Ukemi – Learning to Roll with the Punches

This is the twenty-first in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


U is for Ukemi.

We discussed Uke’s role in training in the earlier post about Nage and Uke – The Relationship Between Partners. Uke provides an attack for Nage to work with, then goes with Nage’s response. It’s Uke’s job to support Nage in learning to do the technique well.

Ultimately, in most cases the technique will end with Uke being taken down to the mat and held in a pin, or being thrown. Knowing how to get to the mat safely – and even bounce back up again – is an important part of ukemi, or receiving technique.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“When you fall, I will be there to catch you.”
~ The Ground

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s sometimes this aspect of ukemi – the graceful rolls and challenging falls – that draws people to Aikido. There is a lifetime of learning available in just this area of the art. Besides, falling and rolling is a lot of fun. If it’s been years (or decades) since you goofed around rolling on the lawn or doing gymnastics in school you’ll probably feel like a kid again.

Here’s a video that shows several ukes taking falls and rolls from a variety of techniques:

Learning to fall and roll

Some of the first things you will learn in class will be basic back falls, and slow forward and backward rolls, starting from your hands and knees. Usually one of the more advanced students will take you aside and show you how to let yourself down to the ground easily. Until you are able to do these reasonably well your partners will not throw you outright, but will give you a chance to stop and sort it out slowly without any added momentum.

Sometimes the idea of going tail-over-teakettle really freaks people out. You can work through that by starting low and slow, and staying relaxed. If you get scared, back off to the previous level until you feel more comfortable.

If you’ve done any tumbling or gymnastics you won’t have trouble with that fear, but you may have some habits to overcome. To do a tumbling somersault you go straight over, in a line down the middle of your back. In Aikido we want to avoid letting our head or spine contact the ground, so we roll over our shoulder, on a diagonal to the opposite hip. Our head should never touch the mat.

Eventually you’ll gain proficiency and confidence, and will be able to train a bit faster. Rolling is a little like riding a bike – it’s easier when you’re going at speed, but you can’t learn that way, you have to start out slowly.

Try it yourself.

Obviously the best way to learn any physical skill is with hands-on coaching from an experienced teacher. If this sounds like fun I encourage you to visit a local dojo and inquire about classes. Learning to do a thing correctly is well worth the investment in quality instruction. An injury can be very costly, in more ways than just dollars.

But I’m sure you’re curious about seeing how it’s done, at least. Here is an excellent demonstration of basic, beginning front and back rolls by Rokas Leonavičius Sensei of Dodžo – Aikido Šiauliai in Lithuania. Note that the floor he is on is actually a firm mat (padded). You can try these – or at least the kneeling/sitting ones, where you don’t have far to fall – on thickly padded carpeting, a soft green lawn, or even by wearing a heavy sweatshirt or jacket for some minimal protection.

Disclaimer: You know your abilities and body best; don’t come crying to me if you take on more than you can handle safely.

Falling like a feather

A more advanced kind of fall is a high fall, sometimes called a breakfall, because you break the force of the fall as you reach the ground. These are used when you are thrown in a way that you can’t roll out of a technique. You have to find another way to return to the mat without a heavy thud, and of course without being injured. The idea is to land as softly as possible. There are many varieties, depending on the technique and situation. Some have inspiring names, like soft high falls, feather falls, or dead leaf falls. Imagine a feather or falling leaf wafting gently to the ground. That’s the idea.

These are more challenging to learn, but well worth it. You can go your whole Aikido career without doing any high falls, if you truly are limited, physically. But my thinking is that if you can practice them, you should take advantage of the opportunity. You are likely to take an actual fall someday, slipping on gravel or ice, falling from a horse, or tripping off a curb. Knowing how to organize your body mid-flight, and land without reflexively putting your hands between you and the ground (or hitting your head!) could save you from a painful injury.

Here’s a great example of an especially soft and graceful breakfall:

Wheee!

