I recently watched an interview with wrestler Hulk Hogan where he said that in professional wrestling the ending is predetermined but the “bumps are real”.
It crossed my mind that this is the same situation in Aikido. When we practise kata or tanininzugake the agreement is usually that at the end the nage will still be standing and the uke will one way or another be knocked to the ground. As in professional wrestling, the pre-arranged understanding between the nage and uke does not change the fact that for the uke the final meeting with the mat is going to be very real.
The message we should probably all keep in mind is that at the end of the day we owe it to ourselves to stay safe. Below are some personal views on ways to keep in one-piece.
Some people will be immediately appalled that I would suggest that tanking (i.e. just falling down) is ever an acceptable strategy. However, in a modern Aikido world where newcomers can be on the receiving end of techniques within 20 minutes of starting their first lesson, tanking is probably the only safe option available for them.
Predictive ukemi occurs where the uke essentially predicts to varying degrees what the nage is about to do and moves themselves into a position to best take ukemi from it with minimum possibility of injury.
I find this type of ukemi particularly useful where:
- There is uncertainty as to the ability of the nage to execute their techniques without unnecessarily compromising their own safety or that of the uke’s (This may be linked to the type of technique or practise being explored, the experience levels of the nage or uke, or for other reasons);
- atemi (strike) based or no touch techniques are being practised or employed (see video below);
- the “shape of a technique” is being demonstrated to a person who has not previously seen or experienced it; or
- the uke is seeking to experiment or simply develop their ukemi skills when receiving specific techniques.
The below short video is an example where predictive ukemi is used to protect the uke from getting a good belt to the face (and potential trip to the dentist) from an atemi based technique.
I use the term non-predictive ukemi to refer to those situations where the uke strikes or attacks with no regard to the likely technique or action to be taken by the nage. The form of ukemi ultimately employed by the uke at the conclusion of the technique is accordingly unknown until the last moment.
While this is a highly worthwhile and quite exhilarating form of training, it requires a strong trust between the nage and uke, including an understanding that the nage will at all times have the highest regard for the uke’s safety when executing their techniques. Particularly important is that the nage appreciates and adapts the intensity of their techniques to correlate with the uke’s experience level and falling skills.
This is my favourite form of ukemi. While still non-resistant in nature, the essence of this ukemi is that when the uke feels their centre is being taken, the uke reacts by blending with nage’s actions and attempts to regain their balance. A sensitive nage will immediately adjust the application of the technique to compensate. The typical end result is Aikido being dynamically practised with power and grace.
Many of the Aikido demonstrations by Christian Tissier Sensei (7th Dan) are examples of this type of practice at its highest level – see for example Tissier Bercy 2005 HD (at o:59 to 1:39).
However, I would only recommend engaging in this method of uke arts (particularly in taninzugake) if your ukemi skills are well-developed and have become second nature. My own experience is that the speed in which you come out of the technique seems to significantly increase with this type of training. In addition, I sometimes find the gracefulness can be dangerously deceptive and the final powerful meeting with the mat can be quite a mental shock.
Aikido – I do my own stunts
At the end of the day, we in Aikido do our own stunts and no one stands in for us when we fall from an applied technique. To stay safe, the most important thing for us is to use common sense and practise at a level commensurate with our ability to walk away safely in the most likely event that we meet the mat.
All the best