Everybody can see what Dan Grades are actively practising whilst training in the Dojo, but not everybody knows what they are thinking about their practice, or how they interpret what everybody else is doing.
Well, the idea of this page on our site is to provide just that.
All Budokan Dan Grades will be requested to make an editorial submission to us, from time to time, reflecting their own exeperiences and perspectives on the content and context of a class, or a segment of a workshop, they have just attended.
We will edit each submission appropriately, return it to the author and then publish - in that order.
Each entry will be dated and acknowledged by name only.
This will be in the public domain of the site and not in the private membership area of Budokan online, so as to give everyone who visits our site access to what our Dan Grades are doing and thinking,
And this, of course, should drive dialogue within the membership of Budokan.
The Art of Ukemi
Question is what is Ukemi?
To me, ukemi is more than just a breakfall or a roll.
In his book “The Encyclopaedia of Japanese Martial Arts” David Hall describes ukemi as:
“Lit. “receiving body.” A term used in various grappling arts such as aikido, judo and some of the classical martial schools containing grappling systems to refer to controlled method of falling in order to soften the impact...”
Ukemi can be said to be a method of protecting oneself against all immobilisation and throwing techniques found in Aikido. It is your response, as uke - the attacker - to counter (the technique) by the tori - the defender - to your attack. It is therefore more than just “a roll.”
For me I believe there are 5 distinct styles of ukemi and all are as important as each other when it comes to aikido. There is no real hard and fast rule, Ukemi A will always be a response to technique B. Your ukemi will always be dictated by technique and conditions of the flow between two or more partners.
Ukemi style 1 – Response to an immobilisation technique.
Ukemi style 2 – Static breakfall. - where you are stationary after you have landed.
Ukemi style 3 – Rolling away from a throw - either forward or backwards.
Ukemi style 4 – Advanced breakfalls (AKA flips - backwards, forwards and sideways).
Ukemi style 5 – Response to kokyu nage. - These are breath throws and as such, require a very high level of disciplined coordination to perform them - emphasis on the word perform - in time with breathing control and management.
Ukemi is therefore an art form and as such is a serious part of the aikido curriculum that needs to be regularly practiced. To be good at ukemi takes time. It can’t be grasped overnight and the overriding key to it is relaxation. When relaxed you can adapt to movement by the tori, allowing you just be ahead of their technique. As Sensei Passmore quite aptly puts it “riding the crest of a wave.” In other words this allows you time to prepare - so to speak - for your ukemi.
Time is the overlooked factor when it comes to ukemi.
Time, or experience, tells you what is happening. This is to say that the movement from Tori dictates to you what type of technique he or she is about to do. Certain movements that you may do, can induce change during the process of each technique and this may, in turn, influence what tori is about to do thereby changing what type of ukemi you may choose to do.
The ukemi for kotegeashi can be either style 2, 3 or 5.
The ukemi for ikkyo can be only style 1
The ukemi for kaitenage can only be style 3
Your experience is vital in telling you which ukemi you need for the technique your are receiving. To start with, the pace of movement is never full on (100% speed and power). This is to enable jita kyoei keiko or mutual benefit practice. Allowing the uke to be familiar with what is expected and, more importantly, to build confidence.
10 January 2018
An additional summary to the class of
Wednesday 3rd January 2018
The first lesson of 2018 started with a mini traditional new year musoggi. The focus was on the effects and benefits that conscious breathing and visualisation bring to training, especially in the battle between the body and the mind. This was shown in two distinct ways, firstly in the management of pain or physical discomfort from endurance, secondly in the internalisation of movement in both feeling and imagination.
This was a very rewarding session that pushed the limits of both the body and specifically the mind. The learning curve was steep with everyone showing improved control over adversity by the end of the lesson, allowing a peak through the doorway of what is actually possible with this type of mental training.
Anything upwards of 1000 cuts always brings a certain satisfaction, for many this will be one of the lasting memories of the lesson. However it would be useful to remember that this was only the warm up and completed to generate the physical environment for the exercises that followed.
Aiki and Karate practice with eyes closed amplified the feeling of movement, awareness of balance and flow of technique, whilst requiring visualisation of surroundings and actions, in real time. The techniques were executed in a controlled and deliberate manner.
Prior visualisation of Kata, before physical practice, promoted concentration and provided familiarity with the sequences to be performed.
Internalisation of movement and awareness of breath are two important tools in the martial artists locker, these exercises brought both aspects together perfectly.
All in all a great start to the year.
Wednesday 3rd January 2018
Lesson open with Bokken in hand 19:30.
Full mat, no additional blue mats.
Initial warm up of 130 cuts continuing into 900 further cuts at a steady pace, completed within 16 minutes.
Standing in Heisoku Dachi with arms outstretched holding the bokken in upturned palms for 16 minutes, visually focusing on the grain of the sword whilst internally focusing on the breath, eyes were then closed and the focus was the breath, exercises in '2 breath minutes' for a number of minutes were included, bokken removed and replaced to demonstrate the roll of the mind in your suffering.
Bokken placed to side.
Lay on mat with knees raised and eyes closed, consciously breathing.
Spine twist left and right.
Rolling down the spine, developing into pulling the legs over the head.
Stretching of hamstrings and back whilst holding toes, ankles or shins.
Aiki Practice, eyes closed, focusing on flow:
Ikkyo Aihanmi Katate Dori
Ikkyo Ryo Kata Dori
Kote Gaeshi Aihanmi Katate Dori
Kote Gaeshi Gyaku Hamni Katate Dori
With bokken in one hand practice: Jodani Hanmi, deflection and cut, alternating between left and right sided parrys, approximately 300 repetitions on the right hand, a further 300 repetitions on the left.
Standing in Heisoku Dachi with arms outstretched holding the bokken in upturned palms for around 5 minutes, Eyes closed focusing on the breath.