Ukemi is half of Aikido. Falling and rolling are a big part of ukemi. When you train in Aikido you will spend time in class (and probably before and after class) practicing your falls and rolls. It’s tremendous exercise – great for core strength, cardio, and flexibility. You’ll develop skills that are useful both on and off the mat. And imagine the great feeling of accomplishment you’ll have when your partner can wing you across the dojo, and you land in a smooth, seamless roll, pop back to your feet, and come right back for more, laughing.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Nage and Uke – The Relationship Between Partners

This is the fourteenth in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


N is for the Nage/Uke relationship.

In a typical Aikido class the instructor demonstrates a technique, and then we pair off to practice it with a partner. The partner who responds to the attack and executes the technique is the nage (NAH-gay), or one who throws. The partner who provides the attack, and then receives the technique – that is, falls, gets thrown, or is pinned – is the uke [OOH-kay], literally one who receives.

We switch roles back and forth as we train – acting as Nage and Uke in turn – so we can practice both sides of the interaction. First, I attack you a couple of times, and you practice doing the technique. Then you attack me.

Nage – One who throws.

Nage’s role is easy to understand. Our partner grabs our wrist or shoulder, throws a punch at our gut, or aims a strike at our head, and we do something about it. Usually that something is a combination of moves. First, we get out of the way of the attack so we don’t get hit, or so the grab doesn’t affect us so much. Second, we deal with the attacker in some way – throwing or pinning them.

That’s usually what people first think of when they imagine what “learning to do Aikido” entails. They picture being Nage – defending themselves, and hurling their attacker to the ground. But it’s only half the equation – if that.

Uke – One who receives.

The part of Aikido that Uke does – attacking and then receiving the technique – is called ukemi [ooh-KEHM-ee], or the art of receiving.

On the most basic level, it makes sense that in order for you to practice responding to an attack, you are going to need someone to attack you. In that sense Uke is like a pitcher tossing balls to someone who is learning to swing a bat. I grab you, or throw a punch at you, so you can practice doing Aikido techniques. Simple.

If you were pitching balls to a friend, you would adjust the speed and complexity of the pitch to be appropriate to your friend’s level. If you were playing with your 7 year old neighbor kid you’d lob nice, slow, consistent pitches right into the middle of their strike zone. You wouldn’t hurl your best fast ball, and then celebrate when they missed it. You are trying to help your friend develop their batting skills. As your friend gains skill and confidence you can increase the speed, and start offering more challenging kinds of pitches.

In the same way, if you were a brand new white belt, I would give you nice, easy, predictable strikes, or calm grabs from a standstill. Later we’ll get to running at you while shouting, grabbing you from behind, swinging full-speed at your head, or punching like I mean to go right through you. And maybe some buddies will join me in attacking you, too. And by then you’ll be able to handle that, and you’ll think it’s great fun, chucking us across the room as hard and fast as we came at you. Later.

But ukemi involves more than just attacking, and then falling or rolling. Here’s where it gets a little more subtle. I give you a good attack to work with, and then I also participate in the technique you do in response. I don’t just turn to a sack of potatoes, waiting passively for you to do something to me. That’s a victim thing. Or worse, make your life difficult while you try to execute the technique. That would be like pitching a ball to you, and then grabbing the bat so you couldn’t hit it. Instead, I actively move with you, supporting you in learning to do the technique well.

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“ATTENTION: Using force to stop your partner from completing the techniques is prohibited.”
~ Attributed to Morihiro Saito Sensei, (per Aikikai Jerusalem
“Saito Sensei posted this sign in his Iwama Dojo around 1987 / 1988.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In my experience, there is at least as much to be gained from learning to be a good uke. As Goldberg Sensei says, “Uke isn’t just waiting their turn, they are doing Aikido too.” Both sides of the partnership are integral to Aikido training. Aikido is just as much about ukemi as it is about learning to deal with the attack and do the technique.

