Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lesson 1: Ukemi

Here begins Lesson 1: the attempt at a project where I catalogue at least one tangible thing I can say I learned from every Aikido lesson (normally that will be every monday and thursday night). In order to prevent any blending together (how anti-Aikido) of memories or epiphanies, hopefully this project will prove useful for later review. Or maybe at the end of some chapter I can look back and say "awe, isn't that wonderful", as if it was a photo album of my own baby; but in a way I guess this is kind of my baby right?

Anyway, on with the lesson; and actually a couple into one tonight. Big happy bonus number one.

First we'll start metaphysical:

"Senri no michi mo ippo kara."

Roughly into English: "A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step."

I actually learned this very early on in my time here in Japan from my closest Japanese teacher at high school, and I have said it to myself at least once every single day. In the context of foreign language, it is so blatantly apparent that fluency and mastery are so very far from a beginner's ability. However, there's no use complaining or quitting or doing anything else except practicing if you want to get better. Also, there's no jumping from one to one hundred, one to fifty, or even one to ten (unless maybe you've done strength shoes ;) ), you must take it one step at a time. This is also very very very apparent in martial arts, and in my opinion especially those of the softer type like Tai Chi Chuan and Aikido. This can be a cute little Eastern "zen" phrase for you to read and think for a moment and forget, or it can be something you follow very closely and in depth. This one has stuck with me.

Now on to something tangible. I received an answer to an ukemi question that has been bugging me for a long time: When doing ukemi (roll), should you be on the toes of the foot that ends up under your bum like in the picture just below ...

Or should you land on the top of your foot like the the picture shown below here?

When I first started martial arts with Hawaiian Kenpo, we were specifically told to pay attention to this detail and choose option "A", the first one listed with your weight on the toes. From what I recall, this was to give you mobility and balance on that foot to enable you to move in a new direction or propel forward with the help of that foot. Option "B", the second one, was called the "dead foot" and should be avoided because it can get you stuck in the middle of your roll.

However, when I asked my Aikido teacher tonight, he definately favored option "B". He said it was more "natural", but all of you martial artists out there know that "natural" can be helpful but often even more so ambiguous and manipulated. Well, by executing your ukemi, if you focus to flex your foot up for position "A", it may interrupt your roll and create what may be called an unnecessary strain in your ankle. In option "B", if your foot takes the relaxed position and makes contact with the top of your foot, you can ideally roll through your ukemi more smoothly. Perhaps this explanation may not just fit better with Aikido ideals, but may also prevent harmful tension on your ankles. My sensei also mentioned something about distance, but I wasn't able to discern exactly what he meant. I think he was trying to say that you could roll farther away with option "B", but I'm not sure if that feels right or not.

This explanation is also in the context of my imperfect Japanese. I 100% understood that my aikido sensei favored option "B", but my imbellishment of his explanations could be subject to error.

With different opinions, I think it's only clear there is no one right answer, but different answers according to their relative situations. As for now, I'm rollin' with "B".


  1. Good question on the ukemi.

    I was taught style 1, but arthritis in my foot has made me practice 2 more.

    Bringing the toe under as in style one become important for delivering energy for technique in some ways, but again I find I can work around it.

    Watch your teacher when he does techniques from seiza. Does he go on his toes to do them? This might answer some of the larger picture questions - for we should be thinking about ukemi and waza at the same time.

  2. I have taken to "B", but getting to my feet from my instep is a little tricky.

    I loved the Chicken or egg story. As far as relating to martial arts, to make an omlette- you gotta break a few eggs!

  3. I have been taught to use option A and have never tried option B.I will try option B tomorrow in the dojo. It looks awkward and less natural to me.....but maybe that is just the way I have been conditioned. Nice Blog, Dojo Rats Blog is also great. Thank you both

  4. SS: Mmmm, interesting idea. I will certainly watch closely. Welcome back from your hiatus! Post soon?

    DR: Option B I've noticed can't be broken down successfully, it seems the end of the ukemi fully relies upon the beginning, in that you need to put enough momentum into the roll to pop up. Since I like breaking techniques to each little part, that part makes me a bit uncomfortable.

    Sean: How did option 2 work?! I found its the easiest to do right away, and if anything, option 1 is really hard for me to do with my left foot. Maybe easiest is best sometimes? I'm not sure here.