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Old 05-16-2013, 12:02 PM   #1
George S. Ledyard
 
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The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

The role of the uke is central to the development of any real skill in the art of Aikido. Personally, I think the misunderstanding of how to be a great uke is central to why Aikido has so many technical issues when it comes to the art as a martial art. So what is the roll of the uke in Aikido training?

The uke exists to enhance the learning of the partner. Yes, he or she is learning a number of things that are specific to that role. But basically his primary role is to act as the check and balance on the partner's developing skills and to provide constant feedback to the partner.

I think that the first area of focus in Aikido training should be developing an understanding of how to organize one's body properly and how to use ones intent to give that body structure. This is done with a combination of solo practice and paired connection exercises. This part of training requires an uke that is sensitive enough to give just the right amount of energy so that the partner can "succeed" while still having to make a an improvement in how he or she is doing the exercise. 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, any number of people 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. This problem is endemic in the Aikido community and frankly, many ukes have simply been taught an ukemi that makes their teacher's technique work.

So the uke in paired connection exercises must apply just enough structure and force that the partner cannot succeed when doing the exercise completely wrong but will succeed and be able to do significant repetition to "burn the skill in" when he is able to approximate the skill being taught. Very often, it is the teacher who is most capable of making this judgment about when the student has incorporated another element of the lesson and needs to be allowed to succeed for a time before the next level of difficulty is applied. So, it is crucial that every student be able to work with the teacher taking ukemi. The student can feel how the teacher applies force and gives his partner feedback and then the student himself can emulate the teacher in his role as uke.

This whole process puts a huge burden on the student to be sensitive to what the teacher is doing and especially sensitive to the level of the partner. Over application of force with too much tension and shutting down ones partner will NEVER result in the ability to relax properly and develop technique in which falling isn't optional for the partner. But being overly compliant doesn't provide ones partner with any feedback about what is right and what is not, or what changes in the intent and one's body need to be made to take an exercise that is not working optimally and make it better.

I have found that the vast majority of ukes simply do not have any idea how to attack. Many seem to think that grabbing a wrist or some other part of the body is an attack. Many seem to think that grabbing a wrist and turning the hand purple is some kind of attack. Many seem to think that the proper role of the uke is to grab and try and be immoveable while the partner tries to figure out how to move them. This is utter stupidity from a training standpoint. It provides the nage with a totally unrealistic attack (who ever heard of winning a fight by being immoveable?) and doesn't teach the uke how to attack using the same principles that nage is using to defend.

Fifty percent of one's training is in the role of uke. If you are doing something different in each role your body simply gets confused about what it should be doing. Uke and nage should be doing exactly the same thing in terms of principle so that training in each role is still creating enhanced martial skills. Somehow this got really distorted in modern Aikido. Aikido today is often about a nage striving to execute incredibly sophisticated techniques against an uke who attacks like a martially handicapped person. This fundamentally limits the level of the practice to something extremely basic regardless of the years of effort put in. 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.

Ukes should be taught from the very start how to attack properly. Since one of the fundamental principles of Aikido is "kuzushi on contact", ukes should be taught how to grab in such a way that they can break the balance of the nage just with the grab itself, which is what you'd be trying to do if you grabbed an opponent. Nage should be allowed to try to strike the uke when he grabs. If uke's grab doesn't allow him to defend against a punch or kick from nage, it isn't being done properly. There is no way that one can move ones opponent with a grab using muscle power. If one wishes to move a partner using a grabbing attack, one is forced to use the same principles of connection being used by nage.

Then, in the training context, the uke applies the grab to touch the center of the partner but chooses to not apply direction to the connection so that nage can practice his waza. Later on, at the higher levels, he should try to use the attack to get kuzushi. Then you see whether nage can actually do his waza against a skilled attacker. But this isn't the way to learn technique initially; it is the way to train after waza is learned.
The other aspect of Aikido waza is what I call the fundamental geometry of technique. The martial side of Aikido requires that nage control the line of attack and the multiple vectors through which the attacker can apply force. When the uke views his or her role as simply taking ukemi for the nage, this whole aspect falls apart. Personally, I think that we should rethink the idea that the uke "takes ukemi" from nage. That understanding leads to ukemi in which there is no real attack and the uke comes in thinking his job is to initiate a movement and take a fall. Ukes job is to try to maintain his structure if possible, to maintain his balance if possible and if his balance is compromised to regain it as quickly as possible and to stay connected with his partner and keep the attack continuous until he is thrown or pinned. Eventually, this type of practice will lead one to the ability to apply sutemi waza (sacrifice throws) and even kaeshiwaza (reversals) which are central to real martial practice. Of course all of this still requires making it all level appropriate for one's partner.

