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04-01-2004, 06:48 PM
Front rolls & dive rolls have been a major setback for me in my Aikido training. Back rolls are easy for me, but front rolls have been the most challenging part of Aikido so far. It was the opposite for my brother when he began Aikido training. I wonder if it may be because we (women) carry our center of gravity lower than men? There are no upper belt women in the dojo where I train, so I am wondering if any of you have had similar problems? I have a good sensei who is working with me to overcome the gap in contact that is happening as I roll (resulting in a rather “clunky” roll) but it is sometimes physically painful and a bit frustrating to see new students “get it” when I have been struggling for seven months *blush*.

While the upper belt men have been patient with me (I’m very grateful for their help), I’m not convinced that they can truly relate since they themselves have not had to struggle with rolls. I have fallen in love with Aikido and am eager to understand and improve.


04-01-2004, 07:23 PM
Hi Tonya;

I have a suggestion, same advice I give to the women who train with me. If there is a dojo within striking distance where there are higher ranked women - you should make the effort about once a month or so to go. None of the current have gone to Honbu with me except to grade but I have brought women yudansha to the club.

In our case I don't think roles are really that much of an issue (perhaps I too can not relate) but the randori sure is. Not to mention the inspiration that the exposure can provide. In a male dominated dojo women do need to see other women that are more advanced.

William Westdyke
04-01-2004, 07:43 PM

My instructor Judith Robinson is a great martial artist and has trained quite a few of the higher ranked dan females in our dojo. In my opinion (as I have trained quite a few places over the years) there isn't anything in aikido she can't do or teach. She is also one of the nicest people I know and would probably be very happy to talk with you. I have never seen her turn away a question and know she would be thrilled help you.


This is our schools web site and here is her direct email address: casajmn@aol.com She has contacts throughout the aikido world and one of her focus's is on women's aikido. It might be worth your time to contact her.

Good luck and don't give up!


04-01-2004, 09:39 PM
Thank you, Peter. I look forward to attending a women's Aikido seminar later this year. I will look into neighboring cities as you suggested, although, I do feel quite loyal to the dojo in which I train.

And thank you, William. I will check out the website!

04-01-2004, 10:31 PM
... although, I do feel quite loyal to the dojo in which I train.
Tonya - I don't think training periodically in another dojo would be disloyal. In your situation I would talk to your teacher and perhaps a suitable group will be suggested. You of course would continue to train under your primary teacher. Call it a secondment.

At the risk of getting myself into trouble I'm on record for saying that I find a male/female dojo mix of 60/40 ideal. The reason for the ratio is simply one of group dynamic but generally speaking the women soften up the men and the men harden up the women. I base this on my experience teaching and practicing both here and in the West. I don't like all male dojos just as much as I dislike all female.

A little digression I know but the point is - your personal Aikido will probably be better in the long run in the situation you find yourself in rather than the opposite. However, for inspiration and communing I would consider the visits.

04-02-2004, 06:22 AM
Seriously - this just sounds like a practice issue and not a gender issue.

04-02-2004, 06:25 AM
I was a terrible roller for a very long time, the despair of the dojo, but I got it eventually.

My observation is that the male students are often willing to roll *fast* while the women students are still feeling timid about it. When I got over the timidity I found it much easier to roll fast than slow. This isn't technique, just self-confidence, but it can definitely produce the impression that men learn faster.

It really helped that half of our intro classes are taught by a female fourth dan, so there was never any suggestion that women couldn't do this. If you have not gotten to train with a higher-ranked woman I'd definitely recommend it.

For our particular mix of students and teachers I haven't really seen consistent gender differences. We've had both "hard" and "soft" approaches from both males and females. The female fourth dan is known mainly for extreme precision of technique; she tends to set the standard for everyone else.

Mary Kaye

04-02-2004, 09:00 AM
Luke, I bring up the gender issue because it has been so strange to have gotten my back rolls so easily and not front rolls. I have never been timid to do back rolls. It brought me to the conclusion that perhaps it was a matter of physics.

Mary, thanks for sharing your experience. I have been able to front roll good enough to roll out of throws, but I often end up with bruises. And when asked to dive roll, I went home with bruises down my shoulder, a pulled muscle in my back and a technicolor bruise the size of Canada on the back of my hip. Obviously I am missing a chunk of contact between my shoulder and hip. But the physical pain doesn't bother me as much as not understanding how to manipulate my center of gravity to make rolls work.

04-02-2004, 11:54 AM
Can you practice stopping a back roll halfway through and then rolling forwards out of it? This will help you to keep in contact with the mat.

I had no problem learning to roll, after i did it Wrong the first time & spent the next month off the mat!

It does seem to me that the males are just more intent on proving how fast they get it.

Its not about speed...

04-02-2004, 12:23 PM
I don't think gender differences in anatomy really have that much of an effect on the ability of people to learn how to roll. As I help beginner's in our dojo, I see both sexes struggle with it. And to be quite honest, I consistently see the women learn and improve their ukemi faster than men in general. IMHO.

Karen Wolek
04-02-2004, 12:28 PM
Well, a year and a half after I started Aikido, I still have trouble rolling. But just on my left side. I roll like a box, not a wheel. But we are working on it. I have improved greatly since I first started, though. I was scared to roll at all. Then I got to the point of flinging myself across the mat, like gymnastics. Which isn't good-either, because I needed to rely on momentum. I couldn't take a slow, careful, correct forward roll without slamming my left shoulder into the mat.