Sensei gave us a beautiful image for this a few weeks ago: a simple curve. One side is convex and the other concave – yang and yin. We cannot have one without the other. They are two inseparable sides of the same shape. Nage and Uke are like this – it takes both to do Aikido.

Resistance is futile.

Good ukemi requires us to feel what’s happening and go with it. That means if we attack, and our partner slips out of the way, whirling us around to the left, we should actively participate in going around to the left with them.

“What?” you may well ask. “Why would you let them push you around like that?”

It’s a really difficult concept to grasp, even after months or years of training. Even more difficult to embody. We’re so used to fighting back! But resistance isn’t just futile, it’s counterproductive. If we are denying or fighting against what’s happening to us, then we cannot join with the direction of the energy and find a way to work with it. Worse yet, if we are acting on our thoughts about it rather than being present, feeling our way through, and responding to the actual situation, then our actions will be completely inappropriate.

It’s a little like whitewater kayaking. Suppose I mysteriously find myself in a kayak, zooming down some rapids. There are a few options available to me. I could resist for all I’m worth, planting my paddle in the sand, paddling backwards, trying to stop or go back the way I came. That’s going to take a lot of effort, and I will likely end up exhausted and capsized. I could deny that it’s actually happening, throw my paddle at a passing tree in a fit of frustration, cover my eyes, and curl up in a ball. That will probably get me wedged between some very big, very wet rocks. Or, I could paddle with the current, moving into the flow, zipping between the rocks, along with the water. And as I went I could begin to assess my situation, noticing the where the calmer parts are along the edges, and work my way safely to shore when I see an opportunity.

This last option is obviously the one we want to choose in kayaking. It’s less obvious when someone is bodily moving us in a direction we hadn’t planned for, but just as advantageous. If we can go with the movement, and stay calm enough to pay attention, we can find opportunities to arrange for a good outcome. In Aikido this can mean receiving the technique safely by falling or rolling smoothly out of it. It can also mean being able to feel our way into even better options, including those where our partner ends up being the one who falls or rolls out of our technique. If we are fighting, resisting, or denying, these better alternatives aren’t available to us.

Good ukemi is necessary for good technique

Here’s the really tricky part to wrap your head around: It is through practicing ukemi – learning to feel what’s happening and to go with it – that we learn to be a better nage.  As Chetan Prakash Sensei, of Redlands Aikikai, taught once during a seminar, if we can’t receive the energy of the attack, how can we respond to it and use it? Aikido relies not on fighting with incoming energy, but on actively getting behind it and helping it along.

In this way, Nage and Uke are inseparable, each developing crucial skills, and both responsible for creating beautiful Aikido together as partners.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Uke/Nage – Horse/Rider

In Aikido, we train to be both nage (like the rider – connected, clearly directing the horse in a way that doesn’t elicit confusion or a fight) and uke (like the horse – light, responsive, moving, centered, with no resistance to the rider’s direction). This classic video of Stacy Westfall’s nearly legendary ride demonstrates both beautifully. And it’s a beautiful song, too. To the unitiated, it looks like she’s “just sitting there,” but she’s controlling every movement – it’s just really subtle.

Click to watch on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIvYRZkklT0

Practicing “Low Falls”

High falls, hard falls, break falls…

Just the names conjure up tension. I have fun practicing them, and am improving (softer/safer). But I also end up with some interesting bruises and sore spots now and then, from doing them in a slappy, braced, breath-holding, brute-force-ish kind of way.

We go about learning to do them in a relaxed, easy way, but at some point between the working up to them and the doing them my brain flips from “swoosh” to “wham!

A few days ago when one of our instructors said we were going to work on high falls (Yay!) a fellow student jokingly suggested that we should “work on low falls instead.”

Huh… I think I like that idea!

The point isn’t to get lots of air, it’s to land comfortably, with as little impact as possible. Keep (or get) your head low to the mat. Reach over and touch the mat as you rotate into rolling down softly. No “wham!”