The martial side of the practice of Aikido is about understanding "suki" or openings. If the uke is not trained to give immediate feedback when nage is "open", nage can do all sorts of fancy movements which look great but leave him totally open to anyone looking to exploit those openings. As simple an exercise as katatetori tankan, one of the first movements one learns in Aikido must be done in such a way that the uke can't strike one with his off-hand while you are turning. Since most ukes are not taught to think about that strike, most folks are totally open to being struck while they turn. This is even true of some folks with large numbers after their names. Their movement does not contain kuzushi on and is merely an "escape" from the attack. A serious attacker will strike him before he or she can complete the turn. In a properly executed technique there should be no instant in which the attacker can strike you and you should at all moments be able to strike him. That's just basic martial arts yet it is often a concept lacking in much of Aikido practice.

The uke should maintain his balance and structure and with that his freedom to move at all times and, if that is compromised, should recover as quickly as possible. Just watch the ukes for many teachers even some very highly ranked teachers. Very often you see them attack in a completely unbalanced and over committed manner. When their strikes miss because nage has moved they break their own balance even though the nage hasn't even touched them. Throwing someone who breaks his own structure like that certainly doesn't require any skill since they gave up their centers rather than forcing nage to get kuzushi. YouTube videos of Aikido are replete with examples of this type of ukemi. There is simply no way a practitioner of another martial art will allow their structures to be compromised like that. It seems to be an Aikido problem. Ukemi like that seems to be allowed by various teachers because it makes their technique look good (at least to folks who don't know what they are looking at). But it is really an example of the attacker simply "giving up" right in the middle of his attack and it is terrible martial arts. Uke's job is to keep the attack continuous until it is brought under control by the nage. This is how uke gives feedback to nage.
Once one is past the beginner level of the art, if one leaves an opening anywhere in one's technique he should either be struck instantly or reversed. In beginner practice one should point out the openings but leave out the reversals simply because if a senior keeps reversing a technique the beginner never actually gets to do it and one doesn't ever learn to do something by not doing it over and over.

We need to get rid of the notion that the uke takes falls. The fall is simply how the uke keeps himself or herself safe when nage gets kuzushi. Uke provides feedback to the partner. That is the role of uke. It takes the form of maintaining ones balance when the nage doesn't get kuzushi properly. It takes the form of striking the nage when he or she is presents an opening. And it also requires that uke NOT do anything that would be not good martial arts such as over committing, compromising one's own structure, doing anything (such as physical and mental tension) that would reduce ones freedom to move as needed to respond to uke's movements.

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. This is far more complex than taking pretty falls. Nage is totally dependent on uke for his progress. It is impossible for nage to get to a high level in the art with partner's who are incompetent. Asking the partner to simply collude with ones movements reduces the art to a dance. Fixing our ukemi is the single most important element in getting Aikido back on track as a martial art with some depth to it. Many years of ingrained habits have to be undone to accomplish this. I don't really know if that will happen but it needs to.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 05-16-2013, 02:48 PM   #2
Andy Kazama
 
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Ledyard Sensei,
Fantastic points as always, and I loved this updated ukemi post, which compared to your post several years ago had much more insight into the more internal aspects of ukemi. If possible, I would love to get a bit more regarding your thoughts on taking ukemi once things have begun to gel internally for nage. One point that I have heard/read you make often is that both sides are always practicing aikido. However, the early paired connection exercises seem to require "stupid strength" on the part of uke, whereas nage is working on "connected/internal strength". Do you have any tips for uke in the early stages of training so that uke is getting as much benefit as nage? I understand uke is developing sensitivity in finding that breaking point and giving feedback, but we have found that greater body connectivity is leading to much less sensitivity for nage -- to the point that one of our hallmark symptoms of good connectivity is that it becomes difficult to feel uke pushing/pulling on you. Thoughts? In any case, it has been fun to touch the surface of this and I am looking forward to digging deeper for many years to come. Thanks again for taking time to share! We are all really looking forward to your seminar!!

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Old 05-16-2013, 04:11 PM   #3
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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Andy Kazama wrote: View Post
Ledyard Sensei,
Fantastic points as always, and I loved this updated ukemi post, which compared to your post several years ago had much more insight into the more internal aspects of ukemi. If possible, I would love to get a bit more regarding your thoughts on taking ukemi once things have begun to gel internally for nage. One point that I have heard/read you make often is that both sides are always practicing aikido. However, the early paired connection exercises seem to require "stupid strength" on the part of uke, whereas nage is working on "connected/internal strength". Do you have any tips for uke in the early stages of training so that uke is getting as much benefit as nage? I understand uke is developing sensitivity in finding that breaking point and giving feedback, but we have found that greater body connectivity is leading to much less sensitivity for nage -- to the point that one of our hallmark symptoms of good connectivity is that it becomes difficult to feel uke pushing/pulling on you. Thoughts? In any case, it has been fun to touch the surface of this and I am looking forward to digging deeper for many years to come. Thanks again for taking time to share! We are all really looking forward to your seminar!!
Some of us once asked Ushiro Kenji Sensei what would happen in a contest between two opponents who both understood "aiki". He replied that between two highly skilled opponents, the one who would win was the one who got "inside" the best.

