“My Aikido” by Tom Wharton

“My teacher describes Aikido as “physically precise, mathematical movements, entered into through feeling.” For years I have vehemently denied being a “feeler,” preferring to access my world visually and analytically and, for years, my teacher has been trying to convince me otherwise. I am 5’6″ tall on a good day and tip the scales at 140 lbs., and so I have never had much success in using size and strength to compensate for bad technique. Being visual and analytical, I could clearly see that technique did not require size, strength, or speed to succeed, only precise application to uke. With this perspective, the first part of my teacher’s description made perfect sense and I studied Aikido as the precise application of waza to each uke, achieving fairly predictable results.

The concurrent study of ukemi, as per most aikido curricula, was entirely different. I was not taught ukemi as waza. I was taught that ukemi is not a predetermined set of movements corresponding to nage’s predetermined technique, but a continuous endeavor to remain centered and present without judgment or assumption such that I, at any given moment, am able to continue my attack and enter upon any suki presented by nage. I learned to study ukemi, not take ukemi. While I excelled at all of this, in my denial of “feeling,” I chalked up my ability to agility and athleticism.”

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  1. Thus, after training only as uke for years, Saito Sensei (the elder) earned his black belt. At a basic level nage waza and ukemi are separate areas of study. After a while they merge. Probably the “feeling stuff” comes first in ukemi. A large number of interesting techniques come out of ukemi, not just sutemi waza. Fun stuff, isn’t it?

  2. It’s been a few years and Tom has gone though some changes.
    I wonder what he would say today?

  3. Tom Wharton says:

    Well, I would say I’m flattered. I haven’t read this in quite some time. As Walker alludes to, my Aikido is quite different these days, in “lineage”, mentality, and approach. However, I find the words that I wrote still very apropos. How about that.

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