View Full Version : "Receiver" versus "Partner" versus "Attacker"

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Victor Ditoro
10-02-2003, 11:03 AM
I may be alone, but one of the most perplexing things for me in Aikido is not how to do a certain technique, it's how to act as uke. In daily practice, we are encouraged (at least in our dojo) to give what sensei calls a "power steering" feeling to our nage. Without doing the technique *for* nage, you should receive the technique with minimal resistance, and should not prevent nage from practicing what they are supposed to practice. In this role, ukemi becomes part of a person's training in sensitivity and suppleness just as acting as nage does.

I whole heartedly agree with this method of practice as being essential to learning. Of course, I am going to train the way I am instructed to by my teacher, but in this case I also intellectually agree. I am also keenly aware that nobody is going to learn much if the session turns into "wrestling with your brother in the basement". Plus, I would be much less inclined to pay a monthly fee for unstructured wrestling with other men. At times we play with resistance, but normal kyu-level practice is with the "power-steering" feeling.

My question is NOT the typical one of "Is this good", my question is "When did this role of Uke as 'Partner' come about?" It is a historical question.

I have only trained with my sensei, and the head of our Aikido organization, who trained with Shioda sensei. So, I have no first-hand experience to back up the statements I am going to make...I draw them only from reading. Please correct me if any conclusions are inaccurate, I'm not claiming to have any great knowledge here, only speculating.

It seems that early pre-war students of O Sensei make no reference to the role of uke as partner or willing receiver. In fact, from statements in Shioda's book 'Aikido Shugyo', 2002 English translation, it seems clear that it was not uncommon for students to try and defeat each other's techniques. It was also common for challengers to come to the dojo and for O Sensei to call students up to meet the challenge. Koichi Tohei, in his interview on Aikido Journal states, when talking of his early experience with O Sensei, "No one except Sensei could throw me. It took me only half a year to be able to achieve that degree of ability, so I think taking five or ten years is too slow. " To me, this implies that uke was trying *not* to be thrown. Numerous other examples can be pulled from interviews with early uchideshi from Aikido Journal's archives.

Of course, these students generally had solid martial arts backgounds before going to train in Aikido, and decades have passed so the world is a very different place. Even when sensei was aging, Shioda recounts ( again in "Aikido Shugyo") a demonstration in which he said he and another uke were attacking sensei "half-heartedly" because they feared his age was catching up with him, implying that they *should* have been attacking forcefully but weren't.

In watching demonstration videos, doshu (Kisshomaru Ueshiba) seems very smooth and flowing, with uke flowing comfortably with him. Is it doshu's teaching that brought about the more modern role of uke? Or perhaps was it Tohei's teaching when Ki Society was formed? Tohei speaks in his interviews of coming to finally understand that O Sensei's power came from a relaxed state...even though Tohei evidentally, at least when he first came to study with O Sensei, was not "going with the throws". Is the modern role of uke simply the more sophisticated progression of the art?

I would love to hear from some others. Again, this is not meant to question the nature of pratice, or how practice should be...I am curious about the "changing role of uke across time". Perhaps it hasn't changed at all...but my speculation is that the role of uke now is very different from how it was in the early formative days of Aikido...that the role of uke now is less a symbol of an attacker, and more an integral part of the training process, with uke benefitting as much as nage. I am curious who or what the forces were that shaped that change.

Chuck Clark
10-02-2003, 01:11 PM
Within Jiyushinkai, the role of uke is defined in this way...

Uke is practicing budo a hundred percent of the time. Uke is not a "throw toy", a "rag doll", etc.

Uke's job in kata is to give an attack with strong intention to disturb their partner's posture (both physical and mental) and if their own posture/balance/center is affected, they recover their posture within an appropriate level of force, speed, and rhythm, as well as continuing their intent to attack and be "dangerous". Keeping in mind that uke is supposed to "lose" in kata as it is prearranged. Uke is not responsible for doing "their half of the technique", or chasing their partner around to make the movement "look like what the instructor just did..." Keep in mind that the level of competence must match the level of force, speed, etc. so that learning takes place.

Within kata, uke should not fall without their center of gravity and balance being taken so that the fall is necessary. Of course, with beginners the windows of opportunity should be wider and get narrower as competency develops. Basically, uke's job is to give problems that tori has to "solve". It is a "managed conflict" that allows us to learn about resolving conflict.

Along with this, tori should be responsible for uke because uke has given their energy and body so that the practice of budo can take place. Trust must develop so that a combative or contentious training relationship doesn't develop.

Uke's role in randori or jiyuwaza may be different within different organizations. All of the above applies while adding intent to counter if there's an opening or suki in their parnter's technique. Again, this must be appropriate within levels of force, speed, rhythm, and skill.

Uke's job is probably the most difficult part of our practice.


10-02-2003, 01:24 PM
Mr.Clark, thanks for the description of how uke's role is approached by your dojo, but Mr.Ditoro's question was "when, historically did uke's role change?" in Aikido's history.

It appears (from all documentation that I have read as well) that o-sensei demonstrated more than he taught and it was up to uke to "discover" what was done to him/her (i.e. o-sensei didn't let anyone throw him around).
And I doubt Sokaku let Ueshiba throw him around either.

