View Full Version : What makes a goods uke?

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Steve Mullen
09-07-2006, 06:27 AM
I have just been reading, well re-reading some posts relating to ukemi and uke in general and thoguht id ask what people look for in a good uke.

My ideas on what makes a good uke have changed throughout my training, when i was just starting i used to try and go for the big flash ukemi, which sometomes meant going before i needed to.

If you put all your effort into making a flash ukemi then you miss possible openings in tori's technique and your being there is pointless. BUT if you try and resist just to be awkward then you are being equally useless and risking injury.

More recently tho i have began to think that good ukemi is in holding on until the last second before you think pain/injury is going to occur. that way you can give feedback right up to the point when you would have HAD to go, not when you wanted to go.

I think the change has come as i have felt more and more comvortable with my ukemi as being reactionary, and not something i have to think about. When i had to think about it i had to go earlier in order to set myself and go when i wanted to. Now i feel confident enough to react to whatever direction im thrown in (to a certian extent obviously :freaky: )

anyway, im rambling now, please, discuss amongst yourselves while i go and sit in a dark room :hypno: :crazy: :dead: :eek: :freaky:

James Davis
09-07-2006, 10:15 AM
Sometimes resisting technique makes me a good uke. :mad:

Sometimes, just preparing myself to be hurled a great distance is the order of the day. :crazy:

Sometimes, I have to lead nage and provide most of the force for my being thrown. :)

Sometimes, I bop somebody on the noggin to show an opening in their technique. :p

Sometimes I'm asked to be gentle :sorry: ; other times I'm asked for a stronger grip. :grr:

What it takes to be a good uke depends on who my nage is at the time. ;)

09-07-2006, 11:33 AM
Like one's nage waza, I think the goals of ukemi should shift over time. At first you're just trying to not hurt yourself, and that's all you should have to worry about. Then you should be working on the mechanics of different kinds of falls, just getting comfortable rolling and falling. It seems that most people who are serious about their training go through a phase around sankyu/nikyu where they get into the acrobatics of ukemi and try to make every fall look as perfect as possible. This often comes at the expense of feedback to nage, but I think that's OK, it's part of the process. Hopefully by about shodan, you should be able to take any fall that could be asked of you *within your organization* and do so without warning. Ukemi should be deep enough in your movements that it now feels natural and you can start 'listening' to nage in the midst of the techniques. I believe the teaching paradigm in aikido is such that if you never reach this level of comfort in your ukemi, you will plateau out with your nagewaza and never be able to improve beyond the rudimentary skills of the art. You simply must be able to have 80+ % of your attention on nage's movements and only about 20% on how you need to move to fall safely. It is at this level that real martial training is possible because the possibility for a vibrant encounter exists. Before this, both parties are (to some extent) just going through the motions. At this level you are also able to 'ask' questions of nage without stating them outloud. This is a particularly important skill at seminars and with visiting instructors. I've learned a lot just by shifting subtle aspects of my attack and ukemi and feeling how nage responds. I'm not saying that you use kaeshiwaza here, you should be able to feel where suki exist in nage's movements without exploiting them. Again this is vital if you want to get to the good stuff.

Ukemi should be different depending on who you work with. I move nearly completely differently when taking ukemi with a beginner, junior, contemporary, senior, visiting instructor... If I'm visiting a dojo I move differently than if I'm at my home dojo.

At seminars it's important to protect yourself since you're often working with people who you have never trained with before, but I've also found that by demonstrating the ukemi you *can* take you are more likely to get hands on time with the seniors or instructor. Because my ukemi skills are pretty good I've been able to feel what some throws are like that others only get to see. Sometimes because others there wouldn't be able to fall safely, sometimes because the intructor is having a good time throwing me so they pull out some other stuff beyond what's being covered in the seminar. This gives you a real opportunity to weigh the quality of what's being taught first hand. Some teachers look great when their students are falling for them, but feeling it for yourself is the only way to really know what's going on. The first time I trained with Rich Elias (for example) I knew there was really something going on there, even though he was moving quite differently than I was used to seeing. On the other hand, I recall being at a large seminar years ago where the teacher tossed me around for a while and while I made it look good, I could feel all of the suki throughout the techniques. I don't think they had any idea how much information I got from the exchange. They finished and immediately shouted, "Tell me someone got that on tape!" while I walked away with a completely different impression than I'd had before the encounter.

I also think that honesty is a very important part of ukemi. After you've been training for a while you should be able to block most throws to some degree, but this doesn't necessarily help your nage progress. One should offer resistance that's surmountable and martially valid. I've had some training partners in the past who would not be able to throw themselves. They offer a level of resistance far beyond their ability to throw, but get irate when that faced with that kind of ukemi. To me, that's not an honest interaction. I also feel that it's uke's job to attack, but not to follow blindly.

Finally, I think it's important (if not vital) for ones ukemi skills to be a level or two above one's nage skills. This is what opens the door to learning more advanced skills. If you are challenging, safe and enjoyable to work with, people with the skills you seek will want to work out with you, and that is quite simply the only way you will really progress.

Ron Tisdale
09-07-2006, 01:15 PM
Excellent post Chris, thanks! Maybe you should submit that to AJ for the front page blog...

09-07-2006, 01:24 PM
A good uke can be described in two words: musubi & mushin.

musubi - I can't do tenkan like I would like to do if uke is losing his/her grip as soon as I start to move. Also, uke will be placed in the position that I want him/her to be in if the connection is proper.

mushin - I always say when I am teaching class in a Chinese dialect ala Kung Fu movies to give a Confusious feel: "Uke that anticipates, gets hurt." The uke doesn't know what I'm going to do so if they anticipate, they might be putting themself in the wrong ukemi position. I also don't get a chance to practice the actual move for safety concerns. Plus, uke might have already tanked themself while I'm still in the process of doing the technique. :mad: Uke thought I was doing iriminage so he/she fell down but I was still in the process of setting them up for a koshinage or shime.

