Response from Sensei:
When you come to an Aikido dojo, the first thing you will learn is how to fall or UKEMI. A wise Shinto priest and Aikido master once said to me, "First learn UKEMI because UKEMI is a form of losing. If you can learn how to lose and how you feel when you lose, the rest of it is easy. No ego, no nothing… Just the way it is." I learned UKEMI in very much the same way. The first thing my instructor, Iio Sensei, taught me was UKEMI. As a matter of fact, the first three years of my Aikido training was all about UKEMI. Nothing else mattered.
During this time, my husband had already earned his black belt in Aikido and had recently attended GASSHUKU (specialized training) with the Wakayama University Aikido Club. He was hoping that I would soon be able to take UKEMI at the same level of intensity as those who had been training for years. Since he had significantly more Aikido experience than I, he worked with me endlessly in an effort to get me up to par so that I, too, could fully participate in the more advanced aspects of Aikido.
For months after each and every Aikido class he would throw me repeatedly so that I could learn UKEMI faster. I am not talking about the regular, nice and easy UKEMI that we often practice in Castle Rock each week. I am talking about full-force break falls or TOBI UKEMI. My husband threw me as hard as he could (at least that is how it felt to me) and I tried my best to "take" good TOBI UKEMI. Unlike our Castle Rock students, I didn't have a luxury of a spring floor or soft mats to learn on. I had to take full-force ukemi on TATAMI mats which were as firm as boards. So it really hurt when you didn't land properly. After just a few nights of this special UKEMI training, my legs were black and blue all the way from my rear end to my knees and I didn’t seem to be making all that much progress. But, then one day something changed. Everything came together at once. Suddenly TOBI UKEMI wasn't painful anymore. My body had learned how to fall properly.
Ten years later I look back and appreciate the extra training my husband gave me. It greatly allowed me to advance my Aikido training. It definitely made me more confident when I trained with high ranking black belts at outlying dojo.
If you want to speed up your Aikido training, focus on UKEMI. You will quickly see that if you can take good UKEMI, the higher rank students will want to work with you more. Your ability to take good UKEMI is often proportional to your commitment level to the art and senior students recognize that and reward it by working with you more. Aikido is team work between the NAGE (thrower) and UKE (throwee). Techniques and UKEMI are both equally important in your training.