Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Uke and Ukemi

Over at Peter Boylan's excellent Budo Bum blog, there is a post about the distinction between uke and ukemi. Below is an excerpt. The whole post may be read  here.

Nearly everyone in the gendai (modern) budo world talks about taking ukemi (receiving a technique), and being uke. Real ukemi is not something you take, and uke (one who receives a technique) is not a passive existence. The character in both “ukemi” and “uke” is “受け” “to receive or incur”. Being uke is really about receiving your partner’s technique and how you absorb it, and it is a very active role. There is nothing passive about it.

Gendai budoka, be they judoka, jujutsuka, aikidoka, or any other group, will say that they “take ukemi.” What they really mean is that they put their body out there for a partner to apply a technique to without offering resistance. The only time resistance shows up is during whatever sort of randori training their group does. Their ukemi is passive, and their job as an uke is to present no difficulty or opposition to their partner. The only real requirement for the job is that you be skilled enough to survive whatever technique is being practiced. 

  The real depth of the role of uke becomes clear when you look at the structure of uke’s role in koryu budo, or classical Japanese arts. The teacher, or other high level senior, takes the role of uke.  They are actively engaged in what is going on, not just passively “taking ukemi.”   In all of these precursors to the various gendai budo, uke’s role is considered critically important, and a beginner cannot understand what is required of a good uke.

Uke indeed receives their partner’s attack, but not passively. If stand alone techniques are being practiced, uke has to decide how they will receive the attack. If the attack lacks a critical element of timing or kuzushi, if the attacker is not well-balanced and solid, uke is under no obligation to let the technique succeed. If any of these elements is missing uke may decide to simply stop the technique from continuing, or they may decide that their practice partner needs a stronger lesson about the suki, or opening, that they are leaving and counter-attack into the suki. Uke has to be skilled enough to understand what suki are being presented, and be able to execute the counterattack without endangering the tori (there are many terms for this role, I use tori because it can apply to any art or weapon being practiced).

This is true whether what is being practiced is some sort of empty-hand jujutsu or even if weapons are involved. My students know that if they leave too big an opening during an attack that my sword will fill it, stopping their attack and showing them their weakness. It’s not me showing off. The trick is judging when the kata is broken and attacking an opening. Students are learning, so of course they leave openings. I’m constantly calibrating my responses for individual students. Someone learning a new kata gets a lot of leeway to make mistakes while they learn movements. The same student practicing something they should know well doesn’t get much room for mistakes at all. If they were practicing with someone who wasn’t already skilled in the art, they would end up practicing all sorts of incorrect movements, spacing, and timing,  embedding these mistakes in their bodies.


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