I think that after a certain point in the training when "stupid strength" becomes irrelevant, you have to ask the partner to attack more intelligently. That's why i think uke should be taught how toreally attack right from the start. He may be choosing not to do so at the earlier levels of traiing but he shouldn;t be going decades thinking that a "stupid strength" attack is anything other than, oh, stupid. At a certain point there should be no more "I am just grabbing" or "I am just striking". A grab should acheive kazushi and have a strike(s) that go with it, a strike should should be in combination or morph into a throw if it is deflected.

When you get to this stage of training, the real interesting stuff starts to come out. Up to that time, it is still just basics. When you start to work this way is up to you I think but one should take a lesson from the Systema folks. If what you are doing is creating fear or tension, you need to slow it back down some and work at that level. In my experience, most of these folks who are talking about Aikido being street effective all the time are really just imprinting a lot of mental andphysical tension in the practice and will never really be very good.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 05-16-2013, 07:53 PM   #4
dapidmini
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Ledyard Sensei, I knew something is wrong with how me and my friends have been training but I just don't know what it is.. after I read this article I finally realize how off-Aiki we have been. I totally agree with you on this and would like to share this article with my friends. would it be OK for me to translate this article and post it in my Dojo's website?

I have a few questions..
1. "A grab should achieve kuzushi and have a strike(s) that go with it". do you mean an actual strike(atemi)? if yes, what do uke do when attacking with morotetori or other attacks that uses both hands?
2. regarding the correct body structure/posture, I have always thought that in aikido's kamae, our hands should always be in our center line and our head should always be facing in that direction. is this correct?

thank you

Last edited by dapidmini : 05-16-2013 at 08:03 PM.
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Old 05-16-2013, 08:15 PM   #5
dapidmini
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

the 15 minutes editing time has passed so I had to make another post..

I believe that our every limbs should be connected to our center, but some people tend to let their limbs(especially hands) unconnected to their body so when I push/pull him, I need to push/pull his arm all the way until I reach their center (his wrist on his body or his hand fully extended). is it because my lack of sensitiveness on his center?
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Old 05-16-2013, 10:10 PM   #6
robin_jet_alt
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Quote:
David Santana wrote: View Post

I have a few questions..
1. "A grab should achieve kuzushi and have a strike(s) that go with it". do you mean an actual strike(atemi)? if yes, what do uke do when attacking with morotetori or other attacks that uses both hands?
I realise I'm not the one you have directed this question to, but I have an answer anyway (or rather, I'm quoting Saito sensei). For morotedori, have uke stand with their right hand raised as if you strike you with shomen. Take their raised hand with your right hand. Pull their hand down as you move diagonally to the left (uke's right) of uke's centre line, and grab with your left hand. At this point uke's thumb should be pointing downwards. In this position, you should have enough control over uke so that they cannot punch or kick you. Unfortunately I can't find a good demonstration on youtube.
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Old 05-16-2013, 10:49 PM   #7
Lee Salzman
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

I think a big question in all of this is what exactly is aikido waza? Is it supposed to be kata, or is it supposed to be randori?

If it is kata, doesn't it sort of nullify the way waza is used as a teaching vehicle? In a kata, nage should effect kuzushi way X, or guard opening Y that way, and uke should attack exactly way Z and end up getting thrown in way W. Everything is spelled out. If some step was not performed by the participants, then the correct kata was simply never shown, and the teacher needs to fix that.

If it is randori, and they are really both doing the same thing in the end, then what is left of any utility in the nage/uke distinction? They are both nage and can initiate in any way they please using aiki. Sure, at the start you need to limit options, but then why is the transition to what is actually labeled to randori so utterly non-existent in aikido and the actual randori so awkward, comical, and already breaking the surgical cleanliness of the way a lot of people regard waza practice?

Then there is the whole taboo about "no competition". If two people are attacking each other, then what would that be, eh? I don't think that particular proscription made any sense in the context of aikido practice.

It seems aikido is very much stuck in the middle, its practice is neither kata, nor is it randori, and it has much of the drawbacks of both and few of the benefits.
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Old 05-17-2013, 06:59 AM   #8
Mark Mueller
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

To me ..keeping it pure and simple...Ukemi is practice to develop a unified whole body response to an external stimulus....IMO, if you are not practicing it that way you are wasting 50% of your training time.
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Old 05-17-2013, 08:18 AM   #9
Marc Abrams
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Quote:
Lee Salzman wrote: View Post
I think a big question in all of this is what exactly is aikido waza? Is it supposed to be kata, or is it supposed to be randori?

If it is kata, doesn't it sort of nullify the way waza is used as a teaching vehicle? In a kata, nage should effect kuzushi way X, or guard opening Y that way, and uke should attack exactly way Z and end up getting thrown in way W. Everything is spelled out. If some step was not performed by the participants, then the correct kata was simply never shown, and the teacher needs to fix that.

If it is randori, and they are really both doing the same thing in the end, then what is left of any utility in the nage/uke distinction? They are both nage and can initiate in any way they please using aiki. Sure, at the start you need to limit options, but then why is the transition to what is actually labeled to randori so utterly non-existent in aikido and the actual randori so awkward, comical, and already breaking the surgical cleanliness of the way a lot of people regard waza practice?

