Ukemi

Aikido -

"Dynamic Practice & Its Benefits"

by Angel Alvarez


The Intention of this article is to clarify and, in some fashion, to serve as a helpful column, or Forum of advice for those that wish to make use of it. The Author makes no promises that what he suggests here is the only way to conduct practice, or perform Ukemi, but he describes his personal Style as to the Way in which he prefers to practice and transmit Aikido to his students - that is to say - he shares his experience gathered over his 33 years of Practicing Aikido! It is hoped that you, the reader, will accept the Information and suggestions as just that.

I hope that this article will help you add some focus to your Practice. This is just another way of seeing the way you practice dynamically in addition to what you already know - and, as they say, run with it!

Oh! And one more thing - make use of it, add it to your already acquired Knowledge!

 

All portions written here and related to Aikido Ukemi, are quoted from the Author's Book on Ukemi, to be published in the near future.

Those of you who are reader of the Aikido Articles in "Cinturon Negro" are encouraged to contact the Author directly via e-mail: wmgsl@msn.com

Tell me if you, Hate it ?, Liked it? Or found it helpful! I would appreciate your comments.

(Text Angel Alvarez, Shidoin, 5th Dan, Photos: b&w Kit Defever,NY, Color:Jaume Torroja, BCN)

(Ukes: New York, Douglas Firestone,5th Dan,Fukushidoin , Ruben G.Varona, 1st Kyu, and Luis L. Langa, 2nd Kyu)

 

 

 

Dynamic Practice!

 

What is it?

The term Dynamic, is one that is often overused, and, in general, misunderstood by many practitioners of Aikido.

 

We all have our own definition of a dynamic Practice! Here are some common interpretations of practitioners that I have heard or experienced in the past 30 years of my practice:

 

"Some of us see it as moving constantly, without rest for the duration of the entire class, whereby at the end of the Class one find oneself completely exhausted, but not necessarily focussed on anything in particular."

 

 

Others see it as being : "completely being submerged in sweat, summer or winter alike, whenever or wherever the practice takes place."

 

Yet another situation that is often considered to represent a 'dynamic practice' is : "that at the end of the class every bone, every joint is aching or at least feeling a little like it has gone through a Windmill (Pardon the Pun)."

 

 

This last is usually an example where the trainee finds himself with a partner that is either much stronger physically or more advanced technically than the trainee himself.

 

These reflections alone bring up the question as to what exactly is the "Ideal Practice"? -However this is a topic for another day.

 

Unlike Don Quijote de la Mancha and his famous (but fictitious windmills - Molinos de Vientos ), the windmills that we are likely to encounter on the Tatami (Area of Practice), are real and come in the form of 'live persons' and they do require considerable attention.

 

These 'windmills' come in different shapes and sizes, and at various speeds. Lets put some names on a few of these 'Windmills' in order to clarify the focus of this article. The 'Windmill' in this case, of course, represents our partner(s), the Attacker(s), or better known as UKE(s), Aite et al. The NAGE or Defender in our Case, is the person that is performing the throw or technique.

 

I have tried to borrow the image from Miguel de Cervantes's great master piece for visualization purposes, and only for that reason. In order to make a point clear, I have made an analogy with the windmills and three common Types of Ukes.

 

*We have the First Windmill that, in the lightest of winds, is moving. This represents the Uke that, at minimum contact, or slightest touch, goes flying through the air. The Uke very often looks great as he (or she) 'takes-off into Space', but at the same time, it gives the impression to those looking on, as if the techniques are phoney, or pre-arranged.

 

An experienced Aikido Practitioner knows, in fact, that the Uke is aware of what is coming next, and instead just wishes to avoid getting clobbered; he anticipates, sometimes a bit prematurely at times and this gives the impression that his movement is 'disconnected' from the actual Technique being applied.

Lets take a Technique like "Chudan Tsuki Irimi Nage Omote" - We all know that if you stand in front of a object, coming at you at 100 Kilometres per hour, unhealthy things usually happen.

