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Old 02-18-2017, 03:42 AM   #1
Cass
 
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Being the Demo Uke

So I'm curious as to everyone's thoughts here on being a demonstration uke both in regular classes, seminars and maybe even public events/demos. To me this uke is usually the most ideal partner for the sensei, meaning their ability to receive is the best among any of the students (perhaps only for the particular technique being shown). At higher levels this can be just a slight change of style - perhaps keeping contact more or being extra swift on recovery.

-

Now after the vague question, I have something of a more particular scenario which has been agitating me a little bit. This is personal and specific. I have two senseis at the moment and am in the beginner class and have been training around 6 months now. One is the "main" sensei and the other is his apprentice of sorts that only teaches beginner classes, we have 1 lesson per week with the main and 4 with the apprentice. For the longest time there have been more experienced and skilled aikidoka in my class that have been used as uke and I have not thought anything of it. However these students have transitioned to the mixed class and now only one remains who is currently off the tatami from an injury.

That leaves several students in the class, all of less time training than me or that struggle. It may be my pride talking, but naturally with the other possibilities I expected myself to naturally transition into the uke role. With the "main" sensei I asked him about who would become the new demo uke and he said I would get my chance. After then he has used me quite a lot as uke for his lesson, not necessarily every time but more often than not and I am satisfied. The other sensei though pretty much outright refuses to use me as uke ever.

A little background I suppose, I am an expat and do not speak a lot of Greek. The main sensei is not a talker and teaches very traditionally, the apprentice talks quite a lot when doing a demo. The only reason I can think of is that the language is why he avoids having me as uke, though I understand enough to follow what he is saying. And I know I shouldn't care about it, but after incessantly picking ukes that cannot perform a roll without hurting themselves or do not know the names of things requested (i.e. doing shomen uchi when yokomen uchi requested) I am confused about what this is supposed to say about me. I am by no means the perfect student, but I can perform basic ukemi with short, silent rolls with quick recovery and don't hurt myself in the process for months now. As an aikidoka I would describe my style as quick and firm, but mindful of my partner's capabilities as nage and as an uke I keep contact and follow closely, if maybe slightly more compliant than I should be. I study aikido in my spare time, know the names of most techniques, actively practice techniques after class and attend all seminars hosted at the dojo.

Even when I ask for clarification on a part of a technique the apprentice will not use me, but my partner, but if my partner asks for clarification they will show them using them. Only if by no other option will I be used (last Saturday we were only 2, myself and a raw beginner, so I was uke). Am I doing something wrong? Is being uke meaningless? Should I say something to the second sensei? Ultimately I am trying to ignore it but I can't help but wonder if something is off about it. After all now is the only time for a long while that I should get good experience as uke (when I join mixed there are many yudansha).



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Old 02-18-2017, 06:30 AM   #2
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

I can share my experience around this.

I use ukes who can help me demonstrate the point I am making.

I also use every uke for something...not in every class but often. That being said, I have ukes that I feel most comfortable with. One in particular, Charlie, is very responsive to me because we have been training together for 23 years.

I am used sometimes as uke, only sometimes even though I am very experienced. And I think, a very good uke albeit a 59 years old uke.

When we belonged to a larger organization I noticed women complained because of most demonstration ukes being men even though there was a high percentage of women in the organization.

It might have to do with the comfort level of the teacher. (just speculation of course, since I am in an American dojo that is our own organization)

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Old 02-18-2017, 02:54 PM   #3
robin_jet_alt
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

I can only speculate as to your teacher's motivation. I have no idea what he is thinking. However, I have trained at a few places and I've seen people used as uke for many different reasons. Here are some.

1) That person is best able to receive the falls and/or demonstrate the best way for the role of uke to be performed. I occasionally get used as uke for this reason, although there are a few at my dojo who get chosen over me. Some outrank me as some don't.

2) The teacher wants to teach something specific to that person. In the period before I got my black belt, I was used almost exclusively as uke. That wasn't because I was good. It was because the teacher really wanted me to hone my ukemi skills. We also had someone training with us for a long time at my current dojo. He was young and athletic, but needed to learn to be soft when receiving, so the teacher used him as uke a lot in the hope that he could pound the softness into him.

3) The person is an old friend and the teacher wants to catch up. When I visit my old dojos, I'm often used as uke because I'm a special guest. Doshu often used my old teacher as uke even though he was pretty old because they were old friends.

4) To give experience. When I'm teaching, I try to use everyone in the class as uke in order to give them a bit of experience and challenge their ukemi. It also means that they don't get overworked.

