Yes, you too can have amazing ukemi! Step 1
I get asked fairly frequently about ukemi, or rather, more specifically, for advice about it. I suppose I fall well enough. People say I do, anyway, but I'm certainly not the only one; there are plenty of budoka in our dojo and organization that have been falling prettier and longer than I.
Regardless, the question does get asked of me. In one form another, it all basically comes down to this: How can I fall like you? And it gets me thinking. What should I tell them? How did I get where I am today?
Now, I'm still relatively young, both in age and in budo experience, but this is what I've discovered so far about ukemi (and this may change as I get further along the path). Ready? Here's how you, too, can have amazing ukemi, absolutely free of charge!
Not that you have a whole lot of choice in the matter. You may have only discovered aikido or judo after turning 45, and that's where you have to start. All is not lost; you can still fall well with time and work. But I have to say that, after several years of watching others, young folks do have a unique advantage: put simply, it's an outright sense of fearlessness.
From what I understand (if the Discovery channel is to be believed), the human brain gets completely rewired during adolescence, starting at the back and working its way forward to the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe, I'm told, contains the part of our brain responsible for "higher reasoning". And since, physiologically, adolescence doesn't stop until your mid 20s, your higher reasoning center doesn't get rewired until then.
Which is why, I suspect, you can take a bunch of 18-19 year old soldiers (or younger) and tell them to storm a beach in Normandy against all odds and they'll do it. Ask a bunch of 30 year olds and they're likely tell you to go screw yourself.
All of which means, there's not a lot of logic or common sense or fear to get in the way of a young person throwing himself into the ground. (I post the picture above because that is exactly the sort of thing we did when I was a young lad!) Because let's face it, falling down is not natural. In fact, I'm willing to bet millions of years of evolution have more than likely programmed us that falling is a bad thing, don't do it, ever ever. You'll get hurt. Resist the fall at all costs, 'cause your gonna break something.
Fortunately, amazingly, we can actually overcome all that biological programming (in time). And while it's not absolutely necessary to start while still young enough and fearless enough to know that what you're doing is kind of dangerous, it certainly does help. I, myself, started just before I turned 20. And all the best ukemi artists in our school? Much the same. Most everyone I know who started when older have always had a sort of stiffness and hesitation in their falls.
Still, there are exceptions in our school, so don't let that discourage you. Follow Dr. Sean's sure-fire method for amazing ukemi, and you'll be flying about the dojo like a sugar-buzzed acrobat from Cirque du Soleil!
Next, Step 2...