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Monday, August 10, 2009

Life, a perpetual state of falling.....

Image: A. Westbrook & O. Ratti (1970) : "Aikido and the dynamic sphere".

This blog post was originally posted on April 27th, 2008 on my version of this blog on WindowsLive. I am in the process of moving all posts to this Blogger location, so for its 2nd debut, here is "Life, a perpetual state of falling"

Ukemi (Japanese): "Receiving", "To receive or absorb", "To turn away (from a strike)"

On my news feed today, I came upon a story about a performance artist that takes pictures of himself falling from trees, buildings, etc,....for Art. (Check out the story and pics here According to the story, Kerry Skarbakka was inspired by Martin Heidegger's description of "human existence as a perpetual state of falling".

I had stumbled upon (No pun intended!!) Martin Heidegger's philosophy of "falling", and was impressed by it. Our falls are long ones.....ones where we have to twist and turn to manipulate our bodies to avoid the obstacles in the way during the fall, or at least position ourselves such that impact with an obstacle does not kill us! Or, sometimes our falls are short and painless.

While thinking about this today, I've found that in comparison there are several things in Martial Arts that might result in us falling (there are more, I'm sure to add your additions in the comments section of this blog entry):

1) We trip over our own feet (i.e. "we have no balance or coordination").

2) We're taken off balance and thrown or swept.

3) We attempt a sweep, throw, balance maneuver, etc on someone else, and lose our balance in the process.

4) Our terrain (floor, mat, grass, ground, etc) may be uneven, slippery, or gravelly.

5) We attempt a technique, jump, throw, sweep, etc. without being formally taught it, and losing balance due to faulty understanding of the core concepts (i.e. "trying to imitate a book or a video")

6) Our own attempts at attack are neutralized and redirected to the ground.

7) We are too overconfident in our abilities, and maybe overlook safety precautions or proper execution of technique.

Let's explore this further, shall we?

1) In my years of practicing martial arts, I've found that there's no such thing as someone who's is truly "uncoordinated". Instead, I found people gain coordination for activities through experience, surroundings, and even social interaction. When people say "I can't dance", I hear "I haven't yet gotten skilled at coordinating music, movement, rhythm, synchronization, and expression.". We are all coordinated in certain ways.

2) We're taken off balance: Sometimes, in martial arts, if we space out for just a second, we are able to be pushed, pulled, or directed off balance. Sometimes we get momentarily startled and it allows for a lapse in judgment, distance, and timing.

3) We attempt a throw, and lose our own balance. This may be due to a good counter-technique by our opponent or training partner, a faulty technique on our part, or not getting proper instruction. Sometimes we try too hard at a technique or a throw, and even though it doesn't work we sometimes just keep trying....unaware that our opponent is already countering our technique.

4) Uneven terrain. Sometimes, yes,....terrain will provide an element for surprise, even with skilled practitioners. If we always train on perfect ground, we'll never learn to adapt to bumps, potholes, slippery spots, or other obstacles

5) Attempting a technique without fully understanding how its done.
What amuses me most, are those that watch videos on YouTube or buy videos on the Internet, then claim to know this or that. Come on folks....videos and books are wonderful as reference aids....assuming you've got some experience in the art to begin with. Gosh forbid if I want to learn open-hear surgery by watching YouTube videos and checking out medical references at the library.

6) Our own attacks are neutralized.....our opponent sees right through our technique and arranges for our attack to have no effect. It is considered a great skill to be able to neutralize an attack (instead of only blocking it) and redirect the energy back at the attacker. Although many arts are more well known for this (Aikido, Tai Chi, Judo, Jujutsu, etc), ALL arts carry this concept.

7) Overconfidence, and the tendency to not heed cautionary advice, safety precautions, etc. Come on, folks, we've ALL done this at least once or twice. Sometimes you overconfidence can be the biggest insult to a superiorly skilled opponent, or your undoing against a lesser skilled opponent.

Regardless of how we fall, it is a matter of how we control our perception and reception of the attack (i.e. force that causes a reaction), descent (i.e. positioning) and landing (i.e "receiving" the ground"). Ukemi, as these types of skills are called in Japanese arts, is truly an art in itself. Years ago when I took Aikido lessons, basic Ukemi would never really prepare you for when you're taken on a throw. Being thrown by a beginner Aikidoka, was a whole heck of a lot different that being thrown by a black belt. There is no cookie cutter way to fall when thrown by an just have to really understand the concept of Ukemi, and adjust accordingly in real time......a tough thing, sometimes. "Ukemi" itself, is not falling...its about learning to "receive" an attack, either by blending with it or redirecting the full brunt of impact.

When we become blinded by our own preconcieved knowledge, no wonder why we lose our balance and fall. I read somewhere long ago, that binocular vision is aided by our nose being on our face. Why is then, than some people choose to cut off their own nose, and put out one eye with all their "know-it-all" knowledge? I can't help but look on in disapointment and contempt when I hear martial artists say stuff like "Oh was a great seminar with Master so-and-so, but it wasn't anything I didn't already was soooo boring. Why couldn't they teach anything new?" I just want to say to them "Well, looks like you're stuck with your old techniques then, even though you think you know won't attain anything new at that rate".

I've also seen people get thrown during sparring sessions, then get upset and blame their partner. "I wasn't ready yet, damn it! Why did you sweep me like that?". Come on.....bitching and moaning isn't going to change the fact that you were taken off balance! Why be mad at your partner for doing a sweep or throw correctly? In those cases, the real cause of your ire is that you think you might appear less skilled or afraid of looking stupid. I've met many people who vehemently refuse to learn any new skill in front of people, for fear of looking "stupid".....this is where ego can mess up our training in ANYTHING. I mean, what are they afraid of....losing their reputation? Its not a reputation if the people around you don't know who you are!!

Learn to fall without hitting the "pointy spots" (elbows, knees, shoulders). Fall with a sense of intent not to hurt yourself, but to follow gravity's pull safely and get back up again. That's the key....GET BACK UP AGAIN. Learn from the reasons why you fell. Don't blame the ground for causing you an injury.

How's your Ukemi? Do you practice Ukemi? Or do you just keep it on the back burner hoping you don't trip and no one throws or sweeps you? Feel free to add your 2 cents.

See here for a great definition and description of "Ukemi", by Brad Ellin, Nov. 2002: "Ukemi- Recieving with spirit"

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