Monday, September 13, 2010

Ukemi and Whiplash... amongst other things.

Firstly... its been a long holiday! So what with the feasting going on, my mind has been a lot on ukemi lately. In particular, whether I could weather the oncoming onslaught this October when I visit sensei again for some intensive training.

As I was thinking about this, my 1 year old son slipped and fell on his back. Hitting his head hard. A mere metre away from me, yet I was unable to catch hold of him as he fell. It was very fast, in fact I can safely say it must have been a third of second or less. Those movies you see with the hero just hanging on before falling down... it doesn't happen like that in real life. In real life you fall, and you fall real quick. But remember those ukemis we take? Sometimes I feel like we have forever to take them. Sometimes though, its all we could do to take a breakfall. Even so, its been a long time since I've had a fear of falling. Practice does to a certain extent inculcate this useful skill into our nervous system, lodging the education into our medula oblongata so as to short cut the thought process by a few nano seconds.

Having regretted that I did not pre-empted my son's safety, I thought about how decades ago I read in an issue of Spiderman. In that issue, his arch nemesis the Green Goblin had kidnapped Gwen Stacy (Spidey's first love).  Finally Spidey showed up to rescue her, and the goblin threw her off a bridge. Spidey acted fast to save her but was thinking how to do it safely. At the rate she was falling, if he just webbed her the whiplash itself would have killed her. That's why he had to gain momentum himself and that's why he left it to last moment before catching hold of her. Even so... she died. She was probably dead even as the goblin threw her. But think about it... besides it being a momentous event in my favourite comic book where a main character actually got killed off, it was also all the more real in the fact that physics was looked at in more than just a cursory fashion.

Have you ever seen someone being thrown so hard that he practically bounce back from the mat? Assuming we have such a person falling and we try to pull him out of it, calculate it wrong, and the whiplash will have his head hitting the floor at an even faster speed than it would have initially. Whiplash, the basis of the slingshot manoeuvre used by Hans Solo to get away from the empire, effectively doubles the speed of your throw.

We are not looking at this as in how can I best use this knowledge to throw someone harder than usual, but really looking at why rolls are more advantageous than breakfalls. Obviously with breakfalls, one hits the floor with all the force of the throw and gravity along with it. But rolling out of a throw, one guides the force away from the floor, laterally. This way disperses the energy/force along the route and makes for a healthier you. It also negates whiplash because you run the energy into a different path instead of the opposite path which compounds the speed.

Even so, we should understand that not all throws could be rolled out from. But look at some of those judo videos, you will see that not all throws are a lost cause and uke needs to fall down splat. Some you could handstand away, somersault over, and some just ride it out. These methods may be unorthodox, but at the end of it all makes for a more realistic training and increase your longevity.

Break the habit of taking breakfalls for the sake of nage... instead find a safer way to take ukemi. That is afterall what being uke is all about, receiving techniques safely. Breakfalls on mats may appear to be perfectly reasonable to you now...but in a few decades and maybe a splat on the tarmac or two, may change your mind.

That is why one of the more robust methods of taking ukemi comes from Parkour and Systema and I believe Aikidoka's can benefit a lot to learn their training methodology.


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