5) To demonstrate a specific point. Sometimes you will have people with very different body shapes in the class and you need to demonstrate on specific people to show that a technique can be done on them. For example, when I teach I often have a large man with tree trunks for arms, and a young girl who is really bendy like gumby. If I'm demonstrating nikyo, I will usually use both of them so that the class can see that the technique works on both.

Anyway, I don't know if your teacher is thinking of any of these things. Like you said, it could be the language issue. Maybe you should just mention to him that you'd like to be used as demonstration uke sometimes.
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Old 02-18-2017, 04:19 PM   #4
Riai Maori
 
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

The most senior ranked student of the day training in our Dojo is always Uke. Only when Sensei requires to make a specific point about ones body structure, will uke be changed. Students are shown 1 front and 2 side elevations of the technique and the demonstration is over. Fortunately for us Sensei walks around the Dojo and trains with everyone.When in Japan, our Japanese Sensei rotates us all as Uke.

Last edited by Riai Maori : 02-18-2017 at 04:23 PM.

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Old 02-18-2017, 07:07 PM   #5
rugwithlegs
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

It happens. Only my wife uses me for a demo uke, and she hates being my uke openly. There is no set rule to this, not really a compliment or an insult.

I remember one man bragging how much uke he had taken, and my teacher overheard and told him, "because you're expendable."

After class some time, respectfully go up and ask, "That one thing we did? Could I please feel it?" If you make him nervous, that could open him up to working with you more often.
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Old 02-18-2017, 09:01 PM   #6
Janet Rosen
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Re the "apprentice" instructor: does this person call only on male students for demo uke? Or are there more experienced women that you who are used as demo uke?
I have seen some instructors who for whatever reason simply won't use women as demo uke. No, I won't sugar-coat it with "whatever reason"....they are sexists...

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Old 02-19-2017, 02:50 AM   #7
Cass
 
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Some interesting perspectives that I hadn't thought about, thank you everyone .

Regarding being female, which I hadn't considered, there was one woman that had more experience than me that recently moved to the mixed class and was also never used. That being said, her boyfriend was training the same duration, was more adept in skill and good friends with the sensei, so not the best example. Sexism is pretty prevalent in Greece in general and I have experienced it on the tatami (coming from the UK I would say gender biases are back a good 10-20 years here), but I don't think it is the case for this sensei as his girlfriend is a yudansha and he does train with her from time to time. Though, come to think of it, I know little of that and it could also be a reason - if she is not very comfortable with him training with other women or perhaps if he doesn't feel comfortable because of it.

On the other hand, his other ukes have all fit under different descriptions some of which described above. The one aforementioned that just left was his close friend and by far and above the most adept (and aiki-crazed ). Some struggle with ukemi so perhaps he gets them to practice that, others are very tense or get flustered under pressure. I realize I am also perhaps the most questioning student in the class, even if I am slightly uncertain about something I will ask for clarification whilst my peers will just push through poor technique until corrected - I guess this helps highlight all of my shortcomings.

Yesterday we were just 2 students in the class and he used us more or less in equally. It is the changing approach to who he uses that confuses me a bit. But after class for the previous few weekends myself and 2 other students (the 2 that just left for mixed) have been practicing our first breakfalls personally with the sensei after class and he has personally invited me to join them more than once. Yesterday he even urged me in a one-on-one to try my first both-standing break fall which even those that just advanced had not done before and did not make any corrections. Afterwards he also told me to ask the main sensei if I could progress to doing both bokken classes (mixed and beginner). So I feel a little reaffirmed that he doesn't think I am bad but perhaps for whatever reason he is not so comfortable around me.



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Old 02-19-2017, 09:57 AM   #8
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

I don't consider myself a sexist, that being said, if I am having a day...I might use Charlie for the whole class because it works best for me. Or I might use Dora....it depends on me and what I am teaching.

When I am teaching, how my uke responds to my actions can be detrimental or it can help get my point across. For somethings, it really makes a difference to use an uke who knows me and who has come to lots of my classes over the years.

For somethings it doesn't and I can use an uke who falls early or is afraid or maybe has their agenda.

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Old 02-19-2017, 12:17 PM   #9
hunglea
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Hello. I think someone else also mentioned that you could always just ask the Sensei while he is going around the room to perform the technique on you. Don't read too much into the reasons for being a demo uke. Maybe for now, go for a balance between learning through careful observation and feeling the techniques being performed on you. You being the most questioning student on the mat is great btw.

