Should Ukemi be a Technique?
With all the time off lately I've had time to think about alot of things. I'll have to stay off the mat for at least the next two weeks...grrr. But I've spent the last several days thinking about why I got hurt and like I layed out in my last post I attribute it to faulty ukemi on my part. So that gives me hints about how to improve my ukemi technique and what kind of things to add to my repertoire. Like I said last time I need to focus on keeping my hands close to my body, which I already knew but clearly did not put into action. My thoughts have also spawned a few conversations as well as hashed up a few old ones. One in particular comes to mind.
Let me just say quickly that ukemi literally means to "receive" where uke is "the one who receives." In the role of uke, one is the initial attacker and the one who will ultimately be thrown or pinned. Nage is the one who performs the actual technique.
A good friend of mine here at the dojo was playing devil's advocate with the argument that ukemi should not be a technique. I've heard this arguement several times, usually in reference to the "soft" style of ukemi which just so happens to be the type of ukemi I've picked up on. I'm not entirely sure of the origins of this kind of ukemi but I the first person I saw using and teaching this kind of ukemi was Donovan Waite Shihan. You don't see it in the older videos. Granted this type of ukemi takes some of the thunder out of a hard throw but it takes the shock and impact out of the falls and has saved most of the major joints in my body from significant injury. However there is opposition to this style of ukemi.
The other side of the spectrum argues that by not "slapping out" and dispersing the energy of the throw, one is actually absorbing the energy which may have some negative effects. I have yet to experience these negative effects...hmm. In all truth Toshi, one of the most impressive uke's I know, ruptured or slipped a disk in his lower back last year (this may or may not have anything to do with his ukemi). Toshi looks like a snake falling out of a tree with barely an audible thump or the hiss of his gi against the mat to indicate that he's landed. He's injured nonetheless which is something I cannot ignore. I've also heard that ukemi should be more spontanious and natural. That an uke shoud "receive" the attack and fall as anyone out on the street would, slams, smacks, and all. I'm not saying that anyone has told me that I should be sloppy with my ukemi but that I shouldn't have set ukemi techniques let alone a repertoire. Several people I know are quite fond of a style more similar to judo which incorporate more slapping breakfalls (implactful) than the rolling falls I've learned here.
My main rebutle to these arguements lies within my ideas and philosophies about aikido. Aikido is by nature a defensive martial art. The techniques are designed and practiced to defend one's self from an attacker. I do not believe that these ideas should be confined solely to role of nage. As uke you are lending your body to nage for the purpose of practicing a martial technique. As much as I love aikido, nage may not always have your best interests in mind and so it is up to uke to know how to protect (or defend) him/herself. I view uke's position and the application of ukemi to be equally important in the scheme of self defense as nage's role. Once uke has committed to an attack and nage takes that energy to begin the technique (in my humble opinion) it is now up to uke to take control. Aikido techniques involve two people (at least) and the responsibility of the technique belongs to everyone involved 50-50, maybe 60-40 in favor of nage but uke certainly has a part to play aside from simply allowing the technique to happen. It is part of uke's responsibility to ensure that the technique goes smoothly and, most importantly, that uke is safe. In this respect I view ukemi as a valid defensive technique that is a large part of aikido training as a whole.
I believe that aikido is a martial art that is still growing and evolving. It is a fairly new martial art and, if I understand correctly, O Sensei encouraged each of his students to develop their own aikido. There are several different styles of aikido and ukemi and I strongly believe that the ukemi aspect of aikido should evolve as well. And I hope to help that a bit!