Bokken placed to side.
Standing in Heisoku Dachi with eyes closed visualise Pinan's Shodan, Nidan, Sandan.
Pinan Shodan with eyes closed, at end of each Kata hold Shikko Dachi Shuto Uke Gedan, conscious breathing for around 5 minutes.
Hijiate with eyes closed.
Lesson close with bokken in hand 21:00.
Monday January 2018
We started with kihon, punching oizuki chudan. For the higher grades the focus was on timing trying to get the punch and the feet to work together so that they both stopped at the same time. Included with this was also the breathing making sure that as we delivered the punch that the out breath also stopped at the same time as the feet and hands.
We looked at our stances to make sure that the front knee was bent over the toes, the feet were parallel and that our rear leg was anchored securely, our body upright and not leaning forward and finally that we maintained the same height as we moved forward and were not bobbing up and down.
Next we moved on to practicing gyakazuki chudan again focusing on all of the same points as for oizuki but with attention also on using the rear hip to trigger the punch and getting the correct extension in the punch, and the correct timing of the exchange as we moved from one punch to the next.
We then moved on to punching gyakazuki and then staying still in that stance blocking gyaku jodan uke. this was followed by the same exercise but using chudan uke and then finally gedan uke. This was a good exercise in co-ordination but attention was also given to making sure that the blocks were effective and obtained their objective.
Finally we practiced in pairs, the partners faced each other in the same kamae. The attacker stepped forward and attacked tatezuki jodan the defender slipped back half a step with both feet and blocked jodan uke and then slipped forward half a step with the front foot and countered with gyakazuki chudan and then slipped forward half a step with the back foot and came back into kamae at which point the attacker retreated also back into kamae. We repaeted this exercise with the attacker punching chudan and the defender blocking chudan. The main points of consideration during this exercise were trying to maintain good maai (not being too close or too far away from your partner at any time) keeping good posture with no unnecessary movement of the upper body or head and keeping the same height
In summary, this was a lesson full of basics. We only practiced a handful of techniques in the hour we had available, but as you can see, there are so many facets within a single punch or a single block, and there are so many things to be taken into consideration when working with a partner. And it will take years for an individual to be able to bring all of those aspects together and to have them working as one. But these are the foundation stones of our Karate or as you'll have heard Sensei say "The Building Blocks" and so it is important that we take time to re-visit these techniques time and time again, because it is only by doing so, that we can move on to more advanced techniques and to strive for individual excellence.
At the conclusion of this workshop, each attendee was requested to answer either one or both of these questions, depending on grade and experience.
Why do you think the practice of the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhist meditation is important to the evolution of Traditional Japanese Budo?
Can you solve the riddle of what appears to be the complete absence of meditation training in the teaching of Traditional Japanese Budo outside of Japan today?
Please see submmissions received below.
Why do you think the practice of the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhist meditation is so important to the evolution of Traditional Japanese Budo?
I believe the reason the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism was practised was the fact it was free of religious dogma and focusses on direct experience for experience sake. Contrary to the more widespread practice of 'folk' buddhism which involves many Dieties and religious ritual. It cuts away the 'bows and ribbons' and gets right to the heart of the gnosis of self understanding.
The classic answer, in relation to why meditation was practised in Budo and specifically the Samurai class, was preparation for death.
However I believe there are many more reasons than this.
From a martial perspective the benefits are huge, control of the breath leads to control of the emotions. Mastery of the breath also benefits stamina due to optimising oxygen intake, power due to the combination of breath and timing, balance and movement due to the familiarisation with the Hara.
However, I believe that discipline is key.
Disciplined warriors are absolutely paramount in every fighting force, in fact, you need discipline to be a warrior. If two or more forces matched in every way meet face to face, it is the disciplined force that will be victorious. This is true in life and in warfare.
As Sun Tsu said, (I paraphrase) “To know oneself is as important to victory as knowing ones enemy.”
Zazen teaches not only self discipline but also allows a platform for the study and realisation of the martial virtues, which are so important within the life of a true warrior.
Can you solve the riddle of what appears to be the complete absence of meditation training today in the teaching of Traditional Japanese Budo outside of Japan?
The riddle being, how something so beneficial to the practice of Budo and the formation of the virtues associated with a true warrior, is missing in modern Budo practice.
I think the answer lays in a number of places.
Zen Buddhism, Buddhism generally & Shinto are the predominant religions within Japan and linked to Japanese culture in a huge way. This is something almost unique to Japan in relation to the rest of the world. The Japanese culture, although rapidly changing and losing many of these practices, really is one of a kind. I think the majority of other cultures don’t inherently have the discipline and connection to the self, as well as nature as they do in Japan. Everything moves so quickly now, taking time to just sit and observe is almost alien to the average person.
Although aside from the obvious cultural differences, the study of Zazen is not easy.
It is something that requires the individual to take the time for themselves, outside the Dojo.
A sacrifice of time is needed, not only in regular practice, but time in seeing results.
For many, the results are not tangible.
To maintain such discipline is hard – really hard. Too hard for the average person.
Due to busy modern lifestyles and limited time in the Dojo, coupled with modern martial arts being a 'results based' thing, I think unfortunately the focus is now almost exclusively on the physical training. People want things fast nowadays, the next coloured belt, the next gratification of the ego, that next bloody delivery from Amazon!
Which leads to the Ego...
Modern martial arts tend to grow egos - not shrink them.
Zazen exposes the Ego, something which can be extremely uncomfortable, and being (made) uncomfortable seems to be something modern people avoid at all costs.
So much is given from the practice of Zazen. It adds to our souls, it aids us massively in the illusive pursuit for self perfection, but what is required to practice it, is slowly being removed from our society.
9 February 2018