So was it certain senior students, or Kisshomaru that began to change the focus of uke to one that does not resist all the time in order to assist begginers? And uke's that alternate throwing each other.


Victor Ditoro
10-02-2003, 02:09 PM
Thank you for your description of uke's role in your organization, Mr. Clark. Your post further illustrates how important and sophisticated the role of uke is in practice. It sometimes seems there is a seperate sub-art of "Ukemido" within Aikido. :)

As Mr. Kimpel pointed out, though, I am curious in this thread as to how, historically, the sophistication and importance of uke's role developed. This is based on the assumption that there was little or no concern about uke as a role of special importance in the past...that there was a period in which students of O Sensei (and perhaps students of his students) would practice without any importance attached to the role of "uke" other than the fact that somebody has to be the attacker.

This basic assumption may be false. Again, I'm just a beginner but this is subject that I find interesting.

10-02-2003, 02:52 PM
According to what I have read, the traditional approach in most koryu is for the teacher to perform the role of "receiver" because it is the more difficult role. This is reversed in aikido, such that the teacher typically teaches by performing the role of nage.

It has also been said that one primarily learns aikido by taking ukemi. Considering that, rather than say that the art of aikido ukemi is a subset of the art of aikido, I would conjecture that it *is* the art of aikido. More succinctly, I think that the whole of aikido as an art is reflected in the practice of ukemi in aikido.

Regarding when or if a change took place with respect to the amount of resistance offered by uke, I recall reading that someone said (I wish I could remember who), when asked what they thought of the movements of Ueshiba Sensei's ukes, the response was something like "it looks like those strong young men are trying really hard not to let the old man get ahold of them." This leads me to believe that with a very experienced practitioner, it should be hard for uke not to feel extremely motivated to "go along" with the technique.

It seems to me that it would behoove a responsible teacher to prepare students for this type of situation from the beginning.



Chuck Clark
10-02-2003, 03:06 PM
Sorry for the interruption in the flow of this thread.

I have very little first hand experience with the Ueshiba family style of practice, other than observation. I practiced that system for only a bit over three years in the sixties. The rest of my time was spent training in Tomiki sensei's sotai kata renshu and randori method where uke and tori roles are reversed so that both partners get to practice both sides. Growing up practicing Kodokan judo, I was used to the uke role in kata to always go to the senior as much as possible. The koryu system I am involved in (Shinto Muso Ryu)traditionally placed the senior in the uchi tachi (uke) role and we still try to do that as much as possible.

Within all of our Jiyushinkai dojo, we start beginners out as much as possible in the tori role first and gradually begin exchange roles so both sides are practiced.

I suggest you ask someone like Stan Pranin or Peter Goldsbury about their understanding of the history of Ueshiba family style aikido.


10-02-2003, 04:16 PM
Clark Sensei,

These threads would be pretty dull if the only posts were those that directly answer the exact question posed by the starter. While I do hope that information materilizes that specifically answers the initial question, I certainly appreciate the planting of seeds for additional dialog (even if it is tangential in some ways).

Looking forward to your next visit to Oklahoma...



Chuck Clark
10-02-2003, 06:39 PM

I would like to know the answer to this question also, for history's sake.

I enjoy your participation when I visit in Oklahoma City. I'll be leaving for Dallas tomorrow morning to work with the folks there.

Keep you eye on the seminar dates as we'll be listing next years dates soon.

Take care,

10-02-2003, 09:00 PM
So was it certain senior students, or Kisshomaru that began to change the focus of uke to one that does not resist all the time in order to assist begginers?
Or was it O-sensei himself, in his later (post-war?) years?

I can agree that there is some evidence that early Ueshiba teachings did not include this modern version of ukemi, but what about his later teachings which, in many other respects, are known for more softness than the earlier years?

Interesting question! Someone must know.

--Jonathan W

Suzanne Cooper
10-02-2003, 10:54 PM
Y'all guys are wonderful to listen to. This discussion is a drink of cool water for this analytical gal.

I'm going to put Aikido Shugyo on my reading list.

And I now understand the "power steering" that I've noticed. At the belt test Wednesday night, I was blown away by the grace of the rolls and falls and I'm determined to learn to fall like that--'blending with the mat' I think I read in the Humor section of the board.

I've mastered blending with the side of the bathtub and using the power of the floor rug, so the rest should be a piece of cake! :)

10-03-2003, 06:31 AM
Can't help much with the history, but when I began training with Chiba Sensei in the late 60's he continually referred to ukeme (in fact he still does) and its importance not only in injury prevention but also in learning & teaching technique.

I remember he once siad that he learnt most of his Aikido by taking ukeme for O Sensei.

He was uchideshi from 1958 -66 so ukeme was certainly very important in O Senseis teaching by then.

10-03-2003, 03:57 PM
Hi Suzanne,

As far as adding Aikido Shugyo to your reading list, I think it is a terrific book. I happen to have a second (brand new, never read) copy that I received as a gift.

In case you are interested in owning the book, please consider making me an offer. I would love to have my extra book find a good home.




I am still stuck on blending with door frames and blending with cubicle walls.