I'm not part of the review team here, but the admin asked me to review this DVD and post my thoughts on it:
Review "UKEMI From The Ground Up", by Ellis Amdur (DVD)
UKEMI - From The Ground Up, Featuring Ellis Amdur
Produced by Shinwa/Keigan Productions
Price: $36 NTSC
This instructional DVD is shot in a traditional aikido dojo in Northern California and consists of 80 minutes plus of edited seminar footage. The main menu features the "Play Movie", which is 82 minutes of ukemi instruction and lecture; "Scene Selection", which allows the viewer to skip to specific sections; "More Aikido", which includes short sections on solo practice, atemi, iriminage, shihonage, and counters to shihonage; and "Biography", which is a short, scrolling text biography of Ellis Amdur.
As the name states, the primary focus of this DVD is on the core elements of safe and practical "receiving methods" (ukemi). Amdur begins with the disclaimer that there are many ways to do something, and that what he is going to teach simply represents his own expression. The purpose of the instruction is to offer a logical and understandable method for performing ukemi, and Amdur states that he does not mind if proponents of his method adapt them to suit their own needs.
During the opening prelude lecture, Amdur points out how the art of ukemi is relatively new, and that since the ukemi of aikido has developed into something distinctly flamboyant, it has for the most part moved away from its original purpose of providing a method of safe practice during the performance of techniques. In other words, if the uke "throws themselves", then they are able to do the dynamic ukemi found in abundance in mainstream aikido, but if the same aikido-ka are actually thrown by their opponent, they find themselves unable to take such repeated falls safely. Amdur explains that the traditional way of learning traditional body arts (ex: jujutsu, taijutsu, etc.) was for the senior/instructor to take the roll of the recipient of the technique (uke), and through doing so, guide and develop the students technique appropriately. In aikido however, the opposite is true, which among other things requires the student of aikido to develop safe receiving skills as early as possible in order to avoid injuries. For reference, Amdur researched the ukemi found in other arts, such as judo and sumo, and even studied the rolling methods of chimpanzees to better understand the most natural way for the human body to redirect the percussive energy of falling.
Following the opening lecture is the technical section of the DVD, which features practical and comprehensive explanations and demonstrations of: front break falls; back break falls; hard forward rolls (extended leg); back rolls; high falls; ukemi drills (both solo and partnered); and what might be called "self-preservation" tips. Also covered in this section are the relationships of reversals to ukemi, the importance of keeping the head close to the locked arm (ie: shihonage) and pointed in the correct direction, moving in the direction of the technique, proper stance and alignment, and more.
The bonus material under the "More Aikido" sub-menu contains short but characteristically practical-minded treatments on Amdurs interpretation of atemi methods, iriminage, and shihonage, in which multiple points of contact and alignment are emphasized. The last section on counters to shihonage shows ways of reversing the control an opponent has established during and just prior to the actual execution of the throw.
The edited seminar format used in this production is a nice format for instructional media of this type, since they contain not only the demonstrations and instructions, but also troubleshooting problems through others at the seminar.
This DVD is targeted primarily at supplementing the ukemi methods of those already studying aikido. The fundamental corrections and insights given are in theory fundamental to taking proper falls in any art, but will probably be of most value to those studying the post-war lines of aikido. Pre-war lines of aikido, such as Yoshinkan, tend to include much if not most of the same practical aspects as those being offered on this DVD, in the experience of this reviewer. However, Amdurs lucid and logical explanations of these points would more than likely benefit anyone who has room for improvement in their ukemi or who is interested in improving their own method of teaching it. Also missing in the majority of aikido instruction are solo and partnered rolling/breakfall exercises common in arts like judo and traditional jujutsu, some of which are demonstrated on this DVD. Such drills and are extremely useful tools for obtaining physical feedback to incorrect technique and for improving muscle memory. Early instruction in such drills before moving on to applied methods can save new students a lot of time and injury, as well as instructor liability.
In conclusion, I found this DVD to be interesting and well presented, and believe that it would make a valuable learning aid for anyone studying combative arts (everyone studying martial arts ends up on the ground at some point in their training). In my opinion, such instruction should already exist within the various lines of aikido, so for those aikido purists who are concerned with"tainting" the Founder's vision, I would encourage you to instead look at these fundamentals as "re-discovering" something that the Founder himself surely knew (being an exponent of traditional jujutsu prior to founding aikido).
Amdur is a highly qualified, senior instructor in classical Japanese martial arts, and has ample experience and insights to the subject to produce such materials publicly. You'll be in good hands with this DVD.
For more information or to order:
UKEMI From the Ground Up
Reviewed by Nathan Scott
Aikido Godan, Kyoshi