In Active Ukemi Part 1 (published in the January 2016 edition of the Newsletter – Ed.) I considered the role of Uke in respect of the significance of rolling breakfalls. However, there is much more to taking the role of uke than this. As previously indicated uke literally translates as "one who receives", the one who takes the fall, perhaps. Uke and nage (the thrower) have a very special relationship. Unlike many martial artists who train against an opponent, the aikidoka trains with a partner. There is no competition in aikido, no pitting of one person against another. Instead, each partner is half of a whole, each having equal responsibility for the learning experience. Practice sessions will be 50% as nage and 50% as uke in general.
Therefore uke needs to give a good, committed 'honest' attack in order for both uke and tori/nage to benefit from the practice. On the face of it, this seems quite simple. Actually, it is not. An honest attack is more than holding as tightly as you can, or striking as forcefully as you can. An honest attack is an aware attack. Be aware of your partner's situation. Is there a major difference between partners in size and strength? In experience? Obviously, if a 16 stone (102 kg) black belt with advanced skills striking with full power at a smaller beginner with little or no experience, would be more than just intimidating. In fact it would be totally insensitive and irresponsible.
Undoubtedly, in the beginning, uke is focusing on learning to take proper and safe ukemi. During this process uke is also learning what it feels like to take ukemi from various immobilising techniques and those which project into rolling breakfalls. O n c e uke has trust in her/his abilities s/he then learns to trust nage's ability to throw he/his partner. When uke feels comfortable with her/ his as well as nage's ability, a greater level of t rus t i s establ ished and uke and nage become in-synch therefore, making way for nage to learn at a higher level from the feedback that uke is providing.
So if you want to get a better feel for your Aikido techniques, take time to experience what is going on between the two of you. Do things like watching his/her feet move as you move. Take time to feel your partner's weight shift. Did you notice if you partner at any point could have regained his balance? Is your partner moving faster than you are moving him/her? See if you can determine if you are moving uke or is uke moving her/himself.
Try noticing what happens to your body when uke grabs you. By understanding the role will help you improve your Aikido. So the next time your uke attacks you learn as much as can from the feedback that is provided.
Therefore it is quite reasonable to suggest that uke, not nage, has the most difficult role. The uke exists to enhance the learning of the partner. Yes, he/she is learning a number of things that are specific to that role. Many people think that it is their job to apply as much force as they can and the partner's job to figure out how to deal with it.
This way of training is detrimental to the learning of both partners. On the other hand, other ukes simply move for their partners when they feel the direction of the energy. This is equally disastrous for training because the partner has no idea what actually works or does not.
Many students have a difficult time in reconciling the difference between total resistance/full power attack and "falling down" for their partner. So it may be helpful to reiterate and remember that the primary responsibility of uke is to serve your partner. Try to bring out his/her best. This is best accomplished through sincerity and sensitivity: by bringing them to the edge of their capabilities and extracting their maximum performance, but without undue strain.
As already indicated, fifty percent of one's training is in the role of uke. What we REALLY want is to have a nage who can execute technique against an opponent who is using the same principles that he is using. From a training standpoint this is really when the practice gets interesting. So perhaps the need is to emphasise more frequently the importance and significance of an honest, committed attack where uke remains active throughout and follows tori's lead until they notice that balance is taken. This is the point at which uke actively disengages their interaction with tori and lowers him/herself to the ground under their own power and direction. Sound familiar!?!
If all this seems far more complicated compared to what you may have thought uke's role is, you'd be right. Being a great uke is to allow success while forcing the partner to progress. It is the role of uke to enhance the learning of the partner.The role of the uke is central to the development of any real skill in the art of Aikido. A great uke does not just take a fall.
Sue Baird (4th Dan) Published 2016