Ukemi – Uke is the person who receives the technique, generally the attacker. Usually involves rolling away or being pinned to the floor.
I wish to try to explain the role of Uke in the context of Aikido practice. Ukemi is also a concept in traditional forms of Jujutsu but would differ in some aspects.
Firstly what is’nt it. Uke is not at all a passive participant in the training. Uke is not taking the technique and being blindly thrown or pinned to the ground. Uke is not a victim.
I have said before in a previous article that we must avoid the mentality of taking goes and only enjoying half of the training. Both Uke and Tori are doing Aikido all the time. Ukemi is not a less important part of training. It is of equal importance in my opinion.
The Role of Uke as I see it. Uke and Tori must work together to learn. If Uke is too hard or too soft it is impossible to get a realistic idea of the technique. Uke must move in a way that allows for the possibility of attack and to best defend themselves. If the Uke is lax in training the technique will be over before it starts. Allowing Tori to simply led them to the ground without any real effectiveness, Tori gets the wrong impression and may belief falsely that they can actually do it. Uke must attack with strong intention and continue to attack whilst protecting themselves best they can. However the amount of resistance, it must be logically and also in balance with the partner’s strength, flexibility and experience. It is counterproductive to stiffen up and simply grab hard, especially with a beginner. Block the movement completely and you stop learning.
Ukemi is also important in terms of safety. Having the correct alignment of the body before rolling back is very important. I occasionally will go through a technique explaining potential problems and possibility for injuries. It is the duty of Tori as much as Uke to insure that training is safe. This also helps to encourage an atmosphere of mutual respect, a very important concept in a Dojo. Although we are studying a martial art and all techniques can cause serious injury, we must look out for each other and stay well. Some kind of balance must be reached here.
I’ve seen a few different approaches to Ukemi. Usually too passive as I see it. Uke flying around the dojo at the slightest touch. Besides from the aerobic exercise, whats the point? Granted you can learn to roll this way but I don’t see it adding much else to training. And often there is no attack. Without it, how can you learn anything about Budo or indeed self defense in general. Saying that however, both hard and soft ukemi can be good and progressive if kept in martial context. Another strange approach I’ve seen is to have set moves for ukemi. While it may be helpful at first to have a specific set of movements for a beginning student to learn, if the underlining principles aren’t absorbed, the practice can become automatic and without depth. Ukemi must develop to become instinctual.
In Takemusu Aikido we study with a few methods. Firstly Kihon, meaning Basic. In Kihon, time is not part of the practice. We study body mechanics and try to ensure the technique is correct. If Uke is able to attack or is not off balance it is very clear at this stage. Next is Ki No Nagare, with flow. In this we take the attack and extend it continuously either to a throw or a pin. If confusion persists we simply revert to Kihon for a few minutes and then continue with the more flowing practice. These methods of training make it very clear that Uke and Tori are equals. One can not learn without the other.
Ukemi is useful to expose gaps in a technique. To show opportunities for Uke to strike or to reverse the movement. It should be seen as educational.