Martial Arts Yoga Ukemi

Ukemi -rolling is an important kihon (basic) skill, which we always practice at the start of class, and it one of the cornerstone skills all of us are working on at home.

Naturally, like all of the elements of training in our martial art of budo taijutsu there are lots of great ways to explore each skill set.

Here is an example of what I have been working on recently with my own ukemi practice:

I want to move fluid, smooth, and have an awareness of my body- where it is, and what it is trying to do at any given moment. If my foot is pointing in the wrong direction, or I am out of balance, I at least want to know it so I can quickly recover and correct it.

In practicing rolling- forward, side, and back, I work through each set VERY slowly- almost yoga like, and as I move through the roll I try to mentally connect with where my muscles are working in the moment.

Where am I tense- the shoulders or back?

Am I using muscle strength to lower me down to the ground or get up vs. the momentum of the roll and natural forces such as gravity?

Am I smashing my shoulder or knee into the ground during the roll- which won't hurt in SLOW practice, but at faster or more realistic survival ukemi?

Turning ukemi into a kind of self-discovery yoga to learn about how I'm moving. 

Kamae: Martial Arts Postures

Kamae (postures) in the martial arts are an important kihon to drill. A basic foundation for not only developing correct movement, but also as a road map to see if you are moving correctly during a waza or kata.

Kamae are ways of positioning the body and holding the arms and legs- shizen, ichimonji, jumonji, hoko, etc. Taken a bit further in one of these postures we are protecting certain vulnerable points on the body (kyusho), and forcing our training partner to expose weak points in their movement if they try to attack us when we are in kamae posture.

These postures are not static, something you just assume and stand in posture, but this is where we have to start our review- get in a nice deep stance and check your footwork, alignment, back posture, and hips to make sure they are correct.

For many new students this will also be challenging on their muscles since they are not used to moving in that way, and the muscle memory has not been developed yet, similar to a dancer, or other sports specific movement set. 

Building on that we next add some movement, switching from posture to posture, aiming to be smooth, fluid, and in correct aliment with each transition. This is a great solo practice skill, and often when I'm practicing my own kamae drills it's fun to listen to music and see how that adds to the flow.

From there we build on the movement and interaction with our training partner.

As we apply a technique, we can see that we move from and into various kamae as a result of the technique- this protects us, and exposes out training partner.

If we every become lost in a technique and wonder "what next",  just look for the natural next kamae to assume in the flow of the movement.

Ukemi In The Martial Arts

Ukemi is an important part of our martial arts practice. At the start of each class it is not only a way to warm up, judge the feeling of the class to come, but a vital skill we want to always be working on.

If we think of the martial arts as a system of transmission, a feeling, a way of doing things passed from one person with more experience to the next, ukemi is the way to do this.

Ukemi- rolling, break falls, and ways of landing without getting hurt let you have a technique (waza) done to you without it hurting you outside of application. Having good ukemi allows you to feel and experience a technique- how it is applied, what it does to your body movement, how it takes balance, distance, and rhythm. If you can see this in application, you can start to capture it, and use it.

Replicate it through your own movement, at least as a starting point. 

Outside of the dojo ukemi is what you use to survive- rolling, evasion, ways or protecting the body. It is the martial arts in essence. Protect yourself with ukemi first, and all that martial arts stuff- punching, kicking, locking, throwing, second.

Ways of practicing ukemi?

What about starting with zenpo kaiten- a forward roll.

Using both hands to lower yourself and guide yourself over.

Two hands. No hands.

Rolling and picking up an item- a training tool perhaps?   

Ukemi from different heights- standing, kneeling, already on the ground.

Happo- all directions- rolling and changing direction mid roll.

Just a few of many practice points- ukemi can easily become full time training. 

The Most Important Martial Arts Skill

Years ago when I was a kyu student my teacher sent my on an interesting training exercise- meet with each of the three senior black belt students in the class for an hour of training, and in that hour they had to show me the one thing that was most important in the martial arts.

Reflecting back on the experience it was interesting to see what they valued in training at the time, and how I thought I understood it, and now year later understand those lessons from a new angle.

