We can begin by thinking of taihenjutsu ukemi gata as rolling and landing correctly on the ground to protect the body. Learning how to fall and not get hurt is an important skill that you will learn, and need to master in training. From a “dojo” perspective good rolling is important so you do not get hurt in practice, and so that you can develop sufficient ukemi skills to be able to receive advanced training.
When talking about a self defense perspective, ukemi skills are important for blending and going with what your attacker throws at you. In this situation, your skills switch from survival to protection. Good ukemi also helps to develop fudoshin (immovable spirit) and helps to build courage. Being taken down and thrown around can be very scary, but if you know that you have the skills and confidence to land safely what is there to be afraid of?
In the beginning rolling should be practiced in an open area on a padded or carpeted area to allow you some leeway for mistakes. Later as your skill develops you will want to move on to “natural” ukemi by practicing outdoors and in different environments. Don’t forget practicing ukemi in the dark or blindfolded for times when your sight may be removed.
Mae Gaeshi “Forward Overturn”
This is a forward overturn where you kneel down and overturn landing on your feet. As you vault over pay attention not to compress your head or spine on the ground.
Zenpo Kaiten “Forward Roll”
A forward roll on either the right or left side where you go over your shoulder and land back on your feet getting up. Your hands are used to help guide your direction and stabilize yourself.
Yoko Kaiten “Side Roll”
A side roll where you face to the side and roll over your shoulders across the top of your back.
Ushiro Kaiten “Back Roll”
Opposite of a front roll, where you roll backwards in reverse.
Zenpo Ukemi “Forward Breakfall”
Landing flat on your stomach taking a breakfall- be sure to face your head to the side to protect your face/teeth and pull yourself forward with your hands at the moment of impact to help lessen the fall.
Some general points to keep in mind when you are rolling:
Stay Compact: When rolling, moving smooth, tight, and compact is the key. Pay attention to your limbs, especially the legs, and make sure they are pulled in tight to your core. Besides making you a smaller target, it will help the roll go quicker and smoother without you having to expend any additional energy.
Use Gravity: With ukemi you are trying to protect yourself from the ground by landing softly and smoothly- don’t jump or throw yourself to the ground from a standing position. Kneel down first and lower yourself to the ground with your legs and arms first, then roll over.
Breathe: Don’t loose sight of breathing naturally as you roll. Hitting the ground disrupts the natural flow of your lungs for a moment and it is easy to get out of breath. When you are rolling you are trying to be as relaxed as possible which leads to good form. Not breathing makes you tighten up and stiff.
When you are first learning the different rolls think of them as a form of yoga and junan taiso. Go extra slow paying attention to the points of your body that hit the ground and what you are feeling in your body after a few dozen rolls or so. Is there an area that is tight? Does your shoulder or knees hurt from grinding into the ground? Use the rolls as a method of feedback from your body to your mind and fix those points.
Listen to the sounds that your rolls make as you practice them- for the most part they should be “silent”. If you hear yourself hitting the floor, grunting as you go over, and sliding as you get up imagine what that is doing to your body through the process.
From there the next layer to add on is being able to roll smoothly and in one complete motion as opposed to 1…2…3…, down…roll…get up. Your roll should look like a movie- a continually moving scene from start to end.
The final layer to add on is the ability to roll in any direction and from different heights and surfaces. Imagine standing facing forward and the eight points of the compass at your feet- pick a direction and roll. Practice your rolls from both a kneeling and standing position. Practice your rolls up and down a hill with different elevations. When you can roll smoothly and without injuring your body UP a hill you are ready. From there you will want to be able to roll from the various kamae (body positions).
Rolling on the mat!