I have been doing ukemi since I arrived in Kyoto in January. However, I have been doing it very badly. As I mentioned in another post, my normal way to do forward ukemi is to pick a spot on the ground, stare at it, close my eyes, and launch my face toward the spot, then fall over. I kid, I kid. My ukemi is marginally better than that. But not good.
So after class today, Carter-sensei suggested that, if I should have any extra time on my hands, I might consider extra ukemi practice… since we have an enbu coming up in May at Shiramine-jinja. Then I was left alone at the dojo for about 1-1/2 hours.
It worked out well. Sometimes you just have to pound out lots of repetitions of something and figure things out for yourself, so that’s what I tried to do. For about 1-1/4 hours, I just did forward ukemi, trying to figure out how to land without slamming my ankle into the mat at the end of the breakfall. At Shirmine Shrine the enbu will be on a wood floor, so slamming of the ankles and heels is not such a good idea.
I did one after another, trying to put into practice the things I had been taught. Especially, I kept trying to extend my legs to enlarge the circle of my ukemi and slow down my fall. Unfortunately, no luck. Then toward the end of my practice, I figured out that since the leg is constrained by a bone, it can’t extend; extension is all from the back. After that, it wasn’t too long before I did an ukemi and landed properly.
What did it take to do an ukemi properly? Was it the months of training up this point or the insight that my back was collapsing? I think I could have trained in normal ippan classes for 3 months and maybe never understood why my ukemi wasn’t working. I made an improvement in my ukemi in about 10 minutes, but I think without the kenshusei course it wouldn’t have been possible. I didn’t really start to experiment with my body and feel for changes until I had been tired out by the first hour of ukemi. The expectations, training volume, and mindset of kenshusei made possible a change it might have taken me months or years to realize otherwise.