Personal Views on Ukemi
Below is a short essay where I share my thoughts/experiences on the levels of ukemi practice in aikido. Please note that the following text is a representation of my personal views on ukemi practice at this point in my own training. With the sharing of this writing, it is not my intention to advise, to teach, or give guidance of any sort but rather to merely share my thoughts.
STAGES OF UKEMI TRAINING
I. Basic Ukemi Practice --
Basic ukemi training consists primarily of a precise repetition of basic forms. Such forms include how to attack properly, how to receive basic technique safely, and how to maintain an essential center-to-center connection to one's partner without providing significant resistance during relatively low power encounters. This stage is vitally important as it builds the foundation for all future development by imparting basic skills and conditioning the body to allow for a correct natural progression to more advanced levels of ukemi practice.
II. Intermediate Ukemi Practice --
As the student begins to transition from a basic level of proficiency to a more intermediate level, he/she develops the skill to safely maintain the center-to-center connection during more dynamic encounters. These intensified encounters begin to take the student to the edge of their comfort zone and therefore present both physical and emotional challenges that may lead to a perceived uncertainty of the outcome and therefore create discomfort (being taken to and from the "edge" is in my opinion a necessary part of the forging process). Also in this intermediate level of ukemi practice the student begins to passively explore and develop sensitivity to the fundamental characteristic quality of the opponent's applied power within the confines of the preset forms (i.e. magnitude and direction, where the power ebbs and flows, etc.). It is worthwhile to explicitly state that this exploration is done internal to uke's body without compromising or deviating from the preset form being practiced.
III. Advanced Ukemi Practice --
Up to this point the student has spent significant time becoming proficient at maintaining the center-to-center connection between themselves and their opponent during an intense dynamic encounter. They have also begun to learn how to passively "read" the nature of their opponent's power and how it is being applied. The development of these skills allows further progression to more advanced training which has a more direct applicability to a wider range of martial encounters. The student uses their refined sensitivity to the nature of their opponent's power, felt through the essential center-to-center connection, to feel for and exploit openings for the purpose of neutralizing the opponent's power and moving oneself to a martially superior position. Once this superior positioning is achieved, the student becomes able to take positive control of their opponent by returning their own power back through the maintained connection and attempting to capture and take control of the opponent's center. During this level of practice both partners attempt to generate and transmit full power to their opponent while maintaining and concealing their own stable center and thereby trying to not create openings for the opponent to take advantage of. In this advanced training both partners may be well out of their comfort zone, pushing each other to their respective limits, all while remaining ultimately responsible for both their own individual safety and the safety of their partner. It is worthwhile to note that the traditional roles of "uke" and "nage" may no longer be clear as both partners feel for or create and exploit openings until the encounter comes to an end.