Ukemi, Posture, and Life

Posture…something I’ve been thinking about again.

This week during Aikido class, I watched people do ukemi. Ukemi (oo-KEH-mee) is what we’re doing when we fall or roll or get taken down into a pin. It is also the initial attack that precipitates the whole technique (someone has to attack in order to teach us how to handle that attack). It is so important in Aikido that it’s called the “art of ukemi”. We must practice the falling and rolling to keep ourselves safe. When I come charging in to attack someone, I’d better be able to take a fall or roll or I’m going to get hurt. So we practice ukemi. We roll and roll and take high falls.

Rolling practice in class.  His form is excellent--it doesn't break, even when he's upside down.
Rolling practice in class. His form is excellent–it doesn’t break, even when he’s upside down.

As I watched people rolling, I paid attention to posture. I realized that we have to maintain our perfect, controlled posture even in the midst of a roll or high fall. In fact, it seems even MORE important at that point, because in the midst of a pin or roll or high fall, we are vulnerable. Think about it. I’m flipping myself over in mid-air or I’m rolling on the ground. I am defenseless in that moment. The ONLY thing protecting me is my own presence of mind and body.

When I hit the ground again, or come up from the roll, I need to be in control of my body. It’s crucial. Aikido is a martial art, and in order for it to remain martial, I need to be ready to get back up once I’ve hit the ground. That’s how I protect myself, or how I come back to fight again.

Notice how even in mid-air he is in alignment and ready to hit the mat.
Notice how even in mid-air he is in alignment and ready to hit the mat.

One of the most important aspects of ukemi is that I have to be able to adjust…instantly. As an uke (OOH-kay) it is my job to attack my partner with energy and intention. It is my partner’s job to blend with that and re-direct it. Once it’s been re-directed, it is then my job to receive that change. This back and forth is what Aikido is all about. As an uke, I have to be ready for anything. I may go in with an attack that is straight, but get spun completely around only to land on my back. To keep myself safe, I have to maintain control over myself, and I can do that through correct posture.

I can see all of this applying to my life outside of Aikido. I need to be in control of myself, because I certainly can’t be in control of what happens around me or what other people are doing. Things might change in an instant. I might go in to a situation thinking that it will turn out one way, only to be surprised and end up flat on my back (figuratively, of course!).

I have to maintain my emotional and energetic “posture.” If I don’t, then I end up floundering. I get blown around by life, rather than being in control of what I’m doing.

Mary Heiny Sensei demonstrating kokyu ho throw
Mary Heiny Sensei demonstrating kokyu ho throw

When someone has good posture physically, she preserves the integrity of her body. From her head down to her hips is one controlled line. It doesn’t break or wobble. When people have good emotional and energetic “posture” the same thing happens–they keep their integrity. They don’t “break” that integrity, even when things get difficult or chaotic.

When we do Aikido we practice under stress, because it strengthens us both physically and emotionally. Taking ukemi can be extremely stressful and scary…just like life! We attack our partners in order to help them with their Aikido, but to do so we have to give our bodies to them. That can be scary, but it helps to learn how to do it correctly and with proper form so that we keep ourselves safe.

Life can be stressful and chaotic at times too. Keeping ourselves in alignment and maintaining our integrity might just keep us safe. Practicing good “ukemi,” learning how to fall and yet still come up fighting, may be the most important life lesson of all!

What do you think about this idea of posture?

8 thoughts on “Ukemi, Posture, and Life”

  1. Kimberly, to see wise people influenced by Aikido is as great as practicing! Thank you for sharing again…

  2. Brian Wilford

    Great article!! Posture is a reflection of our self talk. Simply changing how I hold myself will instantly change my energy and how I, and the rest of the world, perceive me and my surroundings. Victim, aggressor, or confident individual, is all a result of posture.

  3. Brian Wilford’s comment above made me think of the Ted talk–have you seen it? Where researchers instructed people to take powerful or meek postures before an interview (not during, but before they went in, I think), and gauged how very differently they came across based on the posture they had adopted.

    I love the idea of psychic posture : )

    1. kimberlysbarton

      Wow. That’s really interesting. I’ll have to look for it. I can imagine posture made a huge difference!

  4. I love this. I so needed this perspective right now. My life feels so chaotic and I feel as if I’m frantically reacting to everything around me instead of keeping ground, keep my posture so I can roll, and fall, and get back up again.
    Thank you!

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