View Full Version : A new approach to teaching ukemi
10-14-2004, 12:04 PM
:) Well, it is for me anyway!
I volunteered to help our newer students with their ukemi and will teach them for the first time next week. I have decided not to do this in the traditional "roll until you're dizzy" way, but instead have decided to teach them right from the start that ukemi is the role of uke in the interection between nage and uke.
I plan to do this just by using basic partner exercises, offering technical help to get them started, then encouraging them to feel and think about where they are in relation to the ground, from their centre. Also, how to use the direction they're getting from nage to 'power' their fall. Then we'll go on to the rolling...
Has anybody else tried this approach with beginning students? I'd appreciate any comments from those who have so that I can make the lessons a) producive and b) enjoyable for my students!
Thanks in advance,
10-14-2004, 01:05 PM
It is worth noting that "teaching ukemi" can be interpreted as either teaching how to fall and roll, or teaching the entire role that uke plays during training. The art of ukemi technically includes many varied subjects such as falling and rolling (with and without weapons), a variety of strikes, grabs, chokes, and holds, gaeshi-waza, a variety of etiquette including training, demonstrating, and testing, and first aid. Most of these skills overlap with the art of nage. Serious study of the complete role of uke can often be overlooked, however. The practitioner who is taught that ukemi is nothing but falling and rolling will be unable to provide sincere attacks and perform the other duties of uke appropriately. In the majority of Japanese martial systems, the senior teaches technique in the role of uke rather than nage, applying a variety of methods and proper resistance which lead the junior to apply the technique correctly. This illustrates the importance of taking the role of uke every bit as seriously as nage.
I think that it is a very good idea to blur some of the lines between the different factors of being uke. I furthermore believe, as has been stated before, that attempting to draw a serious distinction between the roles of uke and nage is intellectual bankruptcy. Nevertheless, such distinctions must be made while teaching beginners, simply so that there is a common lexicon which can be used to transmit Aikido between systems and across borders. By teaching that the role of uke is more than just falling and rolling, however, and doing it in a paired environment, new students can get a sense, from the very beginning, that ukemi is at least half of Aikido training, and that developing yourself into a valuable piece of training equipment will not only keep you from sustaining injury, but will also attract more advanced practitioners to train with you, and will give you the opportunity to give more back to your dojo and the entire Aikido family.
10-15-2004, 05:29 AM
By teaching that the role of uke is more than just falling and rolling, however, and doing it in a paired environment, new students can get a sense, from the very beginning, that ukemi is at least half of Aikido training, and that developing yourself into a valuable piece of training equipment will not only keep you from sustaining injury, but will also attract more advanced practitioners to train with you, and will give you the opportunity to give more back to your dojo and the entire Aikido family.
This is exactly why I want to try this approach. Two weeks ago I had a dicsussion with my senior instructor about this, and he was genuinely surprised when I told him that beginning students often see no connection between the rolling practise we do at the start of class, and taking ukemi during throws in the rest of class. I guess he's forgotten what it's like to be a beginner! :) I, being a bit closer to that end of the spectrum, have not forgotten ;) I also talk to our beginning students about their training, and I can see from how they train that this disconnection is present.
I'd like to help our beginners to get confident about their ukemi and to be happy Aikidoka, without going through the confusion I went through back then. This is my way of contributing to my dojo and to Aikido learning. The great thing is that I can talk to other folk here on Aikiweb which helps me to learn even more!
Thanks for your post,
Ukemi is hard to teach. I think most students need repeated ukemi just to get their body used to being upside down and for confidence. Instruction is not a substitute for practise. However, I think pacing it appropriately so no injuries occur is best since injuries put a serious dent in rolling confidence.
10-15-2004, 10:03 AM
Instruction is not a substitute for practise.
Don't talk to much, they have to teach themselves ukemi trough practice. You show them how to do it, give them pointers, but they have to do it themselves. Like everything else.
10-16-2004, 12:10 AM
I like your ideas. I have never heard this discussed, but in my experience, the most difficult thing about rolling for beginners is a lack of strength in the abdomen and lower back. People are quickly taught rolls which they can`t do well until they get some physical strength and then are forced to do these poorly executed rolls in techniques. They are fearful about the rolls and this causes them to attack in a weak, hesitant way. Then this is repeated over and over until it becomes a habit. I would wait on the rolling from techniques until everyone was very comfortable with solo ukemi (front and back rolls.) Aikido is psychologically scary enough without having to add fear for personal safety.
10-16-2004, 03:44 AM
the most difficult thing about rolling for beginners is a lack of strength in the abdomen and lower back.
I agree with you about this lack of strength problem. This is why I'm going to give them the idea that they have to move from their centre and feel the ground that way, rather than slapping an arm or leg down, or collapsing. There are exercises we can do to help strengthen these areas also.
