I had previously written on the topic in my little book, The Phoenix Tastes a Lot Like Chicken. I am posting that chapter below. Enjoy.
‘Tis Better to Receive Than to Give.
When we watch an aikido demonstration, what catches our attention the most is the performance of the Shite (sh-tay), the “doer” (aka Tori (tor-ree), “controller”; Nage (nah-gay) “thrower” or whatever term your school uses). We pay less attention to the Uke (oo-kay) the “receiver” unless he performs some spectacular break fall. We tend not to give the role of Uke much thought.
In the style of aikido I trained in when I was a young man, we practiced our aikido with a “compliant” uke as opposed to one who “resisted.” Different schools have differing philosophies on training and the use of a compliant uke was our way of doing the techniques for both parties in our budo practice.
When we practice in class, we would take turns playing the role of Shite and Uke. We patiently grind through doing our service as the Uke so that we can once again take the seemingly more interesting role of Shite where we think we’ll develop our “real” aikido skills.
The role of Shite is the Yang aspect of learning aikido, and volumes have been written on how to perform countless techniques. It’s high time we discussed the role of Uke and how that half of our budo practice contributes to the whole.
The Yin aspect of learning aikido is developed by taking the role of Uke. As the Uke, you develop all the fundamental characteristics that are necessary to become a credible Shite.
Just as the Shite measures the distance/relationship between himself and Uke prior to execution of the technique, so must the Uke. The term used is “ma-ai” which means interval. In the simplest terms, this means the distance between the Shite and Uke. To go a little deeper, this is more than just the physical distance between the two participants in the technique, but also denotes a relationship between them.
From the Shites’ perspective, there is an ideal distance between himself and Uke where the latter is too far away to attack him as is, and must move towards Shite in order to make the attack. Shite reveals an opening enticing Uke to attack. By having moved, the Uke leaves an opening for Shite and is now so close that whatever Shite does in response to that attack, Uke has little time to adjust.
Standing on Uke’s side of the interval, we see that he wants to be close enough to do the one thing that will make an aikido technique “work;” to make this repetition right here, now, a learning experience worthy of the two participants: a sincere and committed attack. Anything less and this whole practice of an aikido technique becomes an empty dance where both parties have largely wasted their time.
A sincere and committed attack doesn’t mean however, that the Uke is about to try annihilate the Shite. If you are the Uke in a demonstration with a Master, you have got to give it all you have; but in a class setting with a peer or a junior, your attack must not only be sincere and committed, but appropriate for the type of practice you are undertaking and the relative skill of Shite. Uke must give Shite a sincere attack that he can handle. This develops sensitivity and discernment.
Sincerity, commitment, discernment and sensitivity; now what? What comes next is perhaps the most difficult thing asked of anyone studying a martial art. Most fail in their ability to do this to any great extent. The Uke must set aside his ego and fully submit to Shites’ response to the attack. The Uke must empty his cup.