“Melting into the Mat,” by Mary Stein

“I’ve taken thousands of backfalls onto the mat in all these years of aikido practice: going down the length of the spine, then bouncing back up, ready for the next technique. This morning at practice I experienced the backfall in a new way.”

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  1. I like this memoir quite a bit. I know my ukemi could be much better, but I don’t know just what’s wrong. I do make solid head to mat contact I believe. Maybe watching myself on video would be helpful.

    I think it’s great that you were shown a different way, and instead of saying, “I’ve been doing it this way for years and it works for me,” you have taken on the challenge to change an ingrained bad habit. Although you’ll continue to fall in this better fashion, my guess is you will probably also roll your old way many times. As you continue to succeed with this newfound technique, feeling the positive difference, you may someday find your improved rolls to occur 95-100 percent of the time. By this percent range, I mean the new roll becoming natural; if you think about it every time, it may be 100%, but I think the real victory will come when you perform it naturally almost all the time.

    As I was writing this, I remembered my sensei making me switch feet on kaiten-nage, after at least a year of outside leg forward. He let me know in a really memorable way, when he – as uke – threw a fist toward my groin. That may not be as much a problem for women, but I remember his teaching almost every time I do kaiten-nage.

    Thanks for sharing, Mary

  2. Why are you performing thousands of ukemi along your spine?

    Ukemi should be diagonal from shoulder to opposite hip. For backwards ukemi reverse this from hip and up to opposite shoulder. See you tube video

    This absorbs the energy of the fall and brings you back into posture.

  3. Michael Hackett says:

    I must be missing something important here. Allowing the head to strike the mat seems the be the opposite of what’s desired and a fine way to suffer a head injury even on a training mat – not to mention the danger of a back fall on a hard surface.

  4. briankag says:

    Yoshinkan Ukemi is Judo style…

  5. I agree with Dave and Michael. Your head should never touch the mat/ground during ukemi if you can help it. To me, that’s the whole point of ukemi (which is mentioned in the Yoshinkan video).

    What’s odd is that the Yoshinkan video shows an along-the-spine half-back-roll that if continued would go right over uke’s head. This might be okay in the dojo but very bad outside of it. The “koho ukemi” demonstration from iriminage actually shows uke rolling/falling from hip to shoulder, not up the spine. Only in the shihonage application is it shown up the spine.

    Also in the video there are many demonstrations of forward and backward ukemi where uke’s head never touches the mat (correct in my opinion.)

    In my training, one of the purposes of good falling/ukemi technique is the ability to quickly regain one’s feet. Training yourself to fall flat on your back does not seem like a good idea to me. If you fall on the diagonal there will be some residual rotational energy which can be used to get back up or keep moving if need be. This is not necessarily there with the “koho ukemi” as shown.

    Perhaps I’m missing something as well. I’d like to hear more from someone that is more experienced with this type of ukemi… Until then, I’m going diagonal and keeping my head off the mat.

  6. kseniya says:

    I found it very hard to do- to progressively roll into the mat. I have had serious neck injury few years prior, it makes it difficult to rely on a mat now.

  7. Your spine and head should never touch the mat. You are asking for an injury if someone throws you hard. You need to roll towards your sides as you hit. That allows you to keep your head off the floor without tensing up. If you don’t will hit hard like a rock instead of soft like water and/or smack your head giving you a concussion. Try rolling around on a hard wood floor and you will see what I mean. There cannot be any edges like a bent elbow because those edges will get chipped as you hit the floor. Look at some Systema practitioners take a fall and you will open some safer doorways to falling.

  8. kseniya says:

    Yes, my sensei keeps telling me :)
    I think in a few months it will finally get into my head :)

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