The first thing my instructor taught me was UKEMI. As a matter of fact, the first three years of my Aikido training was all about UKEMI.  Nothing else mattered.  I was hoping that I would soon be able to take UKEMI at the same level of intensity as those who had been training for years.  Since my spouse had significantly more Aikido experience than I, he worked with me endlessly in an effort to get me up to par so that I, too, could fully participate in the more advanced aspects of Aikido. 

For months after each and every Aikido class my spouse would throw me repeatedly so that I could learn UKEMI faster.  I am not talking about the regular, nice and easy UKEMI that we often practice in Castle Rock each week.  I am talking about full-force break falls or TOBI UKEMI.  My spoouse threw me as hard as he could (at least that is how it felt to me) and I tried my best to “take” good TOBI UKEMI.  

Unlike our Castle Rock students, I didn’t have a luxury of a soft mats to learn on.  I had to take full-force ukemi on TATAMI mats which were as firm as boards.  So it really hurt when you didn’t land properly.  After just a few nights of this special UKEMI training, my legs were black and blue all the way from my rear end to my knees and I didn’t seem to be making all that much progress.  But, then one day something changed.  Everything came together at once. Suddenly TOBI UKEMI wasn’t painful anymore.  My body had learned how to fall properly.

Ten years later I look back and appreciate the extra training my husband gave me.  It greatly allowed me to advance my Aikido training.  It definitely made me more confident when I trained with high ranking black belts at outlying dojo.

If you want to speed up your Aikido training, focus on UKEMI.  You will quickly see that if you can take good UKEMI, the higher rank students will want to work with you more.  Your ability to take good UKEMI is often proportional to your commitment level to the art and senior students recognize that and reward it by working with you more.  Aikido is team work between the NAGE (thrower) and UKE (throwee).  Techniques and UKEMI are both equally important in your training. 

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Why do we spend so much time learning UKEMI?
When you come to an Aikido dojo, the first thing you will learn is how to fall or UKEMI.  A wise Shinto priest and Aikido master once said, “First learn UKEMI because UKEMI is a form of losing.  If you can learn how to lose and how you feel when you lose, the rest of it is easy.  No ego, no nothing… Just the way it is.”  I learned UKEMI in very much the same way. 
A few years ago, I was training with Sasaki Sensei in Fujiminou City in Saitama, Japan.  Many of his students were already 4th, 5th, and 6th degree black belts.  Sasaki Sensei, himself, is an 8th degree black belt.  So imagine me, being only a 2nd  degree black belt at the time!  I was intimidated to say the least.  In this situation, 2nd degree black or NI-DAN means next to nothing.  Their level of understanding of techniques was so deep that it would blow your mind.  In this situation, the only thing I could be confident in was my UKEMI.  In their presence, I wasn’t even comfortable saying that I had a basic understanding of Aikido.  All I knew was that I could receive their techniques.  Of course, it is by receiving their techniques that I would learn the most from them.  That is where the real learning in Aikido takes place, through the physical dialogue of UKEMI.

Once you’ve learned to take UKEMI, your technique will follow.  If you really want to improve your Aikido technique… focus on developing your UKEMI.  A little known secret about Aikido is that UKEMI is the key to reaching black belt, not technique execution.  Many students spend a disproportionate amount of their focus on the performance of techniques like KOTE-GAESHI or SHIHO-NAGE. If one is truly present during training, one will be extremely intent while be both uke and nage. Being equally skilled is what will make you a complete aikidoka.  

What does a black belt in Aikido mean to you?  I was told that a black belt should be able to take UKEMI from any throw. My training insured that was true.  UKEMI is the Japanese term for being able to safely receive an Aikido technique from anyone.  It is the ability to follow, flow and fall without injury.  It is often said that the first three years in Aikido training is UKEMI.  UKEMI is that important.