Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
 
Aikido: Ukemi is the act of receiving with one's body.

This blog is fast turning into Aikido-blog, and I'm only taking a class once a week! But it's really fascinating. I was on time. Got my gi on in good order, not inside out this time, and somehow, like in the first class, I gravitated right towards the front, right in front of Peter. This was the same in college---I usually ended up either right in the front, or all the way in the back. But in college you aren't usually moving in front of all those backseaters. I held back a little, when I realized how far forward I was. "Don't worry, I don't smell!" said Peter.

Peter broke down the different kinds of rolls and falls for us, and then got us going in a very small piece (first third) of a back roll. He emphasized that ukemi is not just about rolling or falling, but about receiving with one's body. Uke is the act of receiving, and mi indicates the body. It's an interesting concept to have such a carefully constructed word for. I wonder what receiving with one's mind or with one's heart would be.

It seems that the basic position of Aikido is a hanmi, or triangular stance: front foot "laser straight," point forward, with the back foot at slightly less than 90 degrees to the body, pointing to the side, and a little (or a lot) bend in the knees and spread in the hips to stabilize the body as necessary. It would be interesting to go through various martial arts and classical dance forms, just diagramming the basic position, and see how that reflected each style's mood. I know between the main kinds of classical Indian dance the basic starting position is very indicative of each style. The Aramandali of Bharat Natyam being is most basic and central, with knees turned out and a deep sit, but feet spaced just inches apart. Grounded to the earth, totally symmetrical, straight posture, but a nice acute angle at the ankles emphasizing the beauty of the feet. It's traditionally a male dance that's totally adaptable to women, and the emphasis is on power and balance, I'd say. I quibble with this picture: the dancer's heels shouldn't be touching, I think. But it gives you an idea. The more curvaceous Odissi has both the basic Chowka, with arms pointing forward in the manner of Orissa's most famous Resident, and the more fluid Abhanga position.

Oh, but I digress. Back to the baby steps towards an ukemi. You started at hanmi with one foot (the first foot) forward, took a bit of a rotating step backwards so that the hanmi now had that first foot in the back, and tried to kneel in a single motion. The foot in the back is bent onto its toes and you rested most of your weight on the heel, keeping the knee off the ground, while the other leg pointed forward, with a foot resting flat on the ground and the knee pointed dully towards the ceiling. Balancing this was no trouble for me, but a kind black belted woman behind me pointed out that my back leg with the pointed foot was pointing out to the side too much and not forward enough. "You want me to point it forward?!" I was really a bit horrified at the prospect. For, oh, 12 odd years, dance teachers yelled at me (or gently scolded) if I pointed my knees forward while balancing on my toes. The starting sit I described above, the half sit, is easily converted into the full sit by simply lowering one's body to rest on one's heels. If you do that nicely with your knees pointed out, the fan of your dance costume will spread out like a fully bloomed lotus. If you point your knees forward, the fan will be crumpled. It's going to be a very difficult reflex for me to quell.

Oh, so much more to describe. The first move where one realizes this is a martial art was today. Then there were partnered wrist exercises, like playing cats cradle with ones' arms. At first I couldn't get them at all, and Scott just kept looking at me while he nudged my hands into the correct position, first pointing out one aspect of the motion, than another. It was odd to have a friend explain something to me without speaking. I think I did finally get it, but gosh I wish I had more opportunities to practice. So many things to make stick. Well, I guess you all will just have to try Aikido for yourself, since I can't possibly describe even an hour's worth before I leave for New York. . .far too soon.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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