I'm a firm believer that ukemi is a funamental part of aikido which helps to develop ideas of extension, body movement, zanshin, martial attitude and blending. I am currently running a short introductory course in aikido, which will become a club next year. However almost everyone is an absolute beginner and is finding it a bit frightening/silly doing ukemi.
Are there any excercises you think are really good for developing a students ability to ukemi?
In my mind, ukemi is the most important part of aikido practice. Many people forget ukemi is 50% of our practice and what we do as uke certainly translates very much to our, um, "nagemi."
That said, I also think that there's too much emphasis on learning about the falling and rolling aspect of ukemi. I agree with Lisa Tomoleoni n her article, "On Ukemi." Personally, I believe that when people are led to believe that ukemi is all about rolling and falling, they get their mind too focused on the "end" part of the technique and not the "during" part.
With that said, when I show people how to roll and fall, I try to start from the ground up. Taking a forward roll for an example, start in a low crouch and work "up" from there. Rather than emphasizing a downward falling motion, I try to emphasize a forward, "skimming" motion in a forward roll.
I've also realized that everyone has a different manner in which they learn how to roll (or anything else). I think it's important to recognize this and try to tailor your teachings as much as you can. This may mean, of course, that your advice to one person may not apply to someone else.
Lastly, I also believe that once someone has a notion of how to roll and they have the basics down that you should just let them roll around on their own. It becomes a kinesthetic thing after a while, after all.
I've been thinking about compiling a set of rolling, falling, and basic ukemi exercises but haven't gotten to them yet. Maybe I'll have time to do so soon.
I understand 100% of what you are facing. I've recently begun teaching beginner's Aikido classes in my new home town (I was an assistant instructor for two years before moving). I've found that the adults I'm teaching have a fear of falling. When you are young and learning to walk and run, you fall down. Somewhere along the lines of growing up, you are told that falling down is silly and to avoid falling down. Then, you start taking Aikido classes and the first thing the Sensei wants you to learn how to do is fall down. I begin by teaching the adults to roll forward and backward from a kneeling position. I believe the fear most of the adults have is that they will smash their heads into the floor and so by starting from a kneeling position, the fear is lessened. I've also tried using "ukemi" balls, these are large inflatable rubber balls (sort of like a stronger beach ball), this helps teach the students the proper placement of their hands and arms while rolling forward. Teaching people to roll backward is more difficult so I begin by teaching "Koho tento undo" (I'm not sure if you are familiar with this particular exercise or not but it is essentially learning how to fall down backwards without using your hands or arms to stop your fall. Imagine a backward roll without actually rolling backward, instead returning to a standing position). By beginning with this concept, the students learn the initial movements associated with the backward roll. Another idea is to not wear your Hakama while teaching ukemi. I've found that it's important for the students to be able to see my feet and legs while I'm demonstrating proper rolling technique (especially the backward roll) and the Hakama obstructs the view. I usually don't begin instructing the students on how to perform breakfalls until they are comfortable rolling. I've had success using these methods, the adult students are grasping the important concept of ukemi. I'm not sure if you are teaching children or not, but I can honestly say that teaching the children to roll correctly was much less stress-inducing than teaching the adults. Again, I think it's becuase the children don't have that fear of smashing their heads into the floor. I wish you good luck with your Aikido Club and I hope that the information I've provided will help.
I don't have anything to add to the technical that Jun and Rentaroo mentioned but I'll throw out a couple of things I've done. I believe that once a person can backroll (even just sitting down) I take them on Erik's journey through everything Erik can think of that falls that way. I like to get people away from thinking as fast as I can. Thinking during ukemi is not a good thing in my opinion--before and after but not during.
I've also been known to set up obstacle courses once they can fully roll forward and backwards. Obstacles include people, moving jo, backward rolls into forward rolls, elevated jo (on pylons or whatever), knee walking around pylons into forward rolls, 2 jo on the ground as a distance obstacle, etc.
A couple of times I've put people in a circle and had the person in the middle throw ukes at those outside the circle with a randori grab. The idea is to wake people up to the idea that something going on over there might not stay there. This one scares me though and I would choose my participants very carefully (definitely not beginners) as people tend to be asleep sometimes and I'd rather wake them up while keeping them in one piece. It's the idea but...
