Instructor’s Statement: “Coming here I’ve been really interested in thinking about ukemi and kokyu ryoku (breath power from the center) as sort of the yin and yang of our practice, the inhalation-exhalation. For me ukemi is the art of receiving and neutralizing power with our whole body – as Chiba Sensei would say without resisting, without escaping, without flying away, or without collapsing. Ukemi is a vital aspect, it’s a preparation for the unexpected, and the way that we take ukemi in Birankai is really lively.
“Ukemi isn’t just the falling down, it really is a whole relation, the ability to absorb and neutralize power. Thinking about power, I think that how we generate power is misunderstood because we tend to think about it in terms of muscular force. The first thing we have to do is to align our skeleton because the skeleton is the primary organ for support of the body. When we align our skeleton with gravity, we’re able to capture the ground reaction forces that our relationship with gravity gives us. It allows us to generate force through the body, so skeletal alignment is critical. Really important to that is spinal extension, something that was so apparent in Sensei’s Aikido, his throwing as well as how he taught and how he demonstrated ukemi.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about something Chiba Sensei said in a letter to Lizzy Lynn: ‘To practice Aikido is to study the body; to study the body is to study the spine; to study the spine is to study the breath, and to study the breath is to study the spine.’ We do lots of breathing exercises but one of the things that I feel strongly is that if we try to control our breath all we do is really interfere with it, so a lot of the breathing exercises are just different ways to stimulate the system and free it up so don’t have to think about it. How do we organize our movement with our partners with our breath?
“The other thing about generating power is that when we are rotating, we’re capturing the elastic forces that are in the very structure of our body – the connective tissue. Those tissues are resilient, they’re elastic. We do so much rotation in techniques like kokyu ho from standing, ikkyo and iriminage – that’s really where power comes from. Power is a consequence of skillful action and sensitivity, not brute force. Perceptual sensitivity is the other thing – it doesn’t take much force to throw somebody if you understand how to unbalance them. Unbalancing, kuzushi, is about being in the right place at the right time and understanding the angles of kuzushi. That’s something that I’m always trying to transmit because that’s something that was so clear in Sensei’s art.
“The other thing is weapons. Just trying to give people the opportunity to see the relationships. The way the hands work together with the sword, you want to do the same thing with body arts. The importance of the center line in cutting with shomen, how that translates into a variety of body art techniques, especially ikkyo and kotegaeshi.” Darrell Bluhm, May 6, 2018.
Special Thanks: Bluhm Sensei’s seminar was sponsored in part by the T.K. and Mitsuko Chiba Seminar Endowment Fund, which provides grants to Birankai North America dojos to help them host special events