Then there is the whole taboo about "no competition". If two people are attacking each other, then what would that be, eh? I don't think that particular proscription made any sense in the context of aikido practice.

It seems aikido is very much stuck in the middle, its practice is neither kata, nor is it randori, and it has much of the drawbacks of both and few of the benefits.
Lee:

I guess the issue is how you define your Aikido. I am very forthright in stating that the waza practice IS KATA PRACTICE. In that context, the uke and nage have very specific roles that enable them to push each other to raise the level of the technique and attack.

Randori and jiyu waza to me, is bunkai kumite. In that context, the uke and nage have very specific roles that enable them to push each other to raise the level of the technique and attack.

There is a role for practicing realistic attacks and responses within safe confines. This is done for safety and longevity reasons. I make damn sure that a person who wants to go freestyle with me is capable of adequate control, can handle a decent strike, throw, etc., and can land safely.

Marc Abrams
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Old 05-17-2013, 08:21 AM   #10
phitruong
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

somewhere here someone had said "good uke worth their weight in gold". i am thinking i need to gain some weight.

"budo is putting on cold, wet, sweat stained gi with a smile and a snarl" - your truly
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Old 05-17-2013, 09:53 AM   #11
Marc Abrams
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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Phi Truong wrote: View Post
somewhere here someone had said "good uke worth their weight in gold". i am thinking i need to gain some weight.
Phi-

I hate to break it to you man, but the price of gold has been tanking lately

http://www.monex.com/prods/gold_chart.html

Marc
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Old 05-17-2013, 10:21 AM   #12
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Quote:
David Santana wrote: View Post
Ledyard Sensei, I knew something is wrong with how me and my friends have been training but I just don't know what it is.. after I read this article I finally realize how off-Aiki we have been. I totally agree with you on this and would like to share this article with my friends. would it be OK for me to translate this article and post it in my Dojo's website?
Feel free... just say where it came from.

Quote:
I have a few questions..
1. "A grab should achieve kuzushi and have a strike(s) that go with it". do you mean an actual strike(atemi)? if yes, what do uke do when attacking with morotetori or other attacks that uses both hands?
Yes, I mean an actual atemi. But it doesn't have to be a real punch in training... What we used to do in training was simply tap our partner on the head to let him know he was open. You didn't have to punch his lights out to let him know. These are your friends after all...

The attacks that utilize both hands were meant to either set up a throw or set up a strike. Morotetori was just the inital piece of an old jiu jutsu move in which the elbow was locked and the opponent was thrown to the ground. At a later stage of parctice you could actually have your partner attempt that technique and you would see how that changes the timing etec of what you have to do. Mototetori itself is not an attack, it is a practice device.

On attacks like ryokatatori this either meant to acheive kuzushi as in a judo type throw or unbalance the opponent for a knee strike, or somesuch. Once again, at the higher levels you should ask your partner to actually try to get kuzushi and not just grab and hang on. It changes everything when you do that. To deal with attacks like this you have to be energized properly BEFORE the attacker touches you. In fact there is a whole study to be made of how you mess with the partner's mind before contact talkes place and how you screw up his ability to arrive at the focal point of his power. A great nage can make you feel like you never delivered a good attack. But if you can't attack worth a damn to begin with, it's not a set of skills your partner can practice.

Quote:
2. regarding the correct body structure/posture, I have always thought that in aikido's kamae, our hands should always be in our center line and our head should always be facing in that direction. is this correct?
I would say initially that is more or less true. The hands are not limited to the center line only, as they might be holding a sword. If you envision a three dimensional box with the corners at the shoulder and the hips and about your forearm in depth, most of your arm movement will take place within that box. You are not limited to the plane of the center line. That is to teach your body how to develop proper structure.

At the higher levels, all that changes. Your body becomes an integrated unit and aligment is less important. One you understand how to balance the forces within your body, you can do things with your posture and alignment that would have been wrong earlier but they now work. This is the stage at which principle had been burned into your body to the point at which it is simply your default setting and you can let form go. This is the stage at which true free application of technique is possible. Since your are no longer limited by form, you can adapt your technique to any other form such as another style of martial art. Most folks don't get to this point... even most top teachers are masters of their form but haven't taken it beyond that. The REAL masters are the ones who have taken it to that level and in any given generation, there are only a few who get there. It's a good goal for the rest of us though. I can do it a little but at 61 years old I am running out of time to really get there. Right now it's more of an interesting exercise to play with, not something I could depend on in a life and death situation.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 05-17-2013 at 10:25 AM.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 05-17-2013, 01:29 PM   #13
bibliosk8er
 
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

George - thank you for writing this excellent post. 2 nights ago our teacher was working with us on exactly what you are talking about. I have posted a link to this thread, permanently, on our website, http://www.planoaikido.com

Thanks again.
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Old 05-17-2013, 09:07 PM   #14
JW
 
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Hello Ledyard Sensei, thanks for another strong article. I could shut up and train at this point, having read it - but since this is a discussion forum, I have one "yes, but..." to throw out there for discussion.