It's interesting how we each have it differently. I find it harder to get people to forward roll and that backward rolls come really easy.
Many thanks for the feedback. I am especially intrigued by the ukemi ball - thats something I've never heard of before. The 'skimming' motion is also a valid point and I'm sure when they improve I shall try various excercises.
Staight to the hard stuff!
I read an article by Wolffe(?) in the Asian journal of Martial arts called something along the lines of "The Science of breakfalls" this instructor teaches breakfalls first then moves onto the more difficult rolls later. And the article even included a the ten exercises to do. I was sceptical to say the least. At the time a few of the students in the club were having trouble with the breakfall from kote gaeshi so I decided to give it ago..........I was asked to take a class and decided to do an experiment. The class had at least two raw beginners.
1) you place the person into the final position of the kote gaeshi breakfall, one leg bent one straight ankles of the ground etc.
2) you get them to slap teh mat as hard as they can in this position.
3) you place them on all fours squat beside them reach in under them and grasp the gi at the elbow and knee which are furthest away from you.
Keeping a firm grasp stand up quickly. This rotates the person along the spinal axis very quickly they then slap the mat and are in the same position as 1).
4) get them to now stand up and with one hand on a wall/partner they lift their back leg, keeping it as straight as possible which forces the body/head forward (heel is on the ground) however they are pushing against you/wall and so they feel safe and cannot fall (lose balance)
5)exact same as above but with you standing at their side gently holding their shoulder so that when their back leg up( still as straight as possible) which brings their torso forward (they look like a capital T) you keep them stable.( they are starting to feel what it is like to lose their balance)
6) see above however this time instead of holding their shoulder you hold the forearm. Which forearm? The same one as the rear leg which is coming up. Right leg being raised right forearm is held. If the Right rear leg is coming up you should be standing on their left side holding their right arm (as if you were doing kote gaeshi to them). SO they lean forward and you support there balance less than before so that they are keeping their balance. You are their to support if needed. (Again student is learning to take responsibility for their balance and become familiar with the feeling of losing it)
7) AS above but as the back leg comes up they raise onto their toes. Giving them even less balance. Again you offer support if needed.
8) AS ABOVE but you ask them to try and look at their rear foot as it is rising up from underneath. Back leg is coming up, torso/head is falling forward continue forward motion and they try to look at rear foot. Not surprisingly they lose their balance completly falling forward at which point you pull their forearm up a little to aid spin and they land with a slap again in position 1) Looks and feels like a kote gaeshi tobi ukemi.
9) AS ABOVE but you place their hand in kote gaeshi position ( telling them you are not going to offer as much support) they do the above exercise agian landing in position 1)
10) AS ABOVE but on their own this is very difficult for most people as it is truely a mental thing, even experienced people when asked to do this for the first time will end up doing a very large roll instead of letting their body leave the mat altogether. Try it, ask a member of your dojo to simply do a kote gaeshi flip on their own. It is important the torso motion is staight forward ,like a shomen with the body.The arm across the body cause the spinal rotation to allow them to land in position 1)
11) which isn't in the article but which I think is a nice way to finish. Tsuki kote gaeshi.
It is important to only do one side at a time. The whole thing takes about twenty minutes to do and needs to be repeated on both sides so the total time needed is about thirty minutes per person It is important that you do the exercises with each person or bring in a few experienced people to help you for one class.
It really does work I had two beginners taking ukemi from kote gaeshi as if they had been doing it for months. It really helped with their confidence from seeing something at the beginning of the class ( I demonstrated the breakfall) do being able to do it on their own without assistance at the end did wonders for them. I also had a number of other students come up and say how helpful it was to be taught that breakfall in a precise manner because in our club, like so many other, students are expected to find it for them selves which can be daunting to many.
Please try it out on a senior student to see what you think and if you like it give me your postal address and I will send you my copy of the magazine.
I gave a very intense ukemi session recently, so I should give them a bit of a rest this time (I was amazed at how much confidence people actually had to do break-falls; sometimes frighteningly confident!).
However I'm impressed by the structured way in which you have detailed this approach and I hope to try it out soon.
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