So, one can understand very well the reasons for their taking Ukemi the way they do. It is logical that anyone with any common sense would like to avoid getting hit.

The important point here is that the Uke should not do it solely on his own initiative, but rather, he should be unified with, not separated from, Nage's Technique. More on this point later.

 

 

* We now come to our Second Windmill - that even with the Strongest wind blowing directly on it, hesitates or outright refuses to move. (This can only be hypothetical in the case of a real windmill, of course. A real windmill, naturally accepts the strength of the wind , and begins to turn in the direction that the wind determines.) - on the tatami, I can assure you I have observed this phenomena many, many times (too many to count, in fact).

 

This second type of Uke, represents the other extreme that we often encounter on the mats. This Uke, especially, adapts the psychology of "Prove to me that the (or your) Technique Works". This attitude sometimes can be understood in the case of a beginner who does not know better, but on the part of an experienced practitioner it has no justification (other than as a manifestation of his giant ego). This attitude usually creates a profound feeling of frustration for Nage, partially becausehe knows that he is dealing with a person who is missing the point of training entirely - what's more he does not see that the technique could be executed ultimately with or without his consent if the circumstances (currently - on the tatami, in a dojo, within a training environement) were not governed by certain limits and bounds based on mutual respect between two trainees and human beings.

If the Nage responds in a harsh manner (and in the same 'language' as the Uke), his partener, that same person who a minute earlier tried to resist with 'all his might' the technique finds himself on his backside - he is definitely not going to be a happy camper! This is usually how "bad things happen to a good practice", and the end result is total escalation to an all-out brawl. At the end of the practice, both parties feel frustrated, bitter and unsatisfied.

There is no state of Zanshin after such practice, just frustration. Forturnately, this type of stubborn individual thanks to correct practice and/ or a few bumps, is capable of change and may often go on to become a first-rate 'ambassador' for Aikido and a firm believer in the principles of Non- Resistance.

 

* Afterward we come to the third 'Windmill' - this one is sensitive to everything, he reacts and shifts direction with the proper amount wind and remains unified with his environment. This Third Windmill represents our Ideal Uke.

 

This Uke, usually has a great attitude about himself or herself, and about others. That attitude radiates out, and other seek him/her to work out with them. Notice I used the word ' seek' them, contrary to the above example, where the person is usually avoided.

This Uke, values and respects his partner's time as much as he values his own. This Uke posesses sincerety in his holds or attacks, but, above all, he remains honest with himself. By providing the Nage with realistic attacks or holds, in effect the Uke provides the Nage with all he or she needs to fulfill the aims of Aiki - a correct attack requiring correct and appropriate answers to acheive the completion of the technique.

If we take the same example as mentioned above - Chudan Tsuki Irimi Nage Omote, one will see "poetry in motion" , yet at the same time, one will have a disticnt understanding that the person flying through the air, did not act on his own initiative, but rather that, because the technique was being applied with the greatest precision, he had no other choice for the sake of self-preservation, .

This has been the essence of the Message! Precision ! Most of us have the capacity to perform the techniques adequately!

We can just go through the motions as with the first example given above, and then come in contact with our example number two (also given above), in a seminar or in class only to find out that our techniques do not work - surprise! Well, it is not that the Techniques do not work, but rather that you have failed to apply yourself and you are not properly adhering to some basic simple rules such as :

* Do precisely as the techniques are being demonstrated by the Sensei(Teacher),

* Repeat as many time as necessary to perfect,

* Practice them Honestly, Rigorously, Strongly, and when you are done, start again.

No secrets here, just pure Practice, and it has been said many times before,

"Practice Makes Perfect!"