The method of attack for grabs described here is basically a "paused" throw. That is, at beginner levels, the uke is intending to throw but pauses just as he gets a connection to nage's center. I fully embrace this method - but my concern is, why shouldn't we consider pausing at other timepoints?
In this article, the idea of a strong grab with no connection to nage's center is criticized. But, as you point out, there is also work to be done before contact. So by the same logic as training the pre-contact stuff, nage should be engaged and capable at all stages of uke's attack, including earlier stages.

So, beyond the most elementary level, shouldn't nage be able to train with the "pause" at an earlier timepoint? As aikidoka, shouldn't we be ashamed to say, "unless you connect to me more fully, I can't do anything but strike?" Nage can take action before uke has done what he intends, so I think "simple" grabs (grabs that are not engaging nage's center) are perfectly valid attacks - nage just has to "come in" more to make up the difference. It's the same thing you've described but paused earlier.

Besides, an attacker who grabs may not be trying to throw - he may be "indexing" for a strike, or simply preventing nage from blocking a strike that is on the way. So, grabs that don't seek to strongly disrupt balance are worthwhile attacks too, yes? (But of course, I agree that as aikidoka we should focus more on the type of attack in this article.)
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Old 05-19-2013, 11:03 PM   #15
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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As aikidoka, shouldn't we be ashamed to say, "unless you connect to me more fully, I can't do anything but strike?" Nage can take action before uke has done what he intends, so I think "simple" grabs (grabs that are not engaging nage's center) are perfectly valid attacks - nage just has to "come in" more to make up the difference. It's the same thing you've described but paused earlier.
Well, this brings us back to the statement that Aikido is 90% atemi... Then I remember Peter Goldsbury saying, wrong... it's 100% atemi. This was summed up up in Saotome's Sensei's statement that every throw you do in Aikido is a strike or strikes that you CHOOSE not to do.

So, no, I do not in any way feel ashamed to inform an uke that of he comes into my space and does nothing to commit himself to altering my own aligment or restricting my ability to move the technique will be an atemi rather than some more user friendly response.

I am sure that most of us have had the experience of trying hard to do what the teacher just demonstrated with a passive aggressive uke who either won't commit or who disconnects in order not to go off balance. Could I do henka waza and change up what I was doing and do something other than strike him? Sure, I could... but why would I? That would encourage the uke to think that I was "required" to do something that he or she would associate with an "Aikido technique". I have seen people keep trying to get some technique on a partner who simply keeps breaking the connection to counter the throw. But the fact is that the throw just isn't there any more, if it ever had been. What is there is a strike or strikes.

Saotome Sensei always said that if you knew the other guy would not, or could not strike you, ALL techniques were stoppable. This is what it means when someone says that Aikido is 90% atemi. Atemi is implicit in every movement we do. It is uke's job as part of his training not to put nage in the position of having to make the atemi explicit.

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Besides, an attacker who grabs may not be trying to throw - he may be "indexing" for a strike, or simply preventing nage from blocking a strike that is on the way. So, grabs that don't seek to strongly disrupt balance are worthwhile attacks too, yes?
Ok, now we cross into non-standard attacks. I am not saying that an attacker "has to" to anything in particular in a real martial encounter. Many systems teach you to only commit to the attack for an instant at the very last possible instant. This makes moving them very difficult. Then when you introduce the idea of internal power training in to the mix, you start talking about folks whose ability to balance the forces of their bodies gives them tremendous power while at the same time making them virtually unthrowable. I know some of these folks. I do not think anyone I know could throw them without first striking them (not an easy thing to do).

When I trained many years ago with Ellis Amdur Sensei he once pointed out that most martial arts are filled with basic techniques which, you don't study because you think that you will someday be using them in combat aginst a skilled attacker. You study them so that no one can do them on you.

Aikido is full of techniques that, as your training progresses, are no longer going to work on you. There is a point at which there really isn't anything left but striking. Perhaps after applying atemi, you will have "cut the ki" of the opponent sufficiently to then get kuzushi and apply a throw. But it would take the strike to do it.

So, I do not see any reason to lead a partner to think that, as an Aikido practitioner, there is some rule that says I need to respond to his essential opening in some other way than any other martial art would, namely a strike. If the attacker is connecting as I have descriibed, his grab will help protect him from the strike. If it doesn't do so, then he will be struck. If it does do so, I can give direction to the energy of that connection and turn it into a throw, which is what we were practicing in Aikido. It is very much my partner's choice about how the interaction proceeds.

At the higher levels of practice there's nothing wrong with working with different paradigms. Then you can find out for yourself if what you thought was really true. But also, when you cross in to that territory, you start to leave the land of "safe" practice behind. Things start to lose the "kata" or form and start to get really formless. That's when you can start getting folks injured. Many people simply don't wish to cross that line.That's one of the things I appreciate about the "form: of Aikido. If we stay within the form, even though it might get very spontaneous and highly energetic, even impactive, it can still be done safely with everyone walking away healthy. So, I teach an ukeimi that is both martially effective, but is also still within the Aikido form and will allow outcomes that fit the form as well.

