The oft neglected mae ukemi

I have noticed recently that there is one element of ukemi at our school that I frankly think is somewhat neglected, or at least skimmed over too much.

Different people refer to it by different names, but it is essentially mae ukemi or "front falling". In some circles, this term refers to the forward rolls so common in aikido, but I think the terms mae kaiten ukemi ("front rolling fall") or zenpo kaiten ukemi ("forward rolling fall") are more descriptive and therefor clearer. Here's what the fall looks like:

For the most part, we have practiced only one piece of mae ukemi, as part of our opening warm-up, which is taking the fall from our knees. Unlike this video, however, we don't do the "worm" sort of movement, just reach out and slap the mat with our forearms, pulling ourselves a little forward, chin up. I'm not sure why, but while we would practice all the other falls from both a low, close-to-the-ground position as well as from a standing position, we only ever did front falls from the knees.

And for some reason, some classes over recent years have inexplicably decided to skip altogether some of the ukemi sections we all used to do (namely, yoko ukemi or "side falls" and mae ukemi) and only do ushiro ukemi and then the forward rolls. That baffles me.

Anyway, outside of that little section of practice at the beginning of class, it seemed like hardly anyone ever gave front falls much thought. Maybe one or two really athletic guys might perform the full version of the fall when they got to training in koryu dai san kata, but that was it.

The problem is, there are a couple of places within randori no kata where you should be able to take this fall as well (such as oshi taoshi), but I seriously doubt anyone under shodan (maybe even higher) knows how to do it. My only assumption is that we all (myself included) got into the habit of, when uke, falling to our knee first, and then doing a forward slap (like we do in warm-ups).

But here's the problem with that: at any reasonable speed, doing so will kill your knee. I know, because it happened to me the other week. And we were even on a nice, padded dojo mat, but man, my knee was sore for more than a week! I can't imagine what would've happened if that had happened to me on a hard floor or concrete! Bad, bad, bad...

Afterward, I thought I recalled someone, a long time ago, telling me that I could hurt my knee if I got into that habit, but obviously I, and I think many of us, has let the comfort of slow play and a padded surface cause that fact to slip our minds. Granted, some of our older students may not feel up to this, but then again, if they can do a forward roll, I don't see why they couldn't do this?

Needless to say, I think I'm going to spend a little time on it with the morning classes in the next week or so. Maybe I'll save a knee or two.


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