 

There is however another element that I would lie to mention and that I consider to be inseparable, and just as important to complete Dynamic Practice, UKEMI! (The Art Falling or as I Like to Call it, The Art of Protecting the Body) ®

 Without this element, all the above discussions of appropriate reactions to certain techniques, flying through the air, all of that, will fall by Wayside. There can be no spontaneous response from an Uke who is predominantly concerned with "how he is going to land", rather than being concentrated on the technique that is being applied to him at that moment! This can even be very dangerous, and, incedently , is one of the more common reasons for getting hurt during a workout - The Nage throwing in one Direction, and the Uke going in the Other.

 

 

At this point I would like to express what, in my view, constitutes a "Dynamic Practice".

A Dynamic Practice requires certain elements to be present before it can even 'get off the ground', so to speak.(This sounds like a Freudian Slip?)

 

Elements such as :

* A good attitude from those wanting to participate in the training.

* Two or more people that are Willing to put their egos aside.

* Two or more people that share an enthousiasm for intense practice - (alertness, intensity, sincere attacks or grasps, fluidity, flexibility, continuity - really practicing , without having to stop every other technique to fix your Keiko-Gi or every time you loose your breath, etc. ),

* Clear Knowledge of the Techniques, and, above all ,

* Good Ukemi... no! Great Ukemi! - at this point in your practice it is the best thing you can posess.

 

When we combine all these elements, and perform each technique - as my two good friends M. Tiki Shewan (6th Aikido, Iai, Jodo) & Pascal Krieger( Menkyo Kaiden-Jodo, Iai, Judo) - with a great deal of Martial Arts knowledge, and even greater knowledge and compassion as Human Beings, and, may I never forget this one!, Ö.. "Always perform each technique as though it is the first and last technique you will ever perform, and as though, your life depended on it! " Good things happen, when you practice this way and with this kind of Attitude!

 

 

Ukemi!

 

This particular element requires special mention. Ukemi can be seen as an Art on its own! Deserving its own special article, so, I will be Brief in describing how important and necessary good Ukemi is, and how it is related to "Dynamic Practice & Its Benefits". As mentioned earlier, a lot of what makes for good practice or a dynamic practice is constituted by all those involved in the practice being able to perform good Ukemi.

Without Ukemi, there is no continuity, there is no fluidity, and above all the beauty of a large number of Techniques will be lost!

I have been priviledged in having participated in some Dynamic Practices and Demonstrations by some of the Uchi-deshi of Morihei Ueshiba (O'Sensei), like:

Mitsunari Kanai- 8th Dan, Shihan, NE Aikikai

Kasuo Chiba- 8th Dan , Shihan San Diego Aikikai

Shibata Sensei- 7th Dan ,Shihan, Berkley Aikikai

Yoshimitsu Yamada- 8th Dan, Shihan, New York Aikikai

 

I would like to point out that if would have been hesitant in taking a fall delivered by any of the Shihans mentioned above, the experience definitely would not have been a pleasant one, to put it mildly! In this manner Ukemi I can only see Ukemi as an inseparable component whenever Aikido is mentioned. Without Good Ukemi, there is no Syncronization, there is no melding, blending and whatever other name you wish to come up with, between the Nage and the Uke. And that's final!

* Good Ukemi, does mean safety,

* Good Ukemi, does mean beautiful Aikido,

* Good Ukemi, does mean a lot fun while practicing,

* Good Ukemi, means, giving and helping others with their techniques.

 

But one of the best assets of Ukemi, is that it allows Aikido to be presented to those unfamiliar with it emphasizing one of the most beneficial aspects that Aikido has to offer -

that a person can practice this marvelous Art called Aikido, for a healthy, long, long time.

 

The opinions expressed here are my own and I feel that if Aikido is practiced with great zest, with a good attitude and with the spirit that it was intended to be practiced with, it can only bring about positive results for the Practitioner. So, I hope that if in some way, some of you out there in "The Large Aikido Family", can make use of just one of these elements and can apply it to your daily practice, besides providing you with Longevity, I hope, Aikido will bring to you the more positive aspects of Life, on and off the Tatami.


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Luc Tamisier.