Ukemi and Kokyu Ryoku, simply explained -Part 1: Introduction
Ukemi and Kokyu Ryoku, simply explained
Part 1: Introduction
These articles will focus on “Ukemi” and “Kokyu Ryoku”. These are the abilities to receive force (Ukemi) with your body and make force (Kokyu Ryoku). These two skills are essential learning for any Aikido student. When demonstrated by an expert these things can seem like magic, but you can gain these abilities. We will explore why these things are so important and how you can learn to do them yourself.
I remember when I first started training in Aikido. I had just finished reading Aikido and the dynamic sphere, and Aikido seemed like the most amazing martial art. Ratti and Westbrook made Aikido sound like a magical martial art, full of wonders and amazing powers. When I went to try my fist Aikido class I wasn’t disappointed. The head instructor could throw his students around so easily, using no effort at all. And the students were able to be thrown with great force, yet pop up seemingly unharmed. It’ was amazing and I was hooked.
I would read the stories of Ueshiba (Aikido’s founder) and other Japanese and later Chinese martial arts experts. These fellows always seemed to have a strange power. They were often very small men, who somehow bested large men in competitions of strength. Some how these small men seemed to be stronger than natural laws would suggest they be. This power was often attributed to the strange power of a force called “Ki” in Japanese and “Chi” in Chinese. The phenomenon surrounding these words captivated me. I wanted to learn how to use Ki!
How could a physically small person, seem to be much stronger than a very large person? What were these strange strange powers and how could I gain them? This was a mystery that permeated much of my early training. I would get occasional hints as to how this all worked. My teacher would say things like “If I only have 100 pounds of muscle, but use 100% of that muscle, and you have 200 pounds of muscle but only use 25% of it, I will seem much stronger than you”. I was also told repeatedly how “alignment” and “grounding” were very important. I eventually came to understand that efficiency was a major key in this kind of strength. Becoming more efficient in the way one uses their body is what can make a smaller man seem stronger than a large one. I set about learning how to be as physically efficient as possible.
Understanding that efficiency was a major goal of this kind of training was very important and set me on the right path, there were still many secret techniques that I did not yet understand however. To get at these techniques I was studying the mystical systems of esoteric martial arts. Much of the information and lessons in these kinds of martial arts are hidden in strange practices with otherworldly descriptions. It took quite awhile before I had successfully waded through most of the strange information and got a much clearer picture. That’s what these articles are about- how to help you get a clear picture of how we receive and make force in the martial arts. These articles are written for those who would like a simple straight forward answer to many of the questions as to why martial artists seem so strong. How small people can hit so hard and achieve other amazing feats like launching someone 5 feet in the air. How do martial artists receive so much force and get up unharmed.? These articles will explain in simple language how you can develop these powers and understand how Aikido practitioners do what they do.
Brief overview of the subject mater:
Often the word Ukemi is translated (VERY badly) as “falling” or “falling practice”. It’s probably translated this way for two reasons. First the literal translation- “receiving body” sounds strange in English. Second, when we talk about Ukemi in Aikido we are usually talking about the way we take a fall. This “take a” is the important part however, and not the “fall” part. Ukemi is the study of receiving force with your body. That force could come from the ground rushing up to meet you, or someone cranking on your joints. Anytime you take a force in Aikido we call it Ukemi (receiving with the body). We will use the word not only to describe safe falling methods, but also any of the other methods we use to receive a force.
This is an old word that from what I understand doesn’t appear much in the modern Japanese language. Kokyu Ryoku literally means “Breath Power”. This is another word where a direct translation doesn’t make much sense in English. The idea behind this word is a power that comes from natural exertion. Breathing being a thing that is natural, effortless and extends out from the body is the key visualization of this term. It is meant to mean an natural power that extends out from you. We will use the word to describe the kind of efficient power we want to issue.
We will talk about the methods to receive and make force, and why they seem so powerful. This was simply a primer for the articles to follow. Later this week the first real article will appear which will discuss Ukemi and its ability to help us fall safely. So look for that article later this week!