Anyway, that's my take on it.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 05-19-2013 at 11:09 PM.

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Old 05-20-2013, 01:08 AM   #16
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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Well, this brings us back to the statement that Aikido is 90% atemi... Then I remember Peter Goldsbury saying, wrong... it's 100% atemi. This was summed up up in Saotome's Sensei's statement that every throw you do in Aikido is a strike or strikes that you CHOOSE not to do.

So, no, I do not in any way feel ashamed to inform an uke that of he comes into my space and does nothing to commit himself to altering my own aligment or restricting my ability to move the technique will be an atemi rather than some more user friendly response.

I am sure that most of us have had the experience of trying hard to do what the teacher just demonstrated with a passive aggressive uke who either won't commit or who disconnects in order not to go off balance. Could I do henka waza and change up what I was doing and do something other than strike him? Sure, I could... but why would I? That would encourage the uke to think that I was "required" to do something that he or she would associate with an "Aikido technique". I have seen people keep trying to get some technique on a partner who simply keeps breaking the connection to counter the throw. But the fact is that the throw just isn't there any more, if it ever had been. What is there is a strike or strikes.

Saotome Sensei always said that if you knew the other guy would not, or could not strike you, ALL techniques were stoppable. This is what it means when someone says that Aikido is 90% atemi. Atemi is implicit in every movement we do. It is uke's job as part of his training not to put nage in the position of having to make the atemi explicit.

Ok, now we cross into non-standard attacks. I am not saying that an attacker "has to" to anything in particular in a real martial encounter. Many systems teach you to only commit to the attack for an instant at the very last possible instant. This makes moving them very difficult. Then when you introduce the idea of internal power training in to the mix, you start talking about folks whose ability to balance the forces of their bodies gives them tremendous power while at the same time making them virtually unthrowable. I know some of these folks. I do not think anyone I know could throw them without first striking them (not an easy thing to do).

When I trained many years ago with Ellis Amdur Sensei he once pointed out that most martial arts are filled with basic techniques which, you don't study because you think that you will someday be using them in combat aginst a skilled attacker. You study them so that no one can do them on you.

Aikido is full of techniques that, as your training progresses, are no longer going to work on you. There is a point at which there really isn't anything left but striking. Perhaps after applying atemi, you will have "cut the ki" of the opponent sufficiently to then get kuzushi and apply a throw. But it would take the strike to do it.

So, I do not see any reason to lead a partner to think that, as an Aikido practitioner, there is some rule that says I need to respond to his essential opening in some other way than any other martial art would, namely a strike. If the attacker is connecting as I have descriibed, his grab will help protect him from the strike. If it doesn't do so, then he will be struck. If it does do so, I can give direction to the energy of that connection and turn it into a throw, which is what we were practicing in Aikido. It is very much my partner's choice about how the interaction proceeds.

At the higher levels of practice there's nothing wrong with working with different paradigms. Then you can find out for yourself if what you thought was really true. But also, when you cross in to that territory, you start to leave the land of "safe" practice behind. Things start to lose the "kata" or form and start to get really formless. That's when you can start getting folks injured. Many people simply don't wish to cross that line.That's one of the things I appreciate about the "form: of Aikido. If we stay within the form, even though it might get very spontaneous and highly energetic, even impactive, it can still be done safely with everyone walking away healthy. So, I teach an ukeimi that is both martially effective, but is also still within the Aikido form and will allow outcomes that fit the form as well.

Anyway, that's my take on it.
The idea that aikido is 90% atemi is something I often heard a lot in training, but then I can turn around and fellow students (I can only speak for the ASU, have not extensively trained under other organizations) are completely averse to the idea of techniques having anything to do with atemi, and teachers did not seem to be showing them enough to convince them otherwise. One particular awkward account sticks firmly in my mind when a fellow student told me, "No, that's a different art!", when all I was doing was something I was taught from yet another teacher within the same organization... atemi, during ikkyo. I was not even making any contact, just doing it to make my intent for practice purposes explicit about where I was driving it, nothing scary or violent, but the mere potential of there being atemi in that place unnerved his ideas about what the art is.

So the question is then, why are not all the throws introduced so that first we actually see the atemi, and then we see, okay, this is how you can avoid having to need it, by using that same interaction/energy to effect a given throw? The way the ASU curriculum was laid out, it's just, at this belt level you must know these techniques, and so that's pretty much what we focused on in the clubs I practiced in. The only teacher I can say who made extensive use of atemi was one head-instructor who came from a less than conventional background with respect to aikido than the rest. Otherwise, it was more like 9% atemi.

And if, on the surface, a large part of the job of uke is to give good, committed atemi, and using the same energies that might in other contexts drive a throw, then perhaps there was more to the role of uke than I was ever aware of... uke learns to use atemi, nage learns then what happens if he chooses not to use atemi in the way he did as uke. If that idea was implicitly embedded in the training, unfortunately I never got instructed in it. Like everyone else, I just kinda winged my attacks based on what information I was given, which was not much. I don't think I could have given a good attack despite any sincere desire to. So I guess there could have been more to it than I encountered in my training, had I known/learned better.