Thinking of them as “low falls” takes a little of the edge off, and is a handy reminder that the idea is to get low, not high.

I think I’ll call them low falls from now on. 

Uke and Schoolmasters

There is a very good discussion on the AikiWeb forums, about uke collusion in practice/training. It’s particularly relevant for me, because I will be participating in the Aikido Bridge seminar later this week, where Ikeda Sensei will be teaching, and where there will be lots of opportunities for refining my own ukemi, and observing the ukemi of others.

One of the comments there, about how professional athletes train, brought something to mind: In horseback riding the relationship between the rider and the horse is very much like the relationship between Nage and Uke. 

The rider (Nage), through their cues, posture, weight shifts, placement of attention, and so on, is able to affect the balance and motion of the horse (Uke). It should not be a battle – it should be a partnership. They are not in opposition. Horse training essentially is training the horse to be a good uke – sensitive, not reactive, not anticipating, but moving as directed when the rider makes a request correctly. 

Of course, beginning riders are hopelessly uncoordinated about their weight, center, attention, posture, hands, feet, etc. A horse that refuses to budge, or who can’t understand what is being asked, would only frustrate them. Thankfully there are talented, experienced, angelic horses referred to as “schoolmasters” who and understand, and who happily play along with these fumbling newbies. A good schoolmaster lets the rider get the feeling of what a correct trot, balanced halt, or smooth canter depart should feel like, even when the rider doesn’t know how to ask perfectly yet. 

These horses, bless their hearts, can also perceive the skill level of their riders. While they may jog along sweetly for a little kid flopping around on their first ride, they may just as well require quite correct riding from someone more advanced.

In essence, the schoolmaster colludes, but only as much as is appropriate for the level of the rider. Pretty amazing ability, for a horse, but they do it regularly.

My understanding is that a good uke should provide that same kind of feedback to Nage. With a beginner, one may have to essentially guide them through the motion at first, by doing the ukemi as though Nage had performed the technique correctly, even if Nage didn’t really have their center, or didn’t take their balance. With a more advanced nage, feedback more along the lines of “Nope, I ain’t goin’, you don’t have me” might be more appropriate. 

Of course, there are good-natured, willing horses who simply do not understand, perhaps through lack of experience, what the rider is trying to ask. And there are others who know exactly what the student is requesting of them, but who have a “betcha can’t make me” attitude. The former may grow into happy and useful schoolmasters with experience. The latter will likely end up paired with riders who have similarly been trained in the “make ‘em mind you” philosophy of horsemanship, where force, conflict, and opposition are just the way things are done.

As a human uke, I’d sure rather work toward being more like the schoolmaster.

One of the yudansha who teaches at our dojo, Cyril, uses a variety of people as Uke when he demonstrates techniques. It makes classes that much more intense, because you never know when or if you’ll be called up, so you’d best pay sharp attention.

Learning to be a good uke is really important to me, for a lot of reasons. A lot of the most valuable learning in Aikido comes from ukemi. Like learning to move with and into the energy and situation, rather than fighting against it, for instance, not as a way of giving up, but to keep one’s center and regain balance. Being a good uke isn’t just falling, it includes providing committed attacks so one’s partner can practice effectively. Ukemi seems to be where I find growth and discovery happening, more than in practicing techniques as Nage.

So I’m grateful every time I’m called up to help demonstrate a technique. Even when (and it seems to be the case more often than not) I screw it up in some spectacular way, and have to be shown what was wanted. Although he is incredibly gracious about it, I hate being incompetent. Crawling under a rock has sounded like a good plan on a few occasions.  

I learned early on, however, that abject humiliation, even in front of the whole class, will not kill me. The only thing to do is shake it off, note the correction, focus, and do better the next time. 

Actually, I’m grateful for the correction, and for the fact that even after I screw something up pretty thoroughly, I’m called up again. He doesn’t get mad, and he doesn’t give up on people. I thanked Cyril last night for his “persistent and good-humored attempts to help me become a better uke.”

