Ukemi

The importance of ukemi cannot be overlooked. Without the study and practise of ukemi over a long period of time, you will be unable to endure long periods of training. Ukemi has many guises. Ukemi is not just about rolling, but absorbing attacks from all physical situations and also psychological and spiritual realms. To classify ukemi is very difficult. Ukemi is kyojutsu. It’s the martial arts.

Ashi Sabaki is Ukemi

Why is it that the physical training of most ryuha and also the Bujinkan TenChiJin commence with ukemi and gaeshi waza? Those who neglect, or do not think that ukemi training is important, I urge you to reconsider your thinking.

The concept of true ukemi is to remain balanced and aware in every moment. When taking ukemi, people believe it is because one has lost their balance. This is incorrect. If you do not loose your equilibrium, then you are still on balance. It is the physical realm that looks unbalanced. There are many aspects and levels of ukemi. It is an area of study unrestricted by time or form. Ukemi is present in all aspects of life, both physically, and spiritually. This page but hints this on a few levels. The rest is up to you to discover.

Ukemi is seen in ancient man in the manner of  lighting fires to protect themselves from predators. Women crossing their legs and folding their arms in the presence of men they don’t know. And the many households around the world that lock their doors and windows to avoid unwanted visitors. Is this not ukemi?  

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Takamatsu Osensei apparently was watching Soke perform ukemi and said it was getting better. He later stated that because of his ukemi improving, he was starting to understand the martial arts.

So, without understanding ukemi, you may not be able to truly grasp budo. Takamatsu Osensei recieved hard training initially in Toda’s dojo. For one year he was thrown in all directions and struck by the senior students of the dojo until he could take ukemi from any circumstance. It was only when we gained this ability, that he was instructed in waza.

It goes without saying that the Ninja were renownded for their advanced level of ukemi. It can be read that they sommersaulted through the air and trees like monkeys and were as limber and agile as cats. However, one thing must be understood. Ukemi is not just the performance of gymnastics. True ukemi is understanding the kukan. If one performs ukemi for the sake of just flipping or looking good, than this will open suki or weakpoints. Ukemi is body changing movements ( taihenjutsu ) performed naturally for the sake of protecting life. It is important to know these distinguishing points.

We must therefore learn to grasp the essence of  ” life preserving ukemi ” vs ukemi for pure showmanship. If we observe Yabunaka San being used by Soke every class as uke, will can see real ukemi. Yabunaka San does not try to perform ukemi. He is forced too. There is a difference. Ukemi ultimately is to maintain life. The forms taught within the TenchiJin are guides to teach us the variant positions our body may encounter during training. It is up to our own practise to perservere with those movements until they become second nature to us. When we are able to reach this level of training, we have naturally discarded the form. Our consciousness is now on a different plain.

The transition of form into formlessness is a natural progression. Only after training in the forms can you experience the process of ” letting go “. If you don’t have any form or basic kihon training in the beginning, there is no way you can truly understand. Your formlessness will be based on formlessness. Therefore, it will have no substance. Formlessness acquired through form will express true ability with bone and structure now transparent and invisible.

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From this point we are able to be present more clearly during the moment we rotate our body into a different form to maintian our balance. During this time, we are able to feel for counters. Be it picking up something to throw, using a weapon, or directing our body to an escape point. We are no longer required to ” think  ” about how our body should land, because our body knows. We no longer are concerned with hurting ourselves while rolling or taking a breakfall. We are just concerned with surviving.

We have to understand that perofmring ukemi naturally can also injure us. This is life. There are no guarantees.

I will quote something Soke once said.

” Many people have a misconception about ukemi. Don’t feel that ukemi is a safe thing. Many times, it is a veyr dangerous thing. You may land on glass or on a twig and really hurt yourself. There have been times when people have taken ukemi to safe themselves, only to kll themselves in the process. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times.”

The last forms of ukemi and kaiten to learn naturally end with the exponent using ” no hands “. In Japanese, this is referred to Mu kaiten. Now, the kanji for Mu is also used in  Mushin for ” no mind “. Rolling in the kukan free from thinking is infact maintaining once balance. The concept of removing ones hands also relates to being free and not being restricted in ones life. At the level of no hands ukemi, the exponent of budo can then come to understand and feel the space to apply weapons. Again, this is a process of learning. As I have stated before, there are no short cuts to learning these secrets.

The secrets to ukemi are gained from sincere training and being able to allow your ego to be thrown from you without trying to catch it. In order to understand ukemi, one must relinquish the self. If you cannot do this, you are in your ego and will never understand ukemi and therefore budo. Also, by holding onto your ego, your body follows and becomes stiff. The inability to change or mould oneself to the environment is a hindrance and very dangerous. 

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I believe the avatars of ukemi are babies. In an extreme example, we occassionally hear ( thank God ) of a baby who has fallen from a great height, only to land unharmed. Babies do not know fear. Fear is something that is largerly introduced from parenting.  As a result, babies are relaxed, and nimble. Especially as their bones are still soft and growing. They often fall, but to our suprise, bounce back ( literally ) with a smile on their face. I think there are some secrets to the art of ukemi hidden in the realm of childhood. Therefore, we have a lot to learn from children.

You must fall in love with ukemi. From there, you will not be afraid of falling ( in love ) because you know that you will always end up on your feet again. With using this analogy, we can see that ukemi is indeed a way to understand life and it’s hardships. But, with all things there is no absolute. While writing here about ukemi, I realise even with my frail knowledge based on actual experience that it cannot be easily expressed in words. In fact, I am but skimming the surface about ukemi. Ukemi is an art in itself. I believe the words from Nagato Sensei espresses this.

” If all you are are uke in your martial arts training, and survive. You have succeeded as a martial artist!”

I believe a page on ” being uke ” is also relevent here, so keep an eye out for that in the future.

In closing, I like to consider ukemi as an aspect of fudoushin. Think about this in conjunction with Nagato Sensei’s previous words.

Maybe you could consider yourself a ” rolling stone ? “

 

 

2 Responses to “Ukemi”

  1. David Hamden Says:

    I just enjoyed reading some of your thoughts and feelings on ukemi Duncan. It all resonates with me deeply as i am certainly aware of my ego and it’s struggles as i ‘let go’ during my ukemi practice.
    Great to read sincere insights into such an amazing art.

  2. I’m quite a tall person and struggle all the time with Ukemi. Not that I have fear of the ground or hitting the ground but with making myself small and flowing with movement.
    I train twice a week but always feel its not enough or that my ukemi is still very ppor.
    Have you any tips of how to develop Ukemi at home or for people with a tall stature ?

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