment people from different countries come for training to my dojo, staying between two and four weeks. One of them is Lufthansa pilot Guenther Pillukeit, 51, 2.dan, who, when on a flight from Frankfurt to Narita will drop by the dojo regularly every month. And each time his ukemi is serious. Lately the students in Germany begin to understand the importance of ukemi. I even learnt from Erhard Schneider ( 45 years, 3.dan ), who came to Japan, that there was actually a training conference on ukemi during a seminar. It is important to experience naturally strong techniques. If you cannot do ukemi soft and flexible, it is most likely, that you cannot execute a technique soft and flexible. The natural ukemi in aikido also makes you understand life.

© translated by Birgit Lauenstein