|photo by rick manwaring|
In my Tuesday night class we were studying koshi kudaki. There are many levels to studying such a simple looking technique. First you need to understand the attack which is normally a type of hip throw like o goshi or harai goshi. As we were studying the attack, one of the students who also studies Judo was taking proper Judo ukemi. I suggested to him that this was creating a bad habit. His ukemi looked great, so what was bad about it?
It is important when studying any martial art to understand the goal of the study. In many modern arts, the goal is sport. In sport, there are judges to determine points or winners. But the judging gets more insidious. Your teacher naturally judges your form or technique. Your fellow students judge as they watch you. You even judge yourself. All this judging creates an impulse toward pretty form. Clean moves. Flashy kicks or throws. Satisfying slaps on the mat during ukemi. Even tapping out becomes part of the aesthetic.
Then ukemi training becomes very formal and repetitive to develop form and instant response.
None of this is real. It is all set up under false conditions that would likely never occur in combat. Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Don't take ukemi. When you take ukemi you create openings. In the moment you think, "I have to take ukemi here," you're actually open because your mind is occupied with something else. Don't take ukemi. Just let it happen. For example, if you use your hands in taking ukemi, you won't be able to use weapons against your opponent and you'll be killed as a result. You're occupied."Bujinkan ukemi is more about natural response in the moment. It has few flashy moves and is not a big crowd pleaser at martial arts demos.
The Bujinkan sometimes faces criticism in the martial arts community because it doesn't have this aesthetic appeal. People don't understand what they are looking at. It is often hard even for experienced Bujinkan students to understand what Sensei is doing even as he does it right before their eyes.
What are some of the goals with our ukemi?
One is safety for the uke. Being able to survive being kicked, punched thrown, grappled, stabbed, shot at… whatever the situation demands. Survival ukemi isn't showy. And no two incidents look alike. In many martial arts dojos you walk in and find students all falling the exact same way repetitively. In Bujinkan classes, rarely do you see any pair of students falling or taking ukemi the same way. Training cookie cutter, repetitious ukemi can build bad habits that can get you injured.
Another goal of our ukemi is escape or evasion. You won't see this in any competition. So the training that sports martial arts do also has this large gap or absence in their curriculum. And, the ukemi they teach may be corrupted and dangerous because of this.
A third important aspect of our ukemi is countering. Often, the ukemi is the counter. Sports martial arts do have this but their end goal is different: i.e. pleasing judges (or the audience), a tap out or submission, maybe KO). These end goals again corrupt the use of natural ukemi that is a very powerful tool for countering.
Our ukemi has other goals as well like kyojitsu, searching and situational awareness, or accessing weapons.
Natural ukemi rarely looks impressive. It looks sudden, clumsy, chaotic or when done superbly, just blends with the attack to appear like nothing at all. But if it meets any of the above goals, then it was correct ukemi.
Hatsumi Sensei says,
"Those who take ukemi as Budoka are just amateurs."For those of you who study arts besides Bujinkan, please ask your self next time you hit the mats: Why fall this way? Why be thrown this way? Why slap the mat? What is the purpose of your ukemi?