So what if you and I had that one hour?

What would I say today?

And it can only be one thing?

Something of immediate training value, and of value in the future?

One of the first training exercises you learn in class, and one that we practice and build is what I would chose:

You and your training partner stand across from each other, about six feet or so, enough distance in that they have to reach out and take a step to reach you. When they are ready, they are going to step forward and try to touch your right shoulder.

When they do, you are going to step off the line of the attack and put yourself in a position where they can not grab you a second time without changing their footwork.

The lesson is simple ukemi- something is coming at you, get out of the way. Move out of the way first, and put yourself in a safe spot.

Take yourself out of danger.

As you move along in training, more advanced footwork is introduced, different levels of attack, training tools and angles all build as you grow in experience.  

Bojutsu Training Japanese Martial Arts

This past Saturday we reviewed some of our basic (kihon) bojutsu training concepts, with bojutsu being the Japanese way of using the six foot staff. 

As a training tool the bo has a number of really great movement reminders in our training which is one of the reasons why it is one of four traditional training tools we explore- hanbojutsu, kenjutsu, and sojutsu being the other three.

Training wise we explore ways of holding and moving it through a number of body postures known as kamae- seigan, jodan, ihen, chudan- all have the staff at a different position and place which open up oppotunities of movement with your training partner.

From there we explore different ways of striking with the staff- tsuki, tento uchi, do uchi, ashi barai, etc. What makes the bo unique is that both ends can quickly come into play, one after the other, opening up some very dynamic movement.

Building on that are two important fundamentals- bofurigata and ukemi; ways of spinning the stick and ways of receiving at attack with it.

In practice we are also using the bo as a training tool to understand some very important concepts of movement that are sometimes hard to see- with the bo, the concepts are physically easier to see due to the six foot length of the stick. If we can "see" it, we can understand it, and look for the movement in other movements. In this capacity bojutsu becomes a tool of self discovery. 

The first is distance- the stick is six feet long, and with footwork and handwork powering it, the bo has a reach of seven to eight feet. Can we use the bo at this distance and maintain this distance with each movement? If not, what do we have to adjust in our footwork?

The second is coordination of footwork with handwork- both moving at the same time and in unison so we are moving both with power and relaxation. Bofurigata, spinning the bo is a great example of this. If your coordination/unison is "off" the stick won't spin smoothly, or it will hit your knee or side as it moves by. If it is in coordination, your body will naturally move and cycle out of the space it occupies.     
Located in Westchester, New York we are a martial arts training group dedicated to practicing the Japanese martial arts of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi and the Bujinkan dojo.
As friends we come together to learn, grow, and perfect our movement drawing from the wisdom, philosophy, and techniques of Japan’s samurai warrior past.
Training is held on Saturday mornings from 10-12 AM at the Malcolm Wilson Park in Yonkers rain or shine.

Classes are supervised by Fred Feddeck who has been studying the Bujinkan dojo martial arts since 1993 at the Bujinkan New York Dojo under Joe Maurantonio. In 2003 he was honored to take the godan shinsha with the Shinmyoken dojo later forming in 2006 as a vehicle to study what he has been taught and experienced in the Bujinkan martial arts.

The Bujinkan Shinmyoken dojo training group had its first class on August 2006, and since then the aim of our group has been consistent: meet every Saturday morning rain or shine to practice the Bujinkan dojo martial arts of Masaaki Hatsumi as friends on the same martial journey together.

As friends (buyu) we come together to grow, learn, and share our experiences as the ways of the martial arts were intended to be transmitted.

There is no beginner or advanced classes, as we all have the capacity to learn and grow in the martial arts, no previous martial arts experience in needed, all are welcome, and out of town or traveling Bujinkan buyu are always invited to visit.

The aim of the group is to make progress each week in learning the martial arts, developing skill, self-defense ability, and an understanding of how and why people move. Classes are also held to discuss martial arts philosophy, strategy, and the mental/spiritual impact of the arts.

Questions about our group, the training, and the martial arts may be made through the contact form at the bottom of this page.