The Complex Role of Uke

The contention was that the basic idea of Ukemi being the ‘art of defensive falling’ can be expanded to be ‘anything required of uke in the paired practice of Aikido’.

Some of Uke’s roles:
• Following on from the idea in the Internal Power discussion that the ‘core is the main transmitter of power’ – Uke needs to be moving from their centre.
• Having and keeping good structure – kinetic chain.
• From IP discussion ‘relative power in posture’ – knowing when you’re off balance.
• ‘Relax completely’ – in order to be responsive.
• Looking for tsuki (leading to Kaeshi-waza) – If Uke is always aware of the gaps that Nage creates (without exploiting them) then when it comes to learning reversals they are well placed to do so
• Stability not balance – trying to maintain/regain stability throughout the technique.
• Connecting to your partner and maintaining that connection – the best way to feel what someone, who is moving from their centre, is doing is to connect to that centre.
• Not resisting, not being a rag doll – “don’t fight use ki, don’t resist take ukemi” – Maruyama Sensei.

Training the same principles whether uke or nage means that you are training 100% of the time – not taking ukemi while ‘waiting to do your aikido’ (technique). 

Ki testing is a useful tool to help Uke move correctly. When Ki testing is applied and the force becomes overwhelming then Nage moves as a unified whole rather than off-balancing. The same principle can be applied to Uke so that they move in a coordinated way.

Dan James – Skill acquisition and the Uke / Nage interaction (See Dan’s notes – learning a skill)

Dan talked about ‘Error free learning’ and how correction and feedback can impair the learning path as well as negative feedback having a stronger neural pathway than positive feedback. He also talked about Blocked vs. Random learning and how there is a place for both. As well as Implicit vs Explicit learning and how training to exhaustion means the conscious mind shuts down.

His conclusions:
• Uke is the teacher
• Rote learning is powerful in early stages
• Learning is a multimodal activity
• Aikido traditional paradigm has many learning modalities
• Guiding learning is a complex skill
• Feedback by Uke can drastically change learning process
• Random and implicit modalities are needed to unlock higher levels of learning
• Uke needs to provide “goldilocks” feedback, that is unique and appropriate to Nage’s learning needs.
• Limpfish, dominance behaviour, blocking-of-movement correction, multiple explicit minute verbal correction are all sub optimal behaviors.

Andrew Sunter – The interplay between Uke and Nage in Atemi-jutsu 

Andrew drew from his experience with Atemi-jutsu to talk about the respective roles of the active partner (Nage) and the reaction partner (Uke) with a view to providing analogues to the Uke / Nage interaction in Aikido. The reaction partner’s role is to support the learning of the active partner and provide the best, most honest, feedback possible. They need to provide an appropriate level of challenge; not move faster or slower than the active partner;  respond appropriately (which requires an understanding of anatomy and the spinal reactions that occur when injury is created); and not to talk at all during the interaction. At more advanced stages the reactive partner increases the challenge by adding in strikes or counters and eventually tries to turn the tables on the active partner and ‘steal their turn’ – effectively practising Kaeshi-waza. 

The following is a submission from Dave Matthews who couldn’t make the discussion:

“The complex role of Uke in Aikido? I think it depends on how you define Aikido. For me I see it as the method to harmonise the flow of energies. As  a result, I think there is no such thing as static aikido. Uke’s role is to provide a constant flow of energy towards nage. Nage’s job is to smoothly join with this flow and lead uke to a point of instability . Static techniques are just a way to teach beginners the alphabet of aikido. Actual Aikido begins after this. The contact point is where the uke’s flow and nage’s meet. Ideally nage should smoothly join with this flow of energy but this is difficult for beginners to do for the entire technique. This is true for both uke and nage.. As a result I often start techniques statically at the contact point as if it has been paused there. Uke then continues to provide a flow of energy towards nage as if the play button was once again pressed.”

Coincidentally, this popped up in my Fb feed today,  a post from Quentin Cooke (7th dan) in the UK :

“When we practise aikido we take one of two roles, uke or nage. it is not unusual to have the majority of the class focus on teaching the ‘nage’ role, but all too often little attention is spent on teaching the role of uke.  A pity, as if anything this is where you can learn the most.  They are essentially two sides of the same coin and when aikido is done well, it looks seamless and as if both parties are working as one, which in fact they are.”

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