‘Uke’ is a Japanese word that means ‘to receive’. The art of ukemi is the ability to skillfully receive a technique. In essence, it is the skill of being vulnerable for the betterment of someone else.
As the Buddhist saying goes, “The only thing constant in life is change. Refusal to accept change results in suffering.” This can be easily applied to falling… If one refuses to accept that they are falling, one will, more than likely, experience suffering through injury. Hence, one of the first attainments as a martial artist is to overcome the fear of falling. When this milestone is reached a whole new world is opened up to the practitioner. One can practice at a higher, more intense level, with partners without the fear of hurting each other. This not only develops a strong bond between practitioners, it allows the individual executing the techniques to feel a sense of freedom that is highly addictive. Without the fear of hurting your partner, the nage (the person executing the technique) can study the feeling of connecting to universal energies to truly experience effortless yet effective techniques. Likewise, the uke (the person receiving the technique) can study how their body becomes a channel through which the energies of the technique flow through them and into the earth. Both experience sets are necessary to develop into the higher levels of martial arts, healing, meditation, and qigong as all disciplines involve the routing of energies through ones body.
To ensure that one understands the essence of falling techniques, one must practice on different surfaces… mats, wood, grass, concrete, etc. Once the essence of falling techniques are understood, a practitioner then is able to explore what it possible within the time they are falling. The result is the execution of offensive techniques and higher self awareness via functional surfaces of the body. An example of this is between 0:15 – 0:19 in the above video… elbow strikes are thrown before the actual roll occurs. As a practitioner further deconstructs each falling technique, they (the techniques) begin to transform from defensive techniques to offensive applications. This can take the form of finishes or magnifications of basic striking, locking, or throwing techniques.
The higher applications of falling skills are ultimately expressed through skillful footwork. At first, this is demonstrated through the seamless transition of levels while navigating around an opponent. This is then further translated to the skillful use of each component of footwork patterns… weight distribution, pivot points, structural alignment, and generation and transfer of torque/energy.
Though the art of falling can easily be a metaphor for living, a practitioner, ultimately must strive to transfer these skills into a functional component of their life. With disciplined and meticulous study, one may begin to realize that it is indeed possible to still remain rooted and stable despite the ground is being taken from under you… stability in an unstable environment. There is very little in this world that we are really in control of… understanding and overcoming our fears is what will help us navigate through this uncertain life.
Be skillful my friends!