I'm still working on it. I'll get there. Slow and steady wins the race. :)

Backrolls...........I can't do at all. I've tried, I've gotten hurt, and I don't want to try again for awhile.

So, I'm not sure it's a gender thing.....none of the other women in my dojo have had the trouble I do.

04-02-2004, 02:35 PM
First of all, welcome, Tonya! Good to see you on here. ;)

I don't know about a difference between the genders as far as rolling. As you say, it would be about weight distribution rather than shape... the male and female bodies are not so dissimilar in respect to the general shape involved in making the roll (leg connects to hip to torso to shoulder to arm to hand).

But weight distribution could make a difference, in the shape of the roll and the speed, ie, where the weight is during the course of the roll.

Personally, I have found in teaching rolls that when someone feels like they have a couple of corners on their bodies, they tend to make the roll smaller. I think this exascerbates the problem, as parts of the body meet the mat before-time. Of course, over-extension does not help either, as the person is not ready to support such a roll with their form. It has to be a natural roll, sized to the person, without any attempt to shorten or lengthen it.

I have to say, it is a pet peeve of mine to see people rushed through their ukemi/rolling learning curve, or to see them left to themselves to try to figure it out on their own by trial and error (not only for the obvious reasons, but also for reasons outside the scope of this discussion). I hope this is not your situation, but you are doing the right thing in seeking out advice like this. I just hope my opinions help.

Anyway, the roll is in you. Like a sculptor chiseling away at a square block of marble - taking corner after corner away - each roll will get better. So, as far as upper ranks who seem to roll without effort, don't think that they didn't struggle with their rolls, too. We all did, and sometimes still do! *g*

04-02-2004, 03:07 PM
So, as far as upper ranks who seem to roll without effort, don't think that they didn't struggle with their rolls, too. We all did, and sometimes still do! *g*
Speak for yourself, I have yet to botch a roll in all of my training. Nevermind the 6 weeks I had to take off with a partially dislocated shoulder. But I think that was your fault wasn't it? :D

04-02-2004, 08:26 PM
"Nevermind the 6 weeks I had to take off with a partially dislocated shoulder"

I thought this was a mandatory part of ukemi training?

04-02-2004, 09:06 PM
Nearly every student has something that troubles them--if it isn't rolls it's something else. One of my seniors is awesome at rolling and falling; he's one of the keenest breakfallers in the dojo despite being in his 60's. But don't ask him about nikyo. I roll like a brick, but I'm good (to the annoyance of my partners) at finding ways to regain my balance and stop a throw from working. Another of my seniors is really athletic and very good at throwing and falling, but is tearing out his hair over his ki tests. And so forth.

So when you're annoyed by the way some people seem to learn rolling instantly, you can comfort yourself by reflecting that sooner or later they, too, will hit something they can't readily learn.

Mary Kaye

04-03-2004, 09:25 AM
Thank you for all who shared experiences! These are the lessons I have learned:

1.Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in Aikido.

2.Everyone has a different body type, which seems to make them good at some things and have challenges with others. If you’re shaped like a Botticelli painting :blush: throwing your low center of gravity over your weaker upper body may be challenging, but it makes for solid strength in technique. He-he

3.Although upper belt Aikido women are elusive creatures, they do exist. I know there is a lot of controversy over photos of bigfoot and the loch ness monster, but I’m going to accept photographic and eye witness evidence in this case. Perhaps one day I will add to their population. He-he.

4.Get the heck over yourself Tonya! Let go of ego and accept where you are and how far you have come. Besides, watching people roll funny provides much entertainment for nidan. (sp?)


04-03-2004, 10:15 AM
You Got It!

Like MaryKay says, everybody's got strenghths & weaknesses- even our still kyu-less wonder boy sometimes just _ can't_ throw teeny little me.....but when you take all of us in the basics class & add us up, we make one hell of an aikidoka!

BTW- have you mentioned where you're located?

04-03-2004, 12:00 PM
Speak for yourself, I have yet to botch a roll in all of my training. Nevermind the 6 weeks I had to take off with a partially dislocated shoulder. But I think that was your fault wasn't it? :D
Actually, I don't think I was even there that night...

...not to say that I didn't want to do it. :D

Somebody just beat me to it.

(really, everybody, just kidding)

04-03-2004, 03:12 PM
Oh! I'm in Michigan.

dan guthrie
04-03-2004, 08:11 PM
I'm about your level in time, Tonya, and I always assumed women had the advantage in both forward and backward rolls...lower center of gravity and all.

My forward rolls were very painful; I would drive my shoulder into the mat every time. One of my teachers just advised me to start over from scratch. So for a few weeks I just told everyone I wasn't doing any forward rolls during practice.

Before and after class I would lay on the mat and slowly fling my body over my prone shoulder. Up and down the mat until they threw me out. After a dozen or so classes, I got up on my knees and then up on my feet but realllllly low and so on. If I landed wrong I would just go back to an earlier level.

Also, speed does help me, as well. Just don't get overconfident, wedge your shoulder and get discouraged. Ask your sensei to watch your progress.