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Old 05-20-2013, 08:37 AM   #17
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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The idea that aikido is 90% atemi is something I often heard a lot in training, but then I can turn around and fellow students (I can only speak for the ASU, have not extensively trained under other organizations) are completely averse to the idea of techniques having anything to do with atemi, and teachers did not seem to be showing them enough to convince them otherwise. One particular awkward account sticks firmly in my mind when a fellow student told me, "No, that's a different art!", when all I was doing was something I was taught from yet another teacher within the same organization... atemi, during ikkyo. I was not even making any contact, just doing it to make my intent for practice purposes explicit about where I was driving it, nothing scary or violent, but the mere potential of there being atemi in that place unnerved his ideas about what the art is.

So the question is then, why are not all the throws introduced so that first we actually see the atemi, and then we see, okay, this is how you can avoid having to need it, by using that same interaction/energy to effect a given throw? The way the ASU curriculum was laid out, it's just, at this belt level you must know these techniques, and so that's pretty much what we focused on in the clubs I practiced in. The only teacher I can say who made extensive use of atemi was one head-instructor who came from a less than conventional background with respect to aikido than the rest. Otherwise, it was more like 9% atemi.

And if, on the surface, a large part of the job of uke is to give good, committed atemi, and using the same energies that might in other contexts drive a throw, then perhaps there was more to the role of uke than I was ever aware of... uke learns to use atemi, nage learns then what happens if he chooses not to use atemi in the way he did as uke. If that idea was implicitly embedded in the training, unfortunately I never got instructed in it. Like everyone else, I just kinda winged my attacks based on what information I was given, which was not much. I don't think I could have given a good attack despite any sincere desire to. So I guess there could have been more to it than I encountered in my training, had I known/learned better.
I do not think that any organization that I have seen is immune to the issues I am talking about. The curriculum of most organizations is designed to teach "basics". Not so many folks look at atemi in either the uke or nage role as a "basic" so it doesn't have its own block of instruction most places.

Saotome Sensei seemed satisfied that we attack with full speed and full power (when level appropriate). He did not spend a lot of time on the mechanics of striking. It was only after quite a few years that I realized that the mechanics of the throw, if one did them properly where the same as the mechanics of the strike. I teach that but not so many other teachers do that I am aware of. I will often do a progression where I take one technique and show it as a basic kihon waza, then move that technique from the physical miore towards the energetic and bythe end that technique may be pure striking. I'd venture to say that not many of the folks you'd normally train with would say that a technique like tenchi nage is a striking defense against a strike... but it can be. It's just that most folks haven't bothered to take it to that last step. This is really something one has to investigate on ones own... it is highly unlikely that you run into teachers who will teach stuff like this at a seminar, it's just too far above the pay grade for most of the attendees.

I have tried to do more seminars which are geared for yudansha folks and especially people running dojos. I can introduce some of these ideas to them and perhaps then they will go back to their dojos and work on it with their students. But, the fact is, some folks are interested and many are not. Most folks are really only interested in working on what is on the next rank test (or what they have to know to prepare their students for the next test). You start pushing the envelope too far and you lose a lot of them... And frankly, the more senior folks are, the less interested they are in re-working what they do to incorporate new ideas. There are exceptions... teachers like Bill Gleason or Hiroshi Ikeda who complelety redid their Aikido at a very senior level. But the folks I find to be the most receptive to new ideas are the 3rd - 5th dans. They will be the future teachers and if we can reach them, it will change things going forward.

I also take advantage of any expertise that comes our way. I have had a couple of 3rd and 4th Dans in karate in my dojo and have had them do seminars on striking for the rest of the membership. We have also had, at various times, a lot of exposure to the systema folks and my seniors, at least, have all had some practice with the systema striking system. Now, we have had Josh Drachman, one of Saotome Sensei's 5th Dans move to our area and join the dojo. He is also training under Ushiro Kenji in Karate and we have been able to start a modest karate program which Josh teaches.

The real problem is the level of commitment that the average student can / will make. Back in the day, there were a number of folks who trained every day, six or seven days a week. I hae talked to a number of other teachers and there seems to be a fair amount of agreement that it is increasingly hard to find people that will train that way, at least in Aikido. Consequently, it makes it difficult for a teacher to incorporate additional blocks of instruction because adding something to the prgram simply pushes something else out. We probably should work more on our striking, do at least some work every night. But then there's so much else we are working on that it seems to take a back seat to skills that seem more important and the students are left to work on their striking skills on their own (which wasreally how it was with us).

