Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How to improve your ukemi

So, I've been posting a good bit about ukemi recently. Maybe someone's gotten the idea that I consider this a pretty important subject or something. So, how do you go about improving your ukemi skills? There is, of course, my usual advice, "Go do about quarter of a million repetitions of this and then come back to me." But perhaps you would like some more advice - maybe some that you don't often get. Maybe some you don't want to hear...
Here's a few ways to improve your ukemi skills:
  • Work on your flexibility some - especially hams, quads, hips, and low back. Why? A lot of the energy from a fall is absorbed in the musculature, and a good uke relies on the muscles crossing his hips, knees, and low back to control the direction and the impact of the fall. My prescription for a sensible flexibility program is Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss, by Suzanne Deason. I don't know about doing yoga to lose weight, but this is an excellent flexibility program that is scalable to all different skill levels and provides a great intro. Trust me, just a little extra flexibility will do wonders.
  • Work on your cardiovascular conditioning some. Just like with flexibility, you don't need to be a super-athlete to get some benefit from some cardio work. And I don't necessarily mean running. Walking does fine. The key is to do slightly more than you are comfortable with and repeat this application of stress regularly - most days of the week - that's at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week of walking slightly faster than comfortable. What does this do for your ukemi skills? Well, for one thing, it improves the strength and endurance of your hip, ab, and back muscles - might not make you a hottie but it does help. Also, let's face it. Dragging your overweight butt out of the mat every 6-12 seconds for an hour is hard work.
  • Some improved muscle tone won't hurt either. Again, you don't have to be a bodybuilder if you don't want to, but as I said earlier, muscle absorbs impact. More muscle absorbs impact better. You can do whatever type of resistance program you want but I am a fan of functional fitness. Do something that moves your own bodyweight against gravity like shrimping, bridging, pushups, crunches, etc... Get a yoga ball and wrestle around on the mat with it. For a challenge, find a Pilates tape and work on some ofthe stuff they do.
Bruce Lee said in Tao that most martial artists spend far too little time preparing themselves for the activity. John Wood expressed a similar idea in one of his early posts. I agree totally, though I don't think we should be spending class time on situps and pushups when we can be working on skill improvements for which you need a coach. Take some time on your own out of class on a regular basis and work on the parts of your physical structure that take the most abuse in ukemi. It'll pay off.


  1. I totally agree but I would add an exerise program to the list. Ground Work!
    There ain't nothing more finer then grinding away on the ground. It increases heart rate, works the core and has no repeditive motion to damage joints.
    Yoga! :)
    Doing bridge and roll drill then rolling around with someone with a litte weight on them, is about as tiring as it gets.

  2. Good point, struggler. In fact, there's more to it than you mentioned. Not only does groundwork improve your physical fitness, but it seems to me that most problems with ukemi are caused by uke trying to stay off the ground or being afraid to go to the ground. This fear or reluctance changes the whole physical act of falling into something more difficult and more dangerous. getting familiar with the ground and how to move around on the ground cannot but help reduce reluctance to falling.


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