Hello Mark, Ron,
Well, I have had the benefit of talking at length to those like Tamura and Tada Shihans, who were senior deshi of Morihei Ueshiba and took ukemi very often, and also to present shihans in the Hombu who regularly take ukemi for the present Doshu. The point here is that, in their estimation, the ukemi had to match the waza as exactly as possible, in the sense that O Sensei's / Doshu's practice was / is a living textbook of the art. So there is a need for immense sensitivity here, of interpreting as closely as possible the signals transmitted through movements, actions, even subtle, unexpressed intentions.
This is what I meant, when I stated in another thread that ukemi was the ura-gawa
of waza. I think this aspect is completely divorced from any idea of tanking, or the intensity of the attack you make. If you think of the various waza, like 1-kyo, 3-kyo, shiho-nage, kote-gaeshi, there is an 'ideal form' of both waza and ukemi (the ukemi has to be 'correct': has to match the waza, otherwise either uke or tori would be injured). Aikido 3D is a clear, but unsubtle, example of such an ideal form, which is probably taught to beginners in every aikido dojo on the planet.
I have also had the benefit of spending many hours discussion with Ellis Amdur. You might remember his Aikido Journal
blogs, which will soon appear, transformed, in his next book. Takeda, Sagawa and Ueshiba all taught their art by means of executing waza, which required their deshi to take ukemi. This method of teaching was a reversal of the standard koryu method. Why?
After Szczepan's initial post, I trawled thougth Stan Pranin's Aikido Masters
for evidence about Ueshiba's early teaching methods. Junior recruits had to do chores and watch training before being allowed to do anything. I cannot remember the source, but I have read that deshi were also required to spend a lengthy period taking ukemi before being allowed to do any waza themselves. Why would this be necessary, if not to teach the sensitivity required to match the waza with the 'correct' response?
If you add the 'body memory / sensitivity', gained from ukemi to the power gained from personal training, you have a very potent combination. Opinions are mixed about Sokaku Takeda's visit to Ayabe in the early 1920s. One version has it that Takeda was invited, and spent all his time teaching Ueshiba 'aiki' skills, in order that Ueshiba could handle the young seamen who came from Maizuru to train in Ayabe. The other version has it that Takeda came unannounced and that Ueshiba was a dutiful deshi, but there was very little technical input.
Consider such a scenario. Both Takeda and Ueshiba allowed their deshi to attack them at any time, but it was also pretty well built into the equation that they would not be defeated. Takeda seems to have interpreted this convention much more strictly than Ueshiba--and I wonder, really, how strongly Morihei Ueshiba used to attack Sokaku Takeda. He obviously did, but the results were rarely recorded. Similarly, if you are a deshi and Master Ueshiba says, 'You can attack me any time', when do you, a relatively raw deshi, actually do this? When he is taking his bath, having dinner, or taking tea (the attack and defence being Araki-ryu style)?
When the deshi accompanied O Sensei on his trips to Shingu, or Kyushu, or Osaka, I do not think that making unprovoked attacks, in a railway carriage, for example, was in the forefront of their minds. Similarly with demonstrations in front of the Imperial family and the Court. In the dojo, they had to be focused on--yes--attacking correctly and taking correct ukemi. However, given the Daito-ryu / Aiki-budo dojo culture of 'stealing' knowledge, the deshi had to learn by experience. 'Unprovoked attacks' at 'any time' were really a tatemae.
Note that in all these cases, ukemi involved being thrown or being pinned. However, ukemi really means 'receiving (with the) body' and this entails neither being thrown nor being pinned. This is something that Mark will understand, I think, from his training with Dan Harden. My own (very private) view, which I am still working on, is that the concept of ukemi is as wide as that of waza (which does NOT mean 'technique').
EDIT. Charles has ably summed up what I stated at greater length.
I think Peter means exactly what he said. I remember reading posts and/or articles about it. That when Ueshiba wanted an uke, you had to know what attack he wanted or he didn't call on you again. But I can't find any of the posts/articles again.