09-07-2006, 11:41 PM
Wayne Gorski (roninroshi) wrote at an other post: "A good Uke make's anything possible..."...
I completely agree :)

09-09-2006, 04:41 PM
Someone who is neutral. They don't resist (unless you ask them to) and they don't try to help the technique along.

Amir Krause
09-10-2006, 07:01 AM
Sometimes resisting technique makes me a good uke. :mad:

Sometimes, just preparing myself to be hurled a great distance is the order of the day. :crazy:

Sometimes, I have to lead nage and provide most of the force for my being thrown. :)

Sometimes, I bop somebody on the noggin to show an opening in their technique. :p

Sometimes I'm asked to be gentle :sorry: ; other times I'm asked for a stronger grip. :grr:

What it takes to be a good uke depends on who my nage is at the time. ;)

A good Uke adjusts his approach depending on who Tori is, and the teachers instructions for the particular practice (sometimes, a teached prefers advanced students to focus on a particular aspect of a technique).


09-10-2006, 08:01 AM
Although it's a simplistic way of rephrasing what many of you are eluding to, I tell my students and myself that, "Uke's job is to help nage do the best that they can do."

To me, one of the interpretations of this might be resisting more if nage is "sloppy" with their technique, while easing up if nage is continually frustrated, experiencing no success, with my level of resistance.


Alec Corper
09-10-2006, 09:04 AM
what is the goal of the training at any given moment?

09-10-2006, 09:28 AM
A good uke helps to train nage. This responsibility is slowly learned over time, but uke helps or hinders the nage's training. Suppose that nage is supposed to take away uke's balance as part of a given technique. Nage fails to do this, but uke fakes it, throwing himself off-balance. This might be appropriate if nage is brand new to aikido or to the particular technique. However, if nage is actually trying to develop proficiency in the technique, then uke is providing potentially misleading feedback to nage.

Let's use a concrete example. Suppose that nage is trying to transition from doing ikkyo to doing a pin. If uke's arm is positioned correctly and the appropriate elbow roll is done to uke, uke will lose his balance (and uke should go down.) On the other hand, if nage is just pushing uke's arm forward like a turnstile, then uke's balance is not broken and uke can remain on his feet all day. If uke pretends that the turnstile push is enough to break his balance, then nage might, through hundreds of incorrect repetitions, get into the habit of pushing uke's arm like a turnstile.

09-10-2006, 10:27 AM
Interesting thread. What would people say the 'ideal' (if such a thing exists) percent, p, the uke 'goes along' with the tori should be?


And would you vary p depending on the technique being practiced, or keep p constant.

Nick Simpson
09-11-2006, 05:02 AM
What makes a good uke?

Turning up to class, you lazy s*d! ;)

Steve Mullen
09-11-2006, 05:42 AM
Come now Mr Simpson, you taught me most of what i know about ukemi, i was looking for a bit more from you???

Nick Simpson
09-12-2006, 04:42 AM
Well, im sure more people than I (and indeed yourself) should take any credit for your abilities and I have gone through this stuff before, but roughly:

1) Giving a good attack that doesnt leave openings (I.e. keeping your elbows down during yokomen uchi so as not to expose your body/ribs).

2) Maintaining a connection with Tori & trying to maintain and continue the attack while tori executes the technique (i.e. shooting for the legs during kaitennage instead of just standing hunched over waiting for tori to throw you).

3) Not resisting but pointing outweakness/openings in tori's technique if it's appropiate. Keeping an eye out for Kaeshi waza opportunities.

4) Taking the appropiate breakfall/roll which protects yourself the best, regaining your posture andgetting up off the floor as quickly as possible and/or being able to continue your attack from where you escape to.

Theres more to it than that, but off the top of my head thats my feelings on the subject.

09-12-2006, 06:08 AM
Good uke --> uke who survived a technique.

Nick Simpson
09-12-2006, 06:21 AM
A 'good' tori shouldnt be trying to destroy an uke, hmm?

09-12-2006, 08:19 AM
Good mum and dad

09-12-2006, 11:40 AM
A 'good' tori shouldnt be trying to destroy an uke, hmm?
We don't really know, as there are no ruleZ in aikido.Also, a join of martial and spiritual elements in aikido happens on many levels and attacker can't predict the result of his action. Not for nothing O sensei said that aikido is about the life and death -- in which is essential difference from sports.

Gernot Hassenpflug
09-12-2006, 06:14 PM
Well, we should not be playing russian roulette games here, that becomes an ego trip. The job of uke and tori is not to work in a situation of unknown outcomes, but to help each other to obtain knowledge: in a very physical sense, of how the body works. Since for the very basic intents and purposes the specific technique is irrelevant, uke and tori should be working together to understand, and this is my opinion, not the technique as an external mechanism of unbalancing uke, but how the technique's shape is used to illuminate the inner workings of the body. This has been the theme of Mike Sigman and Robert John on this board, and I totally agree with this. The technique itself also has benefit, eventually, but the body skills should be developed first. This goes for both uke and tori at the same time. It is not really a matter of tori needing to overpower uke - if uke is in fact better he has to give up his position willingly (while maintaining his core) in order to let tori work at extending his limits. Thus the idea of tori always working with a more advanced uke makes sense entirely.

09-12-2006, 09:05 PM
Exactly what Alec Corper said... perhaps the first question should be "what is the purpose/role of uke" before uke's performance within the parameters of that defined role/purpose can be objectively determined.