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Ukemi 受身 Break-Fall Skills

One of the most important self-defense skills in our martial art is the ability to get to the ground safely. Set aside the idea of a fight for a moment, and just think day to day life. Slips and falls are one of the leading causes of visits to the emergency room. Injury often happens from putting an arm out and trying to ‘stop’ the fall. Knowing how to be comfortable going to the ground and protect against that kind of injury is something everyone should practice.

Also, for a martial artist who needs to practice the throws and takedowns that could happen in a fight, being able to roll correctly is key to being able practice safely and for years to come. The goal is to learn to protect ourselves, so that last thing we want is to hurt ourselves in the course of the training.

The eighth of our twelve keys is:


“Roll with the punches for a safe training experience”
-An-shu Stephen K. Hayes, To-Shin Do Official Curriculum

There is a lot to be said about rolling skills, but beyond rolling and break-falls, there is another part of ukemi that I want to focus on here. The skill of receiving techniques. What might be often thought of as the ‘bad guy’ role in training is, in many ways, just as important as the technique itself. Without the correct energy on the part of the attacker, for example, the technique won’t work the way it is intended. And at a deeper level, receiving techniques has a wealth of knowledge to teach. Learning to correctly and safely receive techniques performed on us, not only keeps us from being damaged, but leads to much more advanced skills. The roots of our sixth degree black belt skills are, in fact, found in ukemi training and those lessons begin even as a white belt.

To start your black belt level training (no matter what belt level you are!) keep these three ideas in mind during training:

  • Go slow. Especially in the beginning, the faster you go the easier it is to get damaged, and the harder it is to feel what is going on in a technique.
  • Go with the energy. Go where the technique is trying to take you. Once you feel what is going on, what the technique is trying to do, you can start moving with the technique, going in the direction of the technique to stay safe.
  • Go without tension. Resistance isn’t just futile, it is outright dangerous. At least it is when it comes to To-Shin Do techniques. They are designed to be more effective the more the attacker resists.

As with many other keys here, there is in inner part of ukemi training as well. The ability to receive attacks on the inside (the emotional and spiritual challenges both in and out of a fight) is something to pay attention to in To-Shin Do training. Knowing how to receive a potential problem, whether it is the ground coming up fast, a technique being applied, or an insult being hurled, is one of the keys to being unbeatable warrior.

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