Last edited by hunglea : 02-19-2017 at 12:20 PM.
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Old 02-20-2017, 07:30 AM   #10
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

My only suggestion is to get the status association of "demo uke" out of your mind. It can only lead to second-guessing and third-guessing and beyond, and it won't be helpful. Either ask why you're not used, if you must know, or shrug and get on with YOUR training.
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Old 02-20-2017, 12:30 PM   #11
Janet Rosen
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Quote:
Hung Le wrote: View Post
Hello. I think someone else also mentioned that you could always just ask the Sensei while he is going around the room to perform the technique on you. Don't read too much into the reasons for being a demo uke. Maybe for now, go for a balance between learning through careful observation and feeling the techniques being performed on you. You being the most questioning student on the mat is great btw.
Good advice. I will sometimes ask my instructor, "Excuse me, may I feel it from you to help me learn it and do it?" - works like a charm.

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Old 02-21-2017, 08:01 AM   #12
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Quote:
Cassia Rose Heatley wrote: View Post
With the "main" sensei I asked him about who would become the new demo uke and he said I would get my chance.
Why do you think it is your task to care about whom your teacher takes as uke?

A good teacher should take everybody, because he has to be able to perform with any person, beginner or advanced.
It is not a special status to be a "demo-uke".
If you think this role should be reserved for one special person, it is unfair to the other students,
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Old 02-21-2017, 04:10 PM   #13
Janet Rosen
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Quote:
Markus Rohde wrote: View Post
Why do you think it is your task to care about whom your teacher takes as uke?

A good teacher should take everybody, because he has to be able to perform with any person, beginner or advanced.
It is not a special status to be a "demo-uke".
If you think this role should be reserved for one special person, it is unfair to the other students,
Dojo cultures vary. In many dojo I've been at here in the USA there is generally one or perhaps two senior students used as demo uke. Whether or not this is proper or it should be perceived as a special status I leave open to debate. However it does exist and is pretty common.

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Old 02-22-2017, 12:34 AM   #14
Cass
 
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

The asking to "feel" the technique is a great point which I will try as to be honest that is one of the things I both enjoy most and feel necessary to experience. When I am used as uke for a nice technique (like Nikkyo) by a skilled hand I get such an elated feeling I am riding off of it for the rest of the day. I will try requesting to feel it during a lesson from the sensei though I hope I will be able to be understood - with requests that are not a clear question there is often confusion.

Markus, I have a good relationship with my main sensei, so I did not question him as a challenge but simply as a lighthearted inquiry. That being said, I do not think that the title sensei makes him infallible that he should never be questioned, but he is used to my questions so there is no offense taken in my curiosity. Plus asking him worked, since I made my interest known he has used me far more frequently as he knows I enjoy and want to be uke. Perhaps I should consider asking the other sensei the same question, it might have the same result. A sensei should be able to use any aikidoka, true and I think that all senseis at some point partner with all of their students. But in my opinion saying that they should not have a preference and will not lean toward using one over another for demonstrations is just not true. Every sensei I have come across has tended to use maybe 1-4 "main" uke per class but usually not more. In the same sense when your dojo is going to have a public demonstration, it is not likely that the sensei will use the 1-month-old kohai. It is not exactly fair but it is logical. As for perceived status, that was part of my initial question and is quite personal. Many demo uke I have spoken to take great pride in their role - though usually try to remain humble. I believe each student can be a tool for the sensei but at later stages it is ultimately an indication of how good of an uke you make, if you are being used to show how to receive the technique correctly.

As a side note to those that think I am overthinking it, I am, of course, but it is most certainly not interfering with my training. I watch, learn and repeat but of course since I also watch the uke for how to best respond to the technique, if they are not receiving the technique correctly I will notice that as it is a form of misinformation.



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Old 02-22-2017, 05:07 AM   #15
Mary Eastland
 
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

You could also really watch those who are chosen to be demo ukes and ask them questions about how to be a good uke.

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Old 02-22-2017, 08:40 AM   #16
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Quote:
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You could also really watch those who are chosen to be demo ukes and ask them questions about how to be a good uke.
That's good advice. Although, you might end up getting some misinformation, if these ukes' perception of what makes a good uke has nothing to do with why they were chosen.

