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On Mastering


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On Mastering



Daniel Linden

JOURNEY - On Mastering Ukemi

Daniel Linden

Published by Basswood Press

All Rights Reserved

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical., including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

This is a work of fiction and no quotes may be attributed to any individual except the author.

© 2011 Basswood Press

For Laurie

Part 1


The doctor looked at me with apparent disapproval. I don’t know why, but I sometimes have that effect on people without meaning to. When he spoke he had an accent I could not identify, but he was probably from somewhere in northern Europe. I didn’t think it sounded Aussie or South African. He slipped the I.V. into my arm and then bent over to stare at my cheek. My face was so swollen that my eye was closed.

“You have a fractured kidney and a slight concussion. You have been in a fight. Yes?”

“Well, Doc, I wouldn’t really call it a fight. I pretty much stood there and they pretty much hit me. Is that being in a fight?”

“I think so. Yes. How did you get here?”

How did I get here? Was he kidding? There isn’t a road for a hundred miles in any direction.

“I walked,” I said.


Aikido is a unique martial art. It requires that two individuals train together to a mutual end. One person cannot train at aikido alone.

In other martial arts, Judo, Karate, or Kung Fu, for example, one person can train at kata or in practice kumite (fighting) along with another, but in all of these arts it is the point of the training to win the encounter. Each individual tries to overcome the other.

Not so in aikido. In aikido there is an uke and a nage. These are roles that are played and shared by the people who train at this esoteric art. The uke attacks and the nage defends. In Japanese, uke means ‘one who receives’. So in aikido the person playing the role of uke attacks the person playing the role of nage and then receives the results of the attack, whether it’s a throw or a pin or an atemi (strike).

It could be argued that mastership in ukemi is tantamount to aikido mastership, but it is not. One can be said to have done aikido, for example, when one successfully defends oneself from an attacker. If the attack takes place outside of a convenience store late at night, and the attacker is just another street hoodlum, he is probably incapacitated in some way and you (who have done aikido) have achieved a resolution. That attacker cannot be said to have done aikido or to have taken ukemi. At best he fell down.

Ukemi is a part of the ‘practice’ of aikido, but it is not aikido. It is a necessary part of the learning process, but it is not aikido. It is a requirement for mastership, the requirement that one masters the art of ukemi, but it is not aikido. Each role is unique and necessary. One can no more have a marriage with only one person than train at aikido with only one person. Traditionally (new ideas notwithstanding), a marriage requires a man and a woman – a husband and wife that is - to be a marriage. Aikido requires an uke and a nage.

Ukemi is the art of falling down and getting up again. Ukemi is the art of listening with the body. Ukemi is the art of attacking from the heart, to the heart. Ukemi is attacking relentlessly until one is engaged or disengaged. I believe it is an art in itself, albeit one that no one will ever claim or truly master. However, only the best at ukemi ever claim true mastership in aikido.


There is a perfect image for me. It is the journey from beginner to master. In that image I see a person walking down a path and the path stretches to the horizon. The seeker walks, climbing hills and then descending into valleys, through forests, across streams and rivers, over bridges and through harsh dry desert. He becomes weary, but regains his strength in equal measure. He moves relentlessly and falters repeatedly, but on he walks, going past the end of the road and then beyond the end of the trail and then into the wild. He bushwhacks his way into the unknown until he finally begins to climb the highest mountain. He knows peril and cold and unspeakable hardship, but continues until one day he experiences grace.

After that everything is different. He begins to breathe easier even though the trail still climbs. He passes people along the way and though they have never met, he recognizes them. He begins to have fun and the fun becomes the joy of being alive in a great adventure.

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