Kokyu Ryoku and Ukemi, simply explained -Part 3, Ukemi while standing
Taking force while standing.
Taking force while standing can be quite impressive. Who’s not a little surprised when it’s impossible to push someone over who is standing on one leg, or when two strong men working together can’t lift someone barely 100lbs?! While at first these things look like magic (or maybe “magic tricks”), the are actually based on important principles that can improve our ability to manipulate force. In order to understand this we need to clarify some terms.
Understanding structure, force and their variables.
Lets again look at the model of a structure. In a structure we have 5 important variables. We have the structure itself, The force(s) acting on the structure, the structures base, the structures support and the alignment of the force(s) acting on the structure and the structures support.
When a force acts on a structure, it is simply trying to go through the structure. For the most part in Aikido training, we should be trying to move around this force and let it go by us. However there are times when we want to stay put and keep the force from moving or injuring us. In order to do this we need to have a very thorough understanding of how the structure/force’s five variables interact and how to balance these variables.
The first variable we need to understand is the structure itself. If the force cannot move the structure, and the structure does not move around the force, the structure will have to find a way to absorb the force. If the structure is not strong enough to do this, we cannot use Ukemi. While the methods of Ukemi will help us to make the force more manageable, the structure will still have to absorb some of the force. Even if you are a master of Ukemi you’re never going able to be able to stand it the way of a moving bulldozer, simply because your structure isn’t strong enough to handle the tremendous force that a bulldozer can make. This is why in Aikido we more often prefer to move around the force instead of absorbing it. It is however important to point out that, while your structural alignment will involve some muscular contraction, the best structural alignments will not involve much muscular power. Your structure can handle forces MUCH larger than your muscles alone could handle. This is why a small, old man could not be moved by the force of much bigger men in the prime of their life.
The second thing we need to look at is the structures support. The support is what will help the structure overcome or transfer the force. The support is one of the reasons we can resist forces larger than our muscles alone could handle. We will use the strength of the support to help us overcome these forces. When we are talking about receiving force from a standing position, most of the time our support will be the ground- and a powerful support it is!
Alignment is how we channel the force through the structure into the support. Alignment is the key to accessing the most power from the structure and the support. Good alignment will make the best use of both the structure and the support. The alignment is what allows the structure to use the power of the support.
Base is the part of the structure that contacts the support. We have already talked some about the importance of base when we were talking about falling and why we fall. Ideally we want to align the incoming force into the very center of the base. By sending the force to the center of the base we will give the structure it’s greatest stability, eliminating the need for much muscular force.
Last, but probably most important is the force itself. You cannot “take” or resist the force if the force is greater than the other four variables. We will probably never have to worry about the strength of our support because it is unlikely that you will ever face a force that is greater than our support, especially if that support is the ground. As we said earlier the force cannot be greater than the structure itself. If the force can crush your bones it’s too strong for our structure- it’s important to note however, that if properly aligned your bones can take thousands of pounds of force. You must also be able to align the force to your support, this is where some of the major skill in Ukemi comes in. Those who are good at Ukemi however can manage to easily align hundreds of pounds to their support. And all of this force alignment has to be kept inside of the base or the structure itself will simply topple over. These are the limitations of the amount of force we can use Ukemi on. I feel it’s important to point these out because often when instructors start talking about force alignment they make it seem as if there are no limitations to the amount of force you can align; this is not true. The exciting thing is that there are probably not any humans that can make force (unaided) greater than your body can align!
Understanding how these five variables interact and how to balance them is the key to receiving forces that your muscles alone could not overcome. Being able to do this very well makes it seem like you can defy muscular force entirely. If you want to understand how a small physically weaker person can resist the efforts of a physically stronger person, you must understand these variables and learn to balance them.
Methods of receiving force while standing.
Now we will get into a few specifics as to how we make good alignments and show ways that we can take or even overcome very strong forces. One of the best ways to take forces that our muscles alone would not be strong enough to handle is simple alignment. A good alignment will put very little stress on our muscles by directing most of the force through our bones into the ground. By doing this you will feel like you are exerting little to no effort, yet be able to take large amounts of force. If the force is coming from over head the alignment is pretty simple. You can see this alignment used by all kinds of people all over the world carrying things. Backpacks use this simple alignment, so do the people you see carrying heavy objects on top of their head. The average person can move large amounts of weight this way, and hold up hundreds of pounds of force.
Aligning horizontal force.
When the force is coming on a horizontal plane this alignment becomes much more difficult. Being able to effortlessly resist a large force in this way is often very impressive. While this alignment is more difficult most people can learn how to do it in a relatively short time. The trick to doing this is to make the straightest line possible for the force to travel through your body and into the ground. Ideally we will use as little muscle to do this as possible. The reason for this is because using muscle requires effort. Muscles tire quickly, and if your alignment is based on muscular force you will fail quickly also. Ideally we want to use as much bone alignment as possible. By aligning the bones in our body correctly we can use very little muscular force to hold the alignment. This also allows us to align forces that are greater than our muscles alone could handle. This is how a small old man can easily resist the efforts of a strong man trying to push him over. The difficult thing to learn how to do is actually to relax the muscles once the alignment is made. This kind of alignment is much more difficult to make because you need to actually visualize and feel the alignment in order to make it as efficient as possible. When we feel a strong force coming at us we might instinctively try to use muscle to fight against the force. Even if you’ve got a good alignment you will be tempted to use more muscle than necessary. Muscle becomes more important if the alignment between the force and the support is not a straight line. The more angles there are between the force and the support, the more muscular force you will need to use.
As we straighten the line that the force travels we will use less muscle and be able to handle more and more horizontal force.
The reason this kind of alignment is so impressive is because it is aligning a horizontal force to a support that is set up to receive downward force. We can never reach a perfect alignment with a horizontal force using only the ground as our support because of this fact.
If we could stand on a wall and use the wall as our support instead of the ground, we could achieve perfect alignment for the force. If we do this, it would again take us back to the simple alignment we talked about above.
Taking strong force coming from above, or even horizontally seems pretty straight forward. Even without esoteric martial arts training, most people could figure out how to align these forces. But how can your take strong forces coming from below you? If you have no support to align with how can you keep someone from lifting you? This kind of demonstration is shown often by smaller Aikido instructors. They pick one or two large students and have them easily lift them into the air. But then when the Aikido instructor focuses his ki, the student(s) can no longer lift him. While physiological factors cannot be overlooked when the teacher is using his own students, most good Aikido instructors can do this even with people who are not their students. And more than a few Aikido instructors have done this with non-Aikido people who are genuinely trying to prove that they can lift the mystic martial artist. There are several methods of doing this, and through talking about them we will learn some new ideas.
Look for this article next week!