In the beginning of or lives our interactions are fairly limited, as babies we only interact by crying and some facial expressions, as kids we are able to start talking but are often in the role of the learner and depend on our care takers. We have very few interactions where our roles aren’t clear. This is our education in social normalities. We have these structured teacher/student relationships, parent/child relationships that help us learn and know how people should treat us, how we should treat them, what our role is in the world.
In an ideal situation we learn that we should be treated in a way that promotes our dignity, self-respect and self-efficacy, we should learn to treat others in a way that allows them to grow as an individual and honours them. We should learn that we might make sacrifices for others, like sharing our peanut-butter and jelly sandwich with our younger sibling when they drop theirs, but that this should happen in a way that is still healthy for us. However, the real world is hardly ever ideal and this delicate relationship balance is rarely learned completely or perfectly without some real trial and error for many years, even over a lifetime. I as a human interact with other humans and want to do this in a way that is healthy for me, I need to set boundaries as I have learned from those early interactions that are clear and show respect for myself and the other person in the relationship, clear roles.
In the beginning of Aikido the role of uke is very clear. I know nage will throw a certain throw and I know I will fall a certain fall. I know I will put my foot here and my hands there. This is the beginning of my education in how to set boundaries in my ukemi that will keep me healthy and help my partner. Ukemi is the art of taking the fall safely. As uke I am called upon to accept the energy of a throw and fall in a way that keeps me safe and is relevant to the throw.
Sometimes, in ukemi I may sacrifice my spacing or put myself in the best spot for a safe throw or to help nage learn. I am never called upon to sacrifice myself in a way that may be dangerous. As my understanding of this role gets better I may be called upon to take ukemi when I don’t know what throw is coming. This requires me to take energy without sacrificing my center no matter what happens, in other words to set a clear boundary and not give it up. I must compromise but not forego my safety. This is the same as growing up with those set relationships and understanding how people should treat me and how I should treat people. I need to learn to set a clear boundary that helps us both learn good Aikido which in every form is a role model for how to treat people well.
Further into my Aikido I may be called upon to take ukemi for kashiwaza and as roles change I must be willing to adapt. I must not assume that my partner will be uke, I must not assume that I will be nage. The roles become less clear and I must rely on the things I learned early on and continually learn while taking ukemi. I must protect the core of who I am, my center, while allowing myself to give up that which isn’t necessary to my safety. In ukemi I can’t just give up and, knowing I am going to fall, plop down on the mat as soon as nage moves. Instead I am called to understand what I can give and what I must keep to be safe and engaged in what is happening. I’m not helping myself or nage learn by being “easy” to throw, throwing myself, or fighting. Instead, I need to be able to set the boundaries of this relationship based on what I’ve learned from years of taking ukemi.
In relationships that are important to us we sometimes sacrifice things because of fear. I might be scared to dissapoint my parent, I might be scared my partner will leave me, I might be scared my friend might not like me. From Aikido I know the key to the uke nage relationship, my pivotal relationship in external Aikido, is to set clear boundaries and to treat myself in a way that shows I and my partner are equal. This needs to carry over into my other relationships. I can’t be scared to fall, I have to know what I can give up and what I need to keep and set that boundary and not give it up. Relationship ukemi is just as essential as Aikido ukemi and boundaries are how we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe on and off the mat.
Challenge yourself to treat the people in your relationships off the mat with the same respect we show on the mat. Know that they are taking relationship ukemi for you and allow them to set healthy boundaries. Understand that as when you are the leader people will have things they aren’t willing to give up, their centers, respect that and respect them for being strong enough to know what they need. When you are being uke in your daily life try to take ukemi with the same level or grace and integrity you use on the mat. Don’t just give in and set your own healthy boundaries. Always practice good Aikido which in every form is a role model for how to treat people and yourself well.Mary Tracey 3rd kyu Roshinkan Dojo