Just within my dojo, and just with one sensei, I've seen people used for ukemi for all the following reasons (and note that this is my conjecture, but it's based on ten years of observation with this sensei):
  • Most senior student present
  • Most senior student present who's not recovering from an injury that makes this ukemi a bad idea
  • Student with a particular body type that helps illustrate what Sensei is trying to teach
  • Student who is likely to screw up in a particular way that lets Sensei illustrate a point
  • Student who hasn't been to the dojo much lately
  • Student who HAS been in the dojo a lot lately, and has been working hard on the techniques that are "theme of the week"
  • Student who just came back from summer camp or another seminar where Sensei taught/attended, and who saw some different ways of doing things that Sensei wants to teach
  • Relatively new student who is starting to "get it" and needs a new challenge
  • Student with a birthday today (yes, really, "birthday ukemi" is a thing)

...and that's just off the top of my head.

If you want to take ukemi, make the most of your opportunities with senior students. My sensei tends to walk around class while we're working on a technique with our partners, step into each pair and have each student take ukemi (which often leads to a digression and a new direction in the class). If your sensei does this, that's your opportunity to take ukemi from him/her, so make the most of it. If your sensei doesn't, ask after class. But make the most of the opportunities you have rather than fretting about the ones you don't have.
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Old 02-22-2017, 09:10 AM   #17
hunglea
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Hi Cass. If you are having fun training and practicing safely, that's all that matters. Being passionate about your training is a very positive quality!
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Old 02-23-2017, 09:18 AM   #18
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Quote:
Cassia Rose Heatley wrote: View Post
, if they are not receiving the technique correctly I will notice that as it is a form of misinformation.
I don't think it is ukes task to receive a technique "correctly", maybe to make nage look good.
By practising ukemi there is a lot to learn, for example to accept whatever will come, but there is no correct or incorrect behavour, just to keep a good contact and feel what is going on. Every uke is different, I just work with the uke who is available, I also take dan grades at first, but I also take all the other students.
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Old 03-16-2017, 07:32 PM   #19
Brian Sutton
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Not necessarily the best player gets the spotlight. Certainly a true statement in the non competitive art of Aikido. I have experienced a simple comfort level and personal preference when observing the thought process of choosing an uke. I'm sensing another assumption that can bring confusion in an art like Aikido. That is that the teacher has a higher sense of interpersonal skills and the ability to intuit others needs greater than a non-teacher. I have found this assumption in a lot of places and it's simply not so.
In fact, in alot in instances, I've noticed the opposite being true. People who become teachers have been in Aikido for a long time. That technically is the only requirement for becoming an Aikido teacher.
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Old 03-17-2017, 04:37 AM   #20
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

There are many reasons for using a particular uke. For myself I have regular students who I use as part of their (accelerated) development as Aikidoka and potentially instructors.

Otherwise I will use a particular uke to illustrate a particular aspect of technique and/or ukemi.

On a public demonstration I will use ukes who make the techniques "look good" as after all I am selling the art to the public.
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Old 03-17-2017, 07:47 PM   #21
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Re: Being the Demo Uke

Quote:
Cassia Rose Heatley wrote: View Post
...perhaps for whatever reason he is not so comfortable around me.
The teacher might want to avoid any uncomfortable feeling, especially in themselves.They also may have had female students become attracted to their energy and cause issues, or they have see it happen with other teachers, and want to avoid that too.

Quote:
Robin Boyd wrote: View Post
Sometimes you will have people with very different body shapes in the class and you need to demonstrate on specific people to show that a technique can be done on them. For example, when I teach I often have a large man with tree trunks for arms, and a young girl who is really bendy like gumby. If I'm demonstrating nikyo, I will usually use both of them so that the class can see that the technique works on both.
This made me laugh. I have classes with a mix of people just like this.

From my own perspective, having proverbially graduated into being asked to take a few classes, I'll usually pick someone whom I can demonstrate whatever point I want to make clearly. That is often a guy at my own level who is an excellent and highly sensitive uke. Since the attendees are all people I train with regularly I can use anyone for any technique pretty much now and demonstrate it OK (though we don't do high falls much here).

After making whatever point it is I wish to focus on, I'll go around the pairs doing the technique and do it with them individually, something I emulate from the main shihan. As well as to fix any problems in their application, this both allows them to feel what I'm trying to teach, and for me to feel what their body is doing when they practice it.

Demonstrating in front of the class, the teacher's aim I'd say is to express the ideal goal of the technique or principle, so it is quite a different kind of practice. Often I've pre-practiced a technique I intend to teach with my intended uke, sometimes at previous classes during free-training time, so that I don't have to think too hard about how I'm moving at the time I will also be trying to explain it.

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