How to behave as Uke?
by George S. Ledyard
The article below does not necessary reflect the point of view on Aikido of our club Aikikai Gent. However, we think these articles provide really ‘food’ for deeper thought on Aikido and it’s value.
This article appeared on the forums of aikiweb
During a discussion about an uke who is totally uncooperative and countering every technique with force. A situation that occurs regularly to train “realistic”.In our club we do not make a distinction in grades, in this discussion it is about beginners (6th kyu) as well as advanced.
Ledyard: Regarding the incident in question… There are several issues here that need to be covered separately. First, the issue described is one between two sixth kyus. At that level neither one of them knows enough to be resisting each other. Uke doesn’t have the ukemi required to protect himself if nage pulls off a technique that he is resisting. Nage doesn’t know enough technique to make the adjustments necessary to do technique against an uncooperative partner. It is inappropriate for the seniors / Sensei to allow this at this level of training. Neither one of them is training correctly if this is what is taking place. Uke at this level needs to be focusing on how to take the ukemi. His desire to take good ukemi facilitates the development of the understanding of how a technique should be done.
Now let’s make the assumption that these fellows aren’t sixth kyus any longer but more like shodans… The idea that being resistant is somehow more honest is incorrect. It is essentially martially unsound. One should never resist a technique since that simply creates a suki or opening. The partner will simply change the technique or apply the appropriate atemi. If one is striving for reality in training from a martial standpoint one should never resist a technique but rather reverse it. I have had partners sitting there congratulating themselves on being able to stop my technique who were completely open to a head butt or knee to the groin.
There was a reason that O-Sensei used the high level students as ukes. They knew how to attack appropriately to the techniques he was attempting to demonstrate. The idea that your technique should be strong enough to work regardless of the manner in which the attacker delivers his attack is silly. If that were true there would not be any aiki. One would simply force his technique using his strength. Actually, it doesn’t matter how good you are (Shihan included) if the other fellow knows what the technique is, he can make the energy of his attack inappropriate for that defense. In other words, I could do a yokomen uchi that NO ONE could do a shihonage on.
This happens all the time in training. The Sensei demonstrates a technique and then your partner attacks in a way in which that technique would clearly not work. But since you are trying to do what the Sensei did, you keep straining to make the uke fit the technique.
At a certain point in your training it’s not so easy to do this to you any more. You have enough techniques in the repertoire to shift appropriately when the energy of the uke shifts. And you aren’t so concerned with doing exactly what the Sensei just did. That’s fine for YOUR training but the fact still remains that the uke is not training correctly. He isn’t learning anything (aside from the fact that if he contracts his arm strongly enough to stop your shihonage he gets an elbow in the head that he can’t block).
An exception to this is training with a peer when you have a mutual understanding that giving each other a hard time is for your mutual benefit. It’s a kind of Aiki weight lifting. Your partner supplies resistance so that you can get stronger and then you do the same for him. This is never done from the standpoint of showing up your partner but rather from the desire that both of you get stronger in your technique. You agree to resist in order to show your partner the weaknesses in his technique and he agrees not to do the myriad atemi that present themselves when you resist. It is important that neither one of these people think that this resistance is anything more than a training aid between consenting partners.
If the uke trains this way all of the time he is not learning proper ukemi. He might get to the point at which he can take any fall you dish out after he begins resisting but that isn’t real ukemi. In a real martial a situation you are striving to not be thrown, not survive the throws when they occur. Real ukemi training is simply the preparation for kaeshiwaza. You learn to move so completely in concert with the technique that there becomes no separation between you and the nage. Once your ukemi gets to the point at which you can stay connected with your partner through the fastest and most complex techniques, then in a situation requiring martial application, you can sense any small openings in the technique of the opponent and apply a reversal.
Kaeshiwaza is Aikido at its most martial. It is the way in which a person perceives the suki in the partner’s technique and takes full advantage of it. While this is the real deal as far as martial practice goes you can’t have a class in which everybody is is hellbent on making the technique the Sensei has just demonstrated impossible for his partner. Each pair would be executing some technique or other and no one would be practicing the actual technique the Sensei wished to teach. This would be chaotic and dangerous.
So there is a reason that we structure our training the way we do. Part of the structure is taking the ukemi in such a way that it challenges the partner but doesn’t defeat the technique being practiced (unless the partner simply blows the execution). This is taken to the point at which it is happening at full speed and power. At this point (higher level yudansha) it is appropriate, even necessary, to start reversing the partner if he doesn’t have the technique. This trains the proper perception and responses. But this isn’t meant to be emulated by the whole class. It is something that the seniors engage in when they train with each other but is not meant to be emulated by the whole class.
Finally, ukemi is never about showing up your partner. That kind of ego is dangerous. Years ago I had a nemesis in the dojo who for my first year never let me do a technique on him. He always let me know that if he fell down it was because he was being nice, not because I had actually thrown him. Well at one point he had to have an operation and was gone for three or four months. I kept training steadily and when he returned to the dojo he thought to reestablish the same relationship we had had before. But I had been training and was somewhat better at that point and he was weaker due to his operation. We were training and I went to do a shihonage, he resisted as usual, but this time I realized that I had it! Not pretty or artistic but I had it. And I ripped his elbow out and put him back off the mat. Now this guy was a very skilled yudansha and I was still a white belt. He could have taken the ukemi at any point and been fine. But he needed to show me he was superior and that was his downfall. He hurt himself, I didn’t do it.
That’s why the type of resistance the partner described above was doing is not to be encouraged. He might be able to stop you now. But he isn’t doing anything to prepare for the day when your technique has gotten better and stronger. And on that day he will get creamed.