I would wait on the rolling from techniques until everyone was very comfortable with solo ukemi (front and back rolls.)
Nobody will be rolling from techniques, as we won't be doing any :) The partner exercises will be structured in such a way that nobody is throwing anybody at first. I'm not happy about making new students roll out of techniques as they don't have the timing or the confidence yet. These can be built up using partner exercises which may bear some resemblance to Aikido techniques ;)
Thanks for your post,
10-16-2004, 04:06 AM
When I was learning, I often felt that i learned ukemi better just by being thrown and being forced to protect myself.
However, I previously had 5 years experience in gymnastics and learning how to move, so that may be why I prefered that method.
Let us know how your method works out.
10-20-2004, 11:54 AM
I thought about this class a lot for a week. I read books, trawled the internet for pointers, threw myself around a bit at home. I deliberately didn't write a lesson plan - I feel I have to know this stuff inside out, be able to go with the flow of the class, and respond to my student's needs and questions, rather than stick to a rigid timetable.
Class was 4 students at various stages of ability. I began with seiza - how to sit without slumping or seizing up ;-) , going on to standing up from seiza and then returning to seiza - all the time emphasising that the students use their centre, hips and legs and think "up" - the upper body was not allowed to do anything but maintain structural integrity and stay relaxed.
Then we looked at hanmi. I asked the class why we stand in hanmi - and they all had a pretty good intellectual understanding of why. This had not been translated into how, however ;-), so again we looked at maintaining a relaxed upright posture, knowing where the centre is and how to move from it. I asked them to try out different distances between their feet and different angles of hip. It's important they learn what *their* good, strong posture is.
Next we did an exercise - simple tenkan to avoid chudan tsuki. Both uke and tori got the opportunity to feel the difference between having their weight distributed 50/50 between front and back feet, and 70/30. They all found it was easier to move their back foot when there was more weight on the front one. Now this may seem obvious to most of you folk, but to these guys it was a revelation - they all got really excited about it!
After that, we started working on back falls. A lot of the trouble newer students have with this is that they don't have, or don't know how to use, the correct muscles to do this safely. So we did a lot of exercises to develop these muscles ;-) Firstly, just rocking back and forth, changing feet in mid-air. This is the safest way I know to develop the body roundness and hip movement they need. After that, we did solo back falls from standing - emphasis on being quiet and controlled. After a bit, I asked them to do these as slowly as possible - groans from the students, but a big improvement in their fluidity.
Finally we began the partner exercise based on tenchinage. From gyaku hanmi, uke practised their back falls (no rolling at this stage) from tori simply dropping their hand to uke's back balance point. I explained to them that uke must fall *with* the momentum from tori -not before and not after. This is what's really going to save them when they go train with the seniors! The two more advanced students started looking really, really good, so I asked them to do back rolls from the same exercise. I was smiling to see some real Aikido going on there :-)
The final part of class was devoted to how to fall from Ikkyo. This isn't generally taught, so my students had to learn that going splat onto the kneecaps / face / chest is incorrect :-) I haven't taught this before, but now I know that it has to be broken into steps. Firstly, starting from kneeling on the mat, the students practise throwing their arm forward and skimming across the surface of the mat to control the descent of their upper body. Then, the full ukemi of dropping the nearest leg to tori so that knee and shin are flat on the mat, then simultaneously kicking up with the far leg and throwing the arm forward. I guess this could be practised from kneeling also - I was doing it myself to demonstrate! - but I had them doing it from Ikkyo. Mixed success - one student twisted a knee slightly as his partner was trying to do zigzag Ikkyo (not appropriate for first learning this breakfall) but that was put right. Something to watch out for in future. I'm going to teach it in a different sequence next time.
After class, the students came up and thanked me for showing them stuff they hadn't done before, so I think overall it was successful for everyone. I'm teaching ukemi / basics again next week, so more thinking required!
10-20-2004, 06:05 PM
Ruth that is great!
Its very close to the way we learn ukemi in our dojo but much more in detail, perfect for beginers.
No one ever taught us how to fall from ikkyo tho, i'm still trying to figure it out, on the fly ,as it were.
10-20-2004, 06:37 PM
Excellent post, thanks. I am going to try the back falls as slowly as possible thing.
A couple of comments.
1. John Stevens Sensei told me that once Rinjiro Shirata Shihan (9th dan) taught an instructor`s seminar for all teachers in northern Japan, minimum rank, 5th dan. He had them all practicing the standing up and sitting down from seiza, just as you did. I guess one can never be too advanced to improve at even a very basic level.
2. Bruce Bookman`s videos on ukemi cover taking ukemi from ikkyo. Very helpful.
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