If I pay close enough attention to how he gently guides and redirects students it could help me become a better teacher, and better person, too.

“The Kihon Waza of Horse Training” by Cherie Cornmesser

This post is a “reprint” of a Facebook Note written by Cherie Cornmesser. Cherie and I seem to operate on the same wavelength about a lot of things. We are both long-time horsepeople (although she is much more experienced than I am). We are both new to Aikido, starting in spring of 2009, and are both 6th kyu now. We are fans of horseman & aikidoka Mark Rashid. We both like playing with nages who don’t baby us. About the same time I was flying off Rainy last week, Cherie was writing this.

Cherie Cornmesser lives in Southwestern PA. A graduate of Meredith Manor Equestrian College in Waverly, WV. She has gone on to train horses professionally on a limited basis, focusing on developing a partnership between horse and rider as a team. She is also a professional hoof care provider using the barefoot methods commonly referred to as natural hoof care. Cherie was introduced to aikido and began to study it in June 2009 after seeing clinics by horse trainer Mark Rashid and with the encouragement of her friend, martial artist, Rodger Pyle. She currently trains under Garth Jones and Tara Meyer at Allegheny Aikido in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.

Thank you, Cherie, for allowing me to share your writing. With that, grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. This is well worth reading:

While the rest of the world has been immersed in celebrating the season, I have spent today deeply immersed in my favorite subjects. Aikido and horses. Now, to be honest I’ve mainly been reading books, web sites and viewing video on aikido but always horses are there in the back of my mind. Most times, during my training at the dojo, I am looking for ways to relate the things I am trying to learn to the thing I know best which is training and riding horses. Occasionally things flow in the opposite direction.

This afternoon I took a drive out to see my mare, Baby, and drop off the monthly board check. As usual I checked in the lounge to see if anyone was around. A couple of fellow boarders were there so we had a little chat which led to me telling them about a recent trail ride.

It was the first real snow of the season. Just a week ago. My friend Joanna and I were excited to finally go for a trail ride in some real snow. Minion has just come off of 8 months of stall rest for an injury and spent the summer slowly getting back into shape. Baby was barely ridden last winter due to bad weather conditions. Needless to say this was an exciting event for the horses too.

Every little plop of snow falling from a branch was a cause for suspicion on Baby’s part. Every time Baby slipped in the mud Minion found it a reason to spook. Needless to say it was keeping both of us on our toes. 

As is our usual pattern we stopped in a field to let the horses graze a little, while we were chatting and catching up. It was beautiful and quiet up on that hill. I wish I had been able to take pictures. Then in that silence there was a sound. Some other people were out riding as well from two hills over, about ½ mile or so away. The sound carried across the valley to us even though we could not see them. Both horses reacted.

Baby and I heard the sound at about the same moment. I felt the energy ripple through her body as her head started to come up. I lifted my right rein and put my right leg on her in a firm but quiet manner. And she stepped quickly around to stand facing the direction that the sound had come from. 

Minion OTOH reacted as if shot. His head flew up and he bolted like a race horse from a starting gate. I should mention that both horses have been raced, on the track, in the past. Baby for two years and Minion for six. So anyway as I watched him fly past me I observed this. Joanna’s reaction was a little behind but she quickly caught up, lifted the left rein, applied the left leg and had her horse shut down in three strides. Within a few moments a potentially disastrous event became a non event. All because of the time spent on basic training…kihon waza.

In the Japanese martial arts Kihon Waza, basic training is the foundation of all that comes after it. Without it one cannot develop the instinctive memory to move in the ways that one will need later when performing full techniques in real time. Often as new students we are told again and again to go slow, to work on each step little by little. Not to focus on the end result. Not to worry about the technique or the throw. In other words don’t be in such a hurry to hit the trails when you don’t know how to stop, start and turn. 

