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The Why Behind Ukemi

A teacher once told me that the purpose of UKEMI is to learn how to “lose” both physically and emotionally. Once you learn how to lose, the rest of it becomes easy. Also, when you learn to lose you will be more compassionate to others when things are low.
Since there is no competition in Aikido, I think we should look at UKEMI with new eyes. If you look at the two kanji (Japanese characters) for UKEMI, they literally mean “to receive” and “body.” So, you are learning how to receive technique safely, efficiently, and gracefully to your body. 

In Aikido, the relationship of Uke and Nage is not about who is winning and who is losing. It is about a relationship to create a magnificent balance.  If you look at a great Shihan’s technique, you will see the beauty in the technique created by the two people. Therefore, the ingredients necessary to create such a harmonious relationship are: Feel, Follow, Action

In a dojo, the most important element, of course, is safety for both you and Nage.  So, first you want to feel what’s going on with your relationship to Nage and think ahead.  Another Aikido Sensei once told me that as you progress in Aikido, you will be able to tell what kind of mood the Nage is in immediately upon grabbing their wrist.  So, you must learn to feel the energy of Nage.

Second, learn to follow the movement. In Aikido, you want to be close to Nage so that you can feel what’s going on in a technique. You don’t want to lose that sense of connection to Nage, since we don’t know what Nage might do next. Nage might, for example, throw a punch to re-create a connection.  How well you can follow a technique will determine the ability to reverse the technique.

Lastly, take action. When you are learning, you don’t want to react to technique. Reaction is always slower than Action. So, you want to be pro-active in your Ukemi. By the time you react, usually it is too late.

Visualize yourself taking perfect Ukemi. Our instructors have great Ukemi so watch what they do and try to emulate.  They have had the opportunity to “feel” the technique of many great Shihan in the art of Aikido simply because of their excellent Ukemi skills.