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Turn ukemi on its head

I've stated on many occasions, my opinion that safe falling skills are the most important things we learn in judo and aikido and are probably the best self-defense anyone can learn.  Ukemi (falling) is a big deal.  
But how do we teach ukemi?  If your class like most, then beginners spend a few minutes at the beginning of the first few classes working on rolling and falling before they are thrown into the deep end of the pool.  If your class is among the best, perhaps you make every student (new and old) spend a few minutes on ukemi during every class - before we get to the real meat of the class. See, even in classes where it gets a lot of lip service, ukemi is mostly relegated to a secondary role or a minor skill.
So how do we put ukemi in its proper place in our training?
One way (and I'm not sure I want to go this far, but it is one possibility...)
How about in aikido, we make our basic pre-shodan curriculum consist solely of how to fall appropriately out of the most common 30 odd ways (8 releases, 17 junana, 10 owaza) that the other guy can push/pull/knock you into the ground?
How about in judo, our pre-shodan curriculum could be how to survive 20-30 of the gokyonowaza?
I mean - what if we take the emphasis completely off of teaching tori how to throw uke down, so that we make tori's role into a spotter rather than a thrower? 
So tori's job would be to help uke get a proper offbalance (kuzushi), turn into a proper position (tsukuri) to spot uke, apply just enough force (kake) to make the thing go smoothly  and then help uke land right at the end (zanshin).
The whole class could be an assisted ukemi class, with the following potential benefits...

  • produce better ukes faster
  • beat up uke less
  • drag tori along for the ride - that is, tori would be passively developing the offensive skills and motions typically associated with the tori role.

I know... Crazy idea, right?

photo courtesy of DefenceImages

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Patrick Parker