What if you never had to take ukemi again? Not because you stopped training or avoided it or anything negative like that, but simply because no one who came in contact with you was able to throw you. Interesting idea, eh? Although for the sake of paired training and being a good training partner, perhaps a better model would be this – what if you only took ukemi from someone when you wanted to, and not when you had to? What if you had the skill to naturally reflect incoming force so that an attacker was not able to throw you, joint lock you, take you down, or even off balance you?
How would that change your training?
How would having everyone in your dojo with some level of that ability seriously up the skill level and training of your entire school or group? Are you up for the challenge?
Don’t Take Ukemi
I remember being in Japan for Daikomyosai one year (I think it was 1999 but I could be mistaken. I’m sure someone will remember and correct me) when at one point during the afternoon session Hatsumi Sensei told everyone they were not allowed to take ukemi for the rest of the day. Well, you can imagine what happened next… Since they were told not to take ukemi, people began falling and landing in all sorts of haphazard ways as their training partners threw them about. However, when Soke demonstrated it was clear that this was NOT what he meant. Sensei’s body has a very profound neutral quality that reflects (echoes?) incoming force / techniques effortlessly back at the attacker creating very natural and seemingly effortless counters and reversals. By not taking ukemi he was allowing himself to be zero, neutral, and easily causing his attacker’s downfall, which by the way is the ultimate expression of ukemi.
Here is a video from the 1999 Daikomyosai. Check around the 1:17 mark, you may recognize someone!
So the question then becomes, how is it possible to cultivate that type of budo body that naturally has a dynamic stability and profound neutral quality? I’m glad you asked!
We know for a fact that there have been numerous famous masters who have been known for their remarkable power and dynamic stability. In recent history, Wang XiangZhai (founder of Yiquan), Takeda Sokaku (Daito Ryu), Sagawa Yukiyoshi (Daito Ryu), Ueshiba Morihei (Daito Ryu / Aikido), Hatsumi Masaaki (Bujinkan Soke), and others. We also know that there are several specifically defined methods of internal training that have existed for thousands of years passed from India, to China, to Japan within various forms of budo and other esoteric types of training. As I said in my previous article, Internal Power and Bujinkan Training, the methodology is clearly laid out and organized to quickly initiate the practitioner onto the path of internal training.
So Then How Do You Do It?
Ah… here’s the rub. How do you get the real deal? Well, unfortunately, no matter how much detail I give in writing, text-based instruction, even video instruction, will always fall way short of actual hands-on training. There is simply no way to even pick up the most rudimentary physical knowledge of this stuff unless you are coached by someone further along the path. Internal training has been passed down from teacher to student, heart-to-heart transmission for centuries. It’s not going to change now. Many people know “about” it. They have an academic grasp on the whole body of knowledge surrounding internal training. They can provide an astonishing amount of verbiage on any topic ranging from history to philosophy to methods of training and differentiate between all the various and sundry methods, yet it all amounts to little more than Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy knowledge until you get hands-on time with a competent instructor who can show you how to actualize that knowledge.
Personally, I had read about this type of training for years, both online in many different martial arts forums and in several books written by well-qualified teachers, yet I was never able to actually bridge the intellectual gap and apply it to my martial arts training until receiving my first hands-on instruction in 2009 with Dan Harden. I had lots of intellectual knowledge but couldn’t make it work. After my first introductory seminar, suddenly all the things I had read about began to make sense both in my mind and, more importantly, in my body. Now when I go back and re-read the training advice left by past masters and modern adepts it makes much more sense. Because I now have a sense of what it should feel like in my movement, I am able to apply what I read to my own personal practice and continue to grow.
As with all things budo, internal power training is not an academic subject. It must be learned hands-on and practiced over and over again until it is literally burned into your nervous system. The journey is endless because the training has limitless potential. How far will you take it? That’s up to you. As for me, I will keep going!