Building a Better Uke: Commitment

More often than not, if a technique isn't working quite right, the first place you should check is not necessarily yourself—but rather your uke.

Why? Well, with much of what we do, particularly aikido, the efficacy of a given technique often depends on an uke who is doing his job properly. Which begs the question: what is uke's job, exactly?

To just attack? To simply take the fall for tori?

Yes. No. Sort of. It's a broad subject, really. One I hope to explore over the next few posts.

There are a number of factors that make a good, effective uke. And the first, and perhaps the most obvious, is "commitment."

True, honest commitment is probably the most common fault on uke's part, even among senior practitioners. For one thing, within the confines of the dojo, we're really only pretending to attack; we don't really want to inflict any harm on our partner, not like the proverbial thug "on the street." We're friends, we're just practicing. It takes a certain amount of skill to truly act like you want to knock the other guy's block off, even though he or she is actually an innocent stranger at the least, or at the most, a close personal friend.

For another thing, we often get stuck in a rut. Especially after a number of repetitions. We "go through the motions," knowing full well what's coming next. But really, that's cheating. And it's certainly not doing tori any favors.

So considering all that, how can we keep ourselves focused and honest?

I have, over time, come up with a few drills or exercises to help with this particular issue, but please, by all means, feel free to share your own insights.

I'll start with just one for now.

Shomen ate / ukemi practice
Every once in a while, I think it's a good idea to drag out the crash pad during the opening ukemi practice, and do a little uke practice along with our falling practice.

Have everyone form a line (or two or three if you have a big class). Have one student stand at the edge of the crash pad, with his back to it. Have everyone in line take turns doing a shomen ate attack, pushing uke back onto the crash pad. When everyone has had a turn knocking the guy down, it's the next guy's turn.

This little exercise helps in two respects, actually. One, it helps each student learn to absorb an attack, and fall with it, rather than resist being thrown. Which not only helps prevent injury, but flowing with an attack is as much a part of learning and internalizing the precepts of "aikido" as anything you might do as tori.

And two, it gives each student a real feel for what they're actually trying to do when they attack tori during kata practice.

Stay tuned for a few more tips and exercises!


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