A couple of evening ago, I took a class and emphasized a lot about falling. Which I feel is one of the most important hands on technique. If anyone comes to Aikido, and walks away learning nothing, I hope the person learns how to fall properly.
Getting the Perfect Ukemi
The problem learning how to fall properly is usually a matter of compromise. Sometimes as the beginner learns, we as the seniors relent to a kind of movement that vaguely resembles a fall. That is fine, a little rough around the edges, but we can still recognize a passable ukemi.
As times goes by, if there is enough training and practice, the bad movement will usually gets weeded out. I trained very hard and long in how to take an ukemi, sometimes, going non-stop on forward roll, back and forth, back and forth, an intense constant, ironing out any kinks in the way I roll, I was never satisfied. I need the roll to be perfect.
Unfortunately, for the NUS students, it never gotten down to that level of practice, and intensity, so technically the bad habits was never weeded out, it continued and set in. And that is where the problem starts.
The proverbial hamster wheel
One thing I learned in Aikido is a matter of constant self-polish, this take a certain level of dedication, obsession, and willingness not to accept status quo. When you clock a certain mileage, you will automatically gets elevated to the next level. You will feel that your body is sufficiently trained to handle a more advanced technique. You build your own platform to accept a more superior level of training.
If you are constantly stuck in the unaware, and despite of being pointed out, the mistakes continue to persist, so even if the window opens for you to learn a new, more advanced technique, you realized that your knowledge and experience is woefully insufficient to step up; and when you try to, you’ll end up injuring yourself, or worse, others.
It is like driving, and if you keep driving the same old way for the next 10 years, you will not be ready to drive a more advanced car. Open yourself to learn new ways to improve your current level of experience, constantly try to learn how to better drive your current car, you will come to a point where your driving skills exceeds the capability of the car, then you will realise that you are ready for a new car.
Typically, I will always try to work on the uke, as I feel the technique lives and breaths with the skill and capability to the uke. And there is only one job the uke needs to do, UKEMI. All the uke needs to do is; fall.
The uke needs to know how to fall properly, confidently. I showed the class, that as we do the technique, it died; because both the uke and nage are stuck at the end. There is a fall, and the nage will makes the uke fall. Not always so.
As I explained in my previous blog post, the whole experience is a ‘Goldilocks scenario’; not too hard, not too soft. For the technique, therein lies perfection, and it takes both to do the waza well. More so the uke.
When the uke is skillful in falling, the nage can execute the throw on demand. Case in point, I asked a new white belt to come out and I acted as uke, he was so new he didn’t even know what to do, I held his hand and he move forward backward, I followed and when my balance is sufficiently disrupted, I fall.
The falling point
So I made the class tip themselves, on one leg, until they feel that balance is lost, and fall, forward. It was a slow deliberate feel of one’s balance and the lack of it as the forward motion gradually shifted the weight, until the fall happens.
Some of the students fell, too hard, too high. I advised them their point of falling is too far, so the body falls forward, not round enough, so the shoulder came into contact with the ground, impact.
It is at your feet.
The point of the fall, is in front of the feet, so a proficient Aikidoka will be able to take a ‘phone booth fall.’ That is how compact a fall can be, if you can fall there and them you can take a leaping fall, easily, no problem.
The Nage/Uke tension
If one is not proficient in falling, we will have to get prepared for the fall, and in doing so, there will be tension, will not be able to follow our nage, wholeheartedly. We need to get primed to fall, get ready, and sometimes, the fall doesn’t happen, or it doesn’t happen the way you’d expected, and all your preparation will be in vain.
Being confident is a better asset than being prepared. Confidence comes from effort and practice. Then you will know that whatever the nage dish out at you, you will be able to escape unscathed, you can give the nage confidence in throwing you, so there is not tension, there is flow. The uke can fall on demand, and the nage can throw on demand, when that happens, it is a very good feeling.
Harry sensei’s wrath
Harry sesei has constantly berated us for ‘focusing on the throw’, and we are too ‘ego’ and of course, us being forever stiff.
That is what happens when the Uke is not well trained to fall properly, and confidently. We are fixated about the end, because we keep telling ourselves that if we don’t fall properly, we will get injured. Contrary to that, if we do not execute our technique properly, we will get injured. It is not about the fall, it is about how we execute the technique that leads to the fall, the fall happens naturally when we act on the technique properly.
This is only one part of the problem.
We take turns and when we become the nage, we held on to the uke’s mindset and as a nage, we too focus; on the fall, because we worry that if we do not throw the uke properly, injuries will happen. We need to let that go, and let the uke fall. Our focus as nage is on the technique. The uke has only one job, which is to fall, so let the uke do what the uke needs to do.
The ends does not justifies the means. It is the means that justifies the ends. As long as we do well in our technique, the fall will happen, naturally. So the uke needs to have enough experience in falling, then the fall will happen at the point of falling, no a minute too soon, nor a second too late.