Many people who have not focused on those basics might learn how to move in a pattern and create the technique, but it will only work in artificial surroundings. Planned circumstances and such. When a real situation occurs they lack the ability to react because they have not instilled those all important basics into their core. Sure they can think their way through it but they cannot use it without conscious thought. In the real world this is not going to work. And so this is part of the reason, I think, that many people believe that aikido does not work in real life. People seem to feel the same about equine basics.

There are many different methods of performing these steps but the steps themselves are generally the same. Some training methods focus only on using the rein, some use leg, some both. Some use clicker training. All have the same goals and general pattern.

The method, I describe below, most closely resembles that of John Lyons but incorporates techniques and ideas from many other trainers as well as from my own experiences as a horse trainer and college education.

So what are the equine basics that saved my friend and prevented the accident on that snowy ride? First and foremost give to pressure. A horse’s natural inclination when pressure is applied to him in any way is to lean into it. To fight it and go against it. People are very much the same way. If someone pulls on your arm you lean back and resist. In aikido we are trained to let go of resistance and to move forward into and around the pressure. So too, horses are taught. We teach them first to move one spot. Just to yield the smallest bit. Slowly we build it until we can ask them to move any body part away from pressure that is put on it. 

Commonly the first thing taught to a horse beginning saddle training is give to the bit. Pressure on the rein asks the horse first to dip the nose only a small bit. A fraction of an inch. Slowly we teach the horse to continue to yield by way of rewarding the horse’s give with a release. That is the full taking away of the pressure at the moment of the give. We begin to ask the horse to stay in the give position for longer periods. Never asking him to stay longer than he is comfortable but teaching him that he can comfortably do so for longer periods by the reassurance that there will be a release. The horse begins to trust us to take the lead.

After the horse has mastered this give on both sides of his body we add to it. We begin to apply leg pressure and ask the horse to move his hind end. In time and with many hours of training we teach the horse to yield his body in different ways. To become, as it were, in the martial sense a good uke (ooo-kay). 

Uke in Japanese means to receive. The one being acted upon. The one who is guided through the technique. A good uke will stick close to his leader, nage (nah-gay) and follow them as they are guided through the technique. It is in uke’s best interest to do so since, in aikido, techniques can be quite abrupt, even violent and not to follow nage closely could mean serious injury.

For the equine uke, following his rider’s guidance is important as well. The rider’s guidance insures the safety of both as they perform maneuvers such as the amazing patterns of the cutting horse or the feats of the cross country jumper or even to negotiate a slippery trail on a steep hillside. The two must work in harmony in order to remain safe. 

Through the basic steps of training the horse and rider learn to act as one. Without having to think about all of the steps needed to perform a maneuver no matter how quickly that need may arise. Many people neglect these long tedious boring sessions of training, in favor of getting out there and doing the technique, enjoying the ride. But when the test comes… can they pass? Will they maintain the unity with their horse, flow through the technique and come out safe and centered? Most likely not. In the best case they wind up with an excited nervous horse and a rider who finds the entire experience unpleasant. These incidents will continue to occur more and more often until the two can no longer remain a team and the horse is sold. In the worst case one or both of the pair will wind up severely injured… or worse.

That day’s ride in the snow was a good lesson. Not only did it show my friend how well all of that tedious boring time spent in the arena, instead of out on the trails, paid off. She has a long way to go in building her relationship with Minion but she also has a lot to be proud of in bringing him so far. I know I’m very proud of them both as my students. It also reminded me that, even though my horse and I knew it well, it was in our best interests to make sure we continue to revisit hose basic teachings and keep them fresh so that when the time comes again they will continue to stand us in good stead.

Cherie Cornmesser 
12/25/2009

Rainy, and Real-life Ukemi

You might recall that the person who introduced me to Aikido is Mark Rashid, a teacher of horsemanship, author, and Nidan in Yoshinkan Aikido. I had participated in one of his horsemanship clinics in February of 2009, after my large, young horse, Rainy, got scared at the beginning of a ride in the mountains, gave a few good bucks, and I came off.

