What does a black belt in Aikido mean to you? I was told that a black belt should be able to take UKEMI from any throw. My training insured that was true. UKEMI is the Japanese term for being able to safely receive an Aikido technique from anyone. It is the ability to follow, flow and fall without injury. It is often said that the first three years in Aikido training is UKEMI. UKEMI is that important.
A few years ago, we were training in Sasaki sensei's dojo in Fujiminou City in Saitama, Japan. Many of his students were already 4th, 5th, and 6th degree black belts. Sasaki Sensei, himself, is an 8th degree black belt. So imagine me, being only a 2nd degree black belt at the time! I was intimidated to say the least. In this situation, 2nd degree black or NI-DAN means next to nothing. Their level of understanding of techniques was so deep that it would blow your mind. In this situation, the only thing I could be confident in was my UKEMI. In their presence, I wasn’t even comfortable saying that I had a basic understanding of Aikido. All I knew was that I could receive their techniques. Of course, it is by receiving their techniques that I would learn the most from them. That is where the real learning in Aikido takes place, through the physical dialogue of UKEMI.
Once you’ve learned to take UKEMI, your technique will follow. If you really want to improve your Aikido technique… focus on developing your UKEMI. A little known secret about Aikido is that UKEMI is the key to reaching black belt, not technique execution. Many students spend a disproportionate amount of their focus on the performance of techniques like KOTE-GAESHI or SHIHO-NAGE. If one is truly present during training, one will be extremely intent while be both uke and nage. Being equally skilled is what will make you a complete aikidoka.