Uke is not just cannon fodder!!
So its been a long time, since I put pen to paper -or more literally finger to keyboard- to post anything on my blog.
Mainly because i realised, I’m not particularly good at writing, don’t have an interesting style nor do I construct beautiful sentences. Yet despite this, I decided today, to put finger to keyboard, and let my thoughts flow..
This past weekend, 2nd & 3rd of May, I attended a great seminar organised by Meikiyokai Aikido, at the Judo centre high Wycombe which hosted two of the best, and certainly my favourite two Yoshinkan Instructors, Joe Thambu shihan from Shudokan Australia, and Robert Mustard shihan from Aikido Yoshinkai Burnaby, BC, Canada.
I’ve been away from seminars for a good 6 months for various reasons, and this seminar -tough on my body as it has been- was a very welcome event. Battered, aching and bruised, thanks to all the ‘love’ and attention I received, I cannot help but keep wondering how my aikido is evolving and in what direction? That said, my main question is after this seminar was how are my skills as an Uke developing.
Before, I go ahead, It is important i clarify that in Yoshinkan Aikido, Uke is different from Ukemi. I have heard and read other schools of Aikido use the expression ‘taking Ukemi for sensei XYZ’ or ‘taking sensei’s ukemi’ but we don’t use it that way in Yoshinkan aikido. One clearly does take ‘ukemi’ for other practitioners or even for a training partner in the sense that one takes the falls or the throws while training. Yet the concept of Uke is very different to Ukemi. It is not just about the fall, the roll, or the flips. Ukemi, is merely one part and probably a smallish -albeit vital- part of taking Uke.
It is essential for Aikdioka to be well rehearsed when it comes to falls and rolls, it is not just a matter of flow or elegance, but of safety too. To be able to fall and get up safely when practicing alone, is not really impressive, but to allow your body to react naturally and take the propulsive throws of seasoned practitioners when mobile and moving at some speed; now that is something else altogether. It can mean the difference between serious injury and bouncing back up.
Despite this, Uke is still much more than just Ukemi.
In Yoshinkan Aikido, the question is often asked, what is the role of Uke? to which the usual answer is ‘to help Shite learn the technique’, there is truth in that. Joe Thambu sensei commented this weekend that despite the first character of Aikido being Ai meaning ‘to harmonise’ or ‘to blend’, many practitioners of Aikido seem to emphasise the second character of Aikido namely the Ki -meaning the spirit or energy- more than the ‘Ai’. What he meant was lots of practitioners show a lot of spirit and gusto, but not enough harmony with training partner.
So what has this to do with the role of Uke you say? everything really.
Uke’s role is to help shite -his partner- learn and develop. Just like any other skill on earth one usually begins slow to master a form or rhythm before applying speed or power. In Aikido generally, and the Yoshinkai school especially, the form can be elaborate, and complicated, to master a form of a technique while keeping it effective one must have a co-operative Uke. Someone who will not resist the technique and just allow Shite to practice form. The best way to achieve this is to be light, as if one did not exist, let Shite express their technique and learning without any hindrance or resistance from Uke.
And how does this allow for a martial art to grow? isn’t this fake? Well, yes… of course it is.
It is fake because this is Training, it is not combat. Too many challenges at an early stage will cause nothing more than frustration, aggression, disappointment not to mention the tendency to power a technique through by using muscular force, and if we do so, we might as well, stop calling it Aikido. We might as well just practice street fighting.
Nevertheless Uke is not just cannon fodder. A time comes when Uke has to challenge Shite, perhaps by not going with the flow and by resisting Shite’s movement. Done at the appropriate level this should allow Shite to explore weak points and gaps in his/her technique. Yet even then, resistance has to be done correctly. If the technique says Uke pulls for shite to practice an entering throw it would be very easy for Uke to push instead this would resist Shite perfectly, except he/she now cannot practice an entering technique or throw.
Uke’s purpose changes slightly depending on who the training partner is. A white belt partner should evoke a different response from Uke to an in instructor. On both occasions Uke needs to be light and not hinder the technique for different reasons, in the former to allow the white belt to learn, in the latter to allow the instructor to demonstrate the technique. Any good instructor will have to trouble disposing an Uke who is fighting them, but when demonstrating, this is not the aim. The aim is to showcase the best form of the technique..it is a demonstration.. a learning aid.. a reference form.
So it has to be smooth, light and elegant.
So, after all this.. where am I now?… well, I think i’m getting better, but I also still have a long way to go. Its a bit like climbing a mountain, the more you climb the more you realise there is more to be climbed.
Robert Mustard sensei always says: that he has seen Aikidoka who are good at being Shite and bad at being Uke, he has seen some who are bad at being Shite and bad at being Uke, but he has never seen anyone who what a good Uke who was bad at being Shite. He almost always follows that by saying: if anything, the best Shite’s he’d seen in his life are also the best Ukes.
Now that says something!
Shi’te – The person performing the technique. (I believe some schools of Aikido calls this Tory)
Uke – the person ‘receiving’ the technique. (I believe some schools of Aikido calls this Nage)