I’ve not ridden Rainy except maybe once or twice around the backyard since starting Aikido in May 2009. Now that I’m a lot more fit, and in somewhat better control of my breathing and body language, I thought it might be time to start riding again. My plan was to ease into it with a few minutes of walking around the backyard. Walk, turn, walk, whoa. That kind of thing. Easy peasy. Maybe another little ride tomorrow, and one Sunday, maybe.

Everything went fine today until a neighbor somewhere out of sight made a small, sudden noise. That wasn’t a problem, but Rainy’s reaction was. He spun and bolted. My limited ukemi skills served me well. When I realized I was so far off balance there was no recovering I bailed in an organized way. I was able to let go as I fell, which is surprisingly hard to do. I was able to aim away from Rainy’s legs, and toward a clear patch of soft ground just beyond a log and before a tree trunk. I must have rolled, and slammed into the tree, because I know I was diving forward and to the right, head-first, but ended up on my left side, with my feet tucked under me. Most of the road rash and bruises are down my right side: elbow, upper arm, upper and lower rib areas, hip and thigh. I have matching small-but-hard hemotomas on my mid-forearms, where I must have hit an old irrigation pipe that sticks up there. (At least I had the foresight years ago to cover it in 2" PVC pipe, to soften any such collision.) The thing that couldn’t be helped by rolling and splatting into everything as softly as possible was that Rainy’s hoof caught an 8-foot-long 6-inch peeler log as he ran by, and tossed it across the middle of my upper back.

Michael was watching, and I hollered that I was OK, but I didn’t want to move until I was sure everything was working properly. Fingers, check. Toes, thank goodness, check. Neck, no pain. Back, only the breath-catching feeling that I’d just been hit with a heavy log, but no real damage. I got up, gathered up Rainy, who was standing near the house, snorting, and got back on. After a short but successful little ride to assure us both that Riding Isn’t Such a Big Deal I hopped off and let him loose in the yard.

There’s no real damage – nothing that time and ice packs won’t heal, thankfully. But it was a pretty clear wake up call that I need to take a few giant steps backward, and start training Rainy from the beginning. No hopping on and riding for a good while yet, even around the yard. Lots of groundwork ahead. Lots of tiny steps, and tiny goals. Patience, and diligent, focused work on a thousand little details that make up the bigger picture of a good working relationship with one’s horse.

Today’s little wreck was discouraging, but diagnostic. I know where we stand, and the direction we need to go. It’s going to take some work, but the challenges are not insurmountable.

Whew! (day 16 of 16)

This is a quick post about today’s classes. Tomorrow I’ll put down some thoughts about the whole 16 days.

There were 2 classes today: Weapons, and open hand.

In the weapons class we did the first 10 jo suburi. I think I’d done them all before, but at any rate none were a mystery, so I was able to focus on doing them correctly. I need to work on my timing. I was coming in ahead of the strike, which isn’t a terribly good idea. I’m feeling pretty good about most of the jo techniques I’ve learned. I’m sure they are very crude at this point, but I think I have the concepts down enough to practice a bit on my own, and recognize at least some of the things I might be doing wrong.

In the second class we worked mostly (entirely?) on preparing to do breakfalls. (Yay! Something I have done nearly none of before today.) Not exactly like this video shows, but that’s the idea. I was with a group doing really easy, low stuff (like early in that video), while most of the class did more advance practice (like later in that video). Even the “easy” stuff feels really awkward and scary at first! Like “no way, I’ll die.” LOL But by the end of class it was feeling much more natural.

It’s not that I’m in any hurry to be doing spectacular high falls, but I feel a little “at risk” not knowing the basics. Like driving a car without knowing where the brakes are. So I was really glad to start working on this a little.

More tomorrow about the whole experience of my 16-day “Personal Aikido Intensive” experiment.