People begin training in the martial arts for many reasons. Sometimes they are just looking for exercise, while others seek some sort of spiritual direction that they may have felt was lacking in their lives. Still others join because of an inherent fear, of which they want desperately to rid themselves. They want to learn how to defend themselves, so if they someone attacks or threatens them, they will not become victims. Because the martial arts have such dimensions, and many others, it is easy to obtain a distorted view of them: a vision that does not automatically correct itself even after substantial training. After many years, sometimes practitioners think they are skilled fighters, even though they have neither fought nor trained to deal with competent boxers or grapplers.

The key is seeing through a martial art’s basic techniques and practices to perceive their real purpose. In Aikido, for example, practitioners first learn how to roll and fall: a practice referred to as ukemi.  This is seemingly just exercise, but such skills will allow students to begin learning real techniques without being seriously injured. Stop by any dojo and ask the instructor for real-life occurrences in which ukemi, the art of receiving with the body, prevented serious injury or even death in real life, and you are sure to hear some stories. Students come and go in the martial arts, and few stay for more than a few years. Of the many who come to train, some have survived accidental falls and bombardment by large objects: evidence that even such a basic exercise is in reality a useful life skill. At upper levels, it can also be a martial skill, because it can teach students how to dissipate the force of a blow that finds its mark.

Aikido students also learn how to perform basic techniques like joint locks and throws, and they initially learn them from impractical grabs. Often, wrist grabs are used. These are not martially viable attacks, but they allow beginners to work on techniques without fear of injuries. In time, as their techniques improve and their bodies temper, practitioners should begin dealing with more realistic attacks: real punches, kicks, and the like. Unfortunately, in many dojo, this logical next step is lacking, and even practitioners with advanced ranks sometimes do not know how to strike someone properly with speed and power. If this skill is lacking, defending against such attacks is not possible.

Some avoid such training for fear of injury. Therefore, the fear some students appeared at the dojo to eliminate does not dissipate through training.  Such practitioners do not face their fear head on. As a result, their martial skills do not develop.  Everyone should avoid this. Train to strike correctly.  Then, train to deal with such strikes. It is unlikely that any practitioner will be able to get through a real-life confrontation without being struck. If you are not used to dealing with the reality of being hit, your attacker will overcome you. However, if you practice such aspects of the martial arts, your atemi will improve, as will your ukemi: learning how to receive such strikes with the body.

By: Walther von Krenner with Ken Jeremiah

If you enjoyed this post, check our the authors’ latest book, Atemi: The Thunder and Lightning of Aikido.

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