Ukemi by Lisa Tomoleoni

So many people think that ukemi is about falling down, how to fall down, about being thrown. Well, of course it is, but it is also about so much more.

It is about engagement, both physical and energetic (which starts way before the physical and lasts way after). It is about intent, about attack and continuation of the attack. It is about looking for the opening to take back control after you have been unbalanced. It is about keeping up the attack while keeping yourself safe. It is about sticking in there as long as possible to try to find a hole, so if nage makes some mistake, you haven't bailed out and are no longer around. It's about separating from the other person when it becomes futile to continue, so that you can live to come back and attack again. It's about constant awareness of all that is around you. I see so many people just taking cool looking falls. Yeah, it's fun, and some people may think it looks cool, but many times (not always) it's not ukemi. And often after the big jump the person either lies there or gets up but without awareness, so that the person who just threw uke could in fact step on uke or attack from behind. This awareness, this connection with your surroundings is what I find missing in most practice. I took ukemi for a shihan at an embu [public demonstration] recently. Afterwards, a guy came up to me and told me "Your ukemi- You never took your eyes off of him." Of course I never took my eyes off the the person I am engaged with. If I did, I would have a large opening and he would kill me.

Sometimes it is necessary to take a breakfall or some "spectacular" ukemi like that. So for those few instances, we must practice such falls. But we must be clear about this. And even when practicing these types of falls, not get sucked into the "I wanna take cool looking falls" trap.

Uke and nage -- both are always attacking each other's center, both must keep themselves safe, both must find a way to take the other's balance, to keep the connection. Always engaged, always connected. This is budo training.

Lisa Tomoleoni
Instructor
Aikido Shindo Dojo
Tokyo, Japan