Monday, 21 January 2008

Mae Ukemi exercise

Finally I'm ready to post about basic rolling exercises as I could take some illustrative photos yesterday. The following text is couple of months old but it's still valid. Read on if you want to know how we learn forward rolls (mae ukemi).

"Last week I had the privilege to instruct the class as the master and several other students were away to attend a 3-day seminar by Fujita Masatake Shihan. Some of the students who stayed in London requested that we should practice rolls. I prepared with lots of rolling exercises but, unfortunately, I couldn't show all of them. Knowing how to roll, however, is very important as this way you can minimise the likelihood of at least one type of injuries.

To prepare my list of roll-learning exercises, I searched the web for instructions and explanations as to how to roll. I found a forum where a new student asked members of the forum to give him some hints on how to improve his rolling skills. The responses were all something like 'o, yes, in the beginning your rolls suck' and 'go to your master and ask him' to 'you need to practice and practice and practice even more'. These are all true but, unfortunately, don't answer the question. It is very good, though, that there are some other web pages that explain the principles of aikido rolls by giving illustrative pictures and some text that describe how you can do a proper roll (e.g. [1] and [2]).

There are many other sources as well but I'd like to recommend the DVD in which Doshu Ueshiba Moriteru demonstrates some basic aikido movements and his uke show how to roll.

Mae ukemi

I'd like to give you the instructions that helped me to learn to roll the level I am at now (and there's always plenty of space to make rolls smoother and less energy-consuming).

In this post, I'll give you some instructions on mae ukemi (forward roll) from shikko dachi (sitting-like position). When we learn to roll, first we do it from shikko dachi to minimise the possibility of injuries. It is perfectly suitable to learn to 'be a sphere' :) and apply the principles you would also use in tachi waza (standing position). Let's see the steps of a simple rolling exercise:

  • You start from shikko dachi where one of your legs, or more precisely, knees point forward and there's a 90-degree angle between this leg and the other (so your other knee will point sideways). Let's use the example where it is your left knee that is in front and it is at a right angle with your right leg which faces to the right (right? :)). You will get a right angled triangle formed by your two knees and the toes of your feet (the latter is considered as one point as toes of your feet are very close)

  • Let's transform this triangle into a square. Put your right hand to the fourth point on the mat (which will make the triangle a square). This will help you not to fall over when you start doing the forward roll at slow speed.

  • Now you will roll on a line diagonal to your body. For this, you will need to use our left hand which goes between your right hand and left knee. You start rolling by leaning forward and pushing yourself with your toes (also forward).

  • Keeping tegatana at all times, you start rolling on the edge of your left hand which is followed by forearm, upper arm, shoulder touching the mat and then your roll goes across your back (diagonally!) and when the right side of your hip/pelvis reaches the mat you are almost finished. It is very important that your spine touches the ground at one point only because you don't want to risk a spine injury in a tougher rolling situation later in your aikido career (or when you fall off stairs at the age of 100+).

  • Finally, your right leg (knee facing right) and the balls of your left foot need to touch the ground gently and you have just arrived at the exact same position as when you started you roll: shikko dachi, left leg forwards.

  • You can continue practicing by stepping forward and rolling on the opposite side (right leg pointing forward at the beginning).

Things to be careful about:
  • Keeping tegatana. If you don't do this you may hurt your elbow or shoulder when you do a faster roll. That is why you need to roll like a round ball. Or planet, for philosophers :).

  • Feet closely pulled in. If you leave your legs straight you won't be able to stand up at the end of the roll as your legs will just hit the mat with a noise. Making noise consumes energy, hence you will need to use your own energy to stand up (as the energy of rolling is at least partly lost).

  • Protecting your head. Your head (face) mustn't touch the mat during rolling as it is very vulnerable to injuries. Turn your head a little bit sideways when rolling.

I will describe some more, very basic, rolling exercises in later posts."

The next will be a basic ushiro ukemi (backward roll) learning exercise in a couple of posts from now.

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