Half of an aikido class is falling down and while falling down is fun, good exercise and a chance to feel the skills of my partner I want it to be more. I’ve come to realize that I can help a new student more when I am taking ukemi that when I am doing the technique (or even than when I am leading class). In addition I can learn more about how to do the technique and why the technique works from uke side than from nage side. All of this makes me ask myself how much more could I have gotten from my aikido training if I had picked up on this earlier.
In basic technique success is dependent on uke and nage agreeing on a set of parameters and staying honest about them. Obviosuly my partner cannot do shomenuchi ikkyo if I attack with a punch, but even more than that there are hundreds of ways to very a shomenuchi attack that can make any particular technique cleaner and better or ugly and bad. When I am working with a beginner I can lead him or her through a technique by understanding what attack the technique calls for and in knowing this I learn more about why the technique works and what principle I can learn from it.
Fighting with my partner and testing them when I am uke just teaches me to struggle more and hold more tension in my body. Understanding the technique and relaxing in to it allows me to be more responsive to changes in the technique and gives me the foundation to do free training without losing the aikido and without letting my ego turn it into a competition. In some forms of practice this might be more applicable but when I am studying basic technique strong ukemi is often soft ukemi and especially with a beginner good ukemi is the best teacher, much better than the frequent, “No your foot goes there… no there…. No other foot…”