As tough, sporty, martial arts folks, we have a natural inclination to push through discomfort or fear. You often hear advice like, "Suck it up, Buttercup!" and "No Pain, No Gain," and "Pain is weakness leaving the body." It makes immediate intuitive sense that martial arts should be uncomfortable or frightening, and we think that we'll never make it very far in these deadly martial activities unless we suppress the fear and pain we feel. Sometimes we feel that if it isn't frightening and uncomfortable it must not be very effective.
When I was a beginner in judo just starting to learn ukemi, I was in a college club populated mostly by fairly athletic young adult males. This population (including myself) is mostly dummies. My approach to ukemi was to bull through and "Suck it up, Buttercup," because obviously, "no pain, no gain..." and all that. I couldn't figure out why ukemi became more painful and more frustrating every single time I went to practice, and I couldn't figure out why the straight-ahead charging approach to ukemi wasn't working so good.
It never occurred to me at the time that the gentleness and efficiency ideals of judo could also apply to the learning of judo - and that those ideals should particularly apply to learning ukemi. I was approaching learning judo like breaking a horse back in the bad old days (I was the horse being broken). It took me a long time - many years) to figure out that learning judo could be approached like doing judo - that is, with gentle flexibility - like whispering a horse.
We talk a nice talk about "Self-Improvement" and "Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort" and "Mutual Benefit," and then we grab uke and push and pull and twist and throw and crush and force him to submit. You even hear the nice talk every so often about ukemi being "the receiving of judo knowledge through your body," but then we grab uke up and bust his ass on the mat and grind on him and everyone wonders why uke is not "self-improving" and why he is not receiving the "efficiency" and "mutual benefit" ideals that we're always talking about.
I think it is super-important - vitally critical - if we are going to attempt to improve upon the arts of aikido and judo as we pass them on to our students that we re-consider some things, namely..
- What should ukemi be like? Should it be severe? Could it be gentle? Might it even be supportive or protective?
- Can we approach the teaching of judo like the old dead guys said we should approach the performance of ideal judo? That is, with gentle, flexible efficiency and an eye toward self-improvement and mutual benefit.
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