Submitted for Shodan Examination, July 2018
As everyone who practices aikido knows, it quite literally has its ups and downs, and ups and downs. In Tomiki Aikido falling is one of the most important skills to develop. When I first started studying Tomiki Aikido I absolutely hated the falling aspect, mainly because I spent so much time previously falling and getting injured. Since then I have realized that ressisting this training early on has made it significantly harder on my instructors, peers and myself. At this point in time I can perform a passible back fall, forward roll, and flip fall, however it’s taken a
lot more time and effort than it would have had I learned how to just take the falls in the first place. I have spent more time and effort as of late breaking bad habits and relearning how to fall than focusing on learning new techniques. Learning ukemi well early on is important not only for the safety of yourself and others, but also because it makes it easier to learn the techniques well and keep everyone having a good time.
The first thing every student learns is how to take a proper back fall, the reason: Safety. Before it is possible to start learning throws it is necessary to learn how to be thrown. For instance, we slap the ground to disperse energy instead of putting our hands behind us catch ourselves. This prevents us from breaking our wrists. In addition, we practice tucking our heads to keep from concussing ourselves. After learning the basics of how to fall without getting injured, we quickly shift focus to learning the Atemi Waza. Practicing ukemi is important, but it can easily be forgotten with the addition of new techniques.
Without the focus on and repetition of proper falls, bad habits become common place. For example, stepping out of techniques or rolling over our heads can become like second nature. As I mentioned before, lately I have had to spend an inordinate amount of time breaking these bad habits. Stepping out of techniques is dangerous. An example of this is when you’re in a joint lock; if you try to step out instead of taking the fall, you end up putting a lot of strain on your joints. Additionally, rolling over your head can create a serious risk of concussions. Learning ukemi well is necessary to help you and your peers learn the techniques.
Without an uke who is willing and able to take the falls cleanly, it is hard to tell if a technique is done well or if it’s missing key parts. I stepped out of most techniques because I was afraid of falling. Unfortunately, this also made it more difficult for my classmates to develop good habits. I put myself in unsafe situations and others in frustration because of my unwillingness to take the
Practicing ukemi wrong when learning reinforces development of cheating to get the uke to fall. In real world situations, these “cheats” provide viable techniques. However, kata is a very strict set of techniques used to demonstrate certain principles. Deviating from kata quickly becomes randori and it is important to make the distinction between the two.This is an issue ,if a uke is unwilling to fall properly, tori is no longer practicing kata, and is instead practicing the variations.
Being able to take good ukemi is also crucial to learning and helping others learn more advanced techniques. For instance the final technique from the daisan kata requires a back fall mid-technique that can catch people by surprise quite easily. With an uke who is confident in their falling skills this poses no challenge or risk, but with someone who resists this can be dangerous for both sides. Uke risks both injuring their knee and accidentally kicking tori in the head on their way down.
People learn Aikido for many different reasons. I started learning when I was thirteen because I was a victim of bullying. Practicing Tomiki Aikido has dealt me with challenges and triumphs, or ups and downs if you will. Although it can be challenging at times, I ultimately end up having a lot of fun, whether I’m flying through the air or flat on my back. Over the years Aikido has provided me with much more than just the skills I originally joined for. My classmates have become like a second family to me. To keep Aikido fun for everyone requires it to be safe for everyone – within reason of course. This is only possible if everyone learns how to fall safely. In conclusion, just take the fall.