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08 Injury, Aging and Ukemi

All around Japan, little old men are practicing Aikido into their eighties.  What is their secret?  They have decided to keep training, their attacks slow down and their ukemi becomes modified due to physical limitations but they participate fully.
For those of us carrying ailments and injuries, whether short or long term, this kind or example is inspiring.

When injured, it's with some trepidation that we step back onto the mat.  We may have a fear of the injury reoccurring and also a feeling that we can't participate fully.  Aikido, though, is a marathon and not a sprint and we have to make the decision about whether to take time out, restrict our activities and /or modify our practice.

As we age and our bodies change so do do our physical abilities.  Ukemi skills honed at an earlier age (like the soft breakfall) enable fuller participation to a ripe old age.  Dojo like Aikikai hombu and many others have a softer mat section that's more friendly for the experienced among us.  Here are some tips to consider:

  • One thing is certain: use it or lose it.  Once you stop doing an activity its very hard to start doing it again.  Resistance training build muscle and improves bone density - falling and picking yourself up off the mat uses your body weight as resistance training. 
  • If doing all of the tumbles in the warm-ups is tough this week don't stop completely.  Just do one or two with a view to doing them all again next time.
  • If you're injured tape the area, its helpful not only in a therapeutic sense but also a visible marker to remind your partner you are not fully able.
  • If you are not injured or just recovered but are concerned about your ukemi tape the area anyway for all of the reasons above.
  • Work at a slower pace.
  • Paired weapons practice is mostly done standing and can teach you a lot about the art of ukemi through correct ma-ai, sensitivity etc... and is highly recommended to improve your Aikido as well.

Read 09 Getting your ukemi mojo back for more ideas.