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Ukemi: “To Catch with Your Body”

In reading an interview of Toyoda Shihan I was particularly struck by this phrase, “to catch with your body.” I knew ukemi translated into something like that but didn't know exactly what the translation was mostly because the business of ukemi is usually filling my mind when I think of ukemi. This statement, to catch with my body, reminds me of the personalness of Aikido.


To think of really catching the energy of the throw is almost intimidating in the personal exchange it suggests. I know that I have put my entire self into my throws from time to time, when the moment is great and I am no longer thinking about the footwork and I am just putting all my thought, energy and focus into a throw. The thought that in doing ukemi my partner is catching all this energy and so much of the essence of myself is very scary.

Imagine all the things on a conscious and sub-conscious level we are really learning and feeling about our training partners when we choose to catch with out bodies everything they throw. I sense more tension in one of their shoulders than the other which brings about the conversation about that summer they volunteered in Ecuador fixing a house and injured themselves. Someone grabs with “fish hands”, a soft flabby grab with sweaty palms, and I immediately respond with an internal “eww.” Someone jumps up laughing from my throw and I feel a connection in energy and motivation that I wouldn't otherwise get to realize with a teenager from a small town in Montana, Aikido making the world smaller one connection at a time.

These realizations and thoughts are all relevant to the energy I put into training and I can be intellectual about them but this raises the scarier question of what about all the things they are learning about me? Do they feel in my throw the bad day I am trying to cover up with my smiles in class? Do they understand the fear I associate with releasing my energy in a throw, the fear of hurting someone, of not taking proper care of them, of not showing them the respect and love owed to another person living in the same art I am? Do they get a clue about all the stress I'm storing in my shoulders, my secret store house of stress and frustration?

All the things we offer one another and all the things we can learn just by using our whole bodies to catch what someone is throwing. Think about the possibilities if we apply this level of awareness to all parts of our lives and lived in a way where we are catching all day. Could I do it without throwing up a guard to protect myself from the pain and anger often thrown out by the other inhabitants of my world? Would I throw up that wall if I really knew all the things I was missing by really catching that other persons pain and living in it with them for a moment? So many questions and all of the answers being sought each night on an Aikido mat in downtown Spokane and all inspired by one little quote from Toyoda Shihan. Aikido is a powerful thing.

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