As for your partner's comment that somethuing you did "was from another art..." well, that person wasn't trained by Saotome Sensei and had no clue what he was talking about. Saotome Sensei is firmly on record over 40 years saying that Aikido has no "style". Sensei will do a class that looks like the softest T'ai Chi and then do a class that looks like the hardest karate. He can throw you with a classic judo throw and he can send you flying with barely a touch. It's ALL Aikido as far as he is concerened. At its heart, Aikido is like most other Japanese martial arts in that it is imbued with "sword mentality". One cut, one death is the model for Japanese sword and it influences al lthe other arts. In karate, Funakoshi always said "one punch, one death". In Aikido it gets changed a bit by becoming Kuzushi on contact (contained in the phrase Katsu hayabi, sometimes translated as instant victory). We win in the instant we come into contact (and that can actually be before the physical touch) then in that instant we choose to manifest the technique in a way that is creative rather than destructive. But youhad that one moment when you could have destroyed the opponent. If that moment wasn't there, the rest was just wishful thinking andthe Aikido is just a dance.

Last edited by George S. Ledyard : 05-20-2013 at 08:51 AM.

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Old 05-20-2013, 10:30 AM   #18
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Thank you, Ledyard Sensei!

I was having a lapse of seeing the big picture, and you understood that better than I did (which is of course to be expected, this is why students have teachers).

What I meant to be getting at was the idea of "kiai," as in, actively creating a state that didn't exist yet. (And I completely overlooked the "why would I do that" question, which MUST be asked.) But even though that can be an option at any time, there is a big-picture aspect of budo that I was overlooking, and striking really does hit that nail on the head so to speak.

Reaching through, to capture uke (rather than striking him) can happen at any time, according to one's sense of morality in decision making, and limited by one's skill. But, no matter what, it is always artificial. So that's the issue: the basic understanding of budo should be based on honesty rather than artiface. Then at advanced levels, one can choose to exert more control in the situation, if skill level allows. But in terms of a basic understanding (the big picture), one should look at how the martial interaction unfolds naturally and honestly, not artificially.

My current understanding:
The space between uke and nage is undifferentiated potential. If uke has lethal intent, he is seeking to apply some destructive force onto nage. Nage is maintaining aiki, that is, manifesting the natural complement to whatever uke's actions (and forces) are. There is an infinite set of possible ways for uke to manifest his attack, and the simplest and most readily available ones are strikes. Complex throws, takedowns or joint manipulations are possible, but their probability is much lower than the multitude of possible simple strikes. In the course of the interaction, the realm of superposed possible states is winnowed down to actual, manifested actions. (This is the transition from wuji to taiji.) Any strike that has not been made impossible, difficult, or futile should remain as the next most probable state that can arise. This is the natural unfolding of the situation.

That is honest and natural, and it is the means by which aiki readily manifests in different forms, be it weapons, striking, grappling, etc. A dojin should be able to strike just as much as he should be able to do ikkyo. The reason ikkyo comes out (instead of striking) is that uke and nage mutually constrain the possible states such that strikes are being prevented and countered. This is done through the application of force and body positioning, and retained/regained balance, so yes, uke must be trying to affect nage's whole body. If he doesn't, we are doing a kind of striking practice (if we are being honest and simple). That is, it is uke's attempt at constraint of freedom that gives rise to something other than striking.

The corollary is that a serious study of striking must be done by all practitioners for this to make sense. Around 3 years ago I decided to start this, and have really improved my understanding of striking (and potential striking). I think that really, striking and grappling are the same thing - grappling is "sustained" or tonic striking, and striking is sudden, sparse grappling.

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Old 05-20-2013, 05:19 PM   #19
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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Lee Salzman wrote: View Post
One particular awkward account sticks firmly in my mind when a fellow student told me, "No, that's a different art!", when all I was doing was something I was taught from yet another teacher within the same organization.
This reminds me of when I was practicing (Nishio-style) atemi on my own and another teacher thought I was doing Chángquán!
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Old 05-21-2013, 07:36 AM   #20
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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Old 05-21-2013, 07:56 AM   #21
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

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I do not think that any organization that I have seen is immune to the issues I am talking about. The curriculum of most organizations is designed to teach "basics". Not so many folks look at atemi in either the uke or nage role as a "basic" so it doesn't have its own block of instruction most places.
Thanks for your essay. It is very good and basically reflects what we are being taught about the uke role in my Yoshinkan Kenshusei Course in Kyoto.

I don't know about other schools of aikido, but in Yoshinkan, uke's form is as specific as shite's (nage's) for each technique. If you perform uke properly, you mold to shite in a way that lets shite understand how to control your center, take your balance, etc. Also, if you perform uke properly and shite performs properly, you can learn A LOT about how to perform a technique by being uke.

I think conceiving of uke as "an attacker" (as some commenters on this thread do) is a mistake. Aikido kihon techniques are for learning and consist of a shite-uke pairing. I.e., the kihon technique is not performed by shite (nage), it is formed by shite-uke. This is does not mean it is simply kata. A good training pair are feeling each other out, adjusting constantly, and giving each other feedback.

As for atemi, in my Kenshusei course, we have actually spent quite a bit of time on this. It gets reviewed with almost every technique. I don't know if this is unique to Yoshinkan or Payet-sensei's dojo. My interpretation of the atemi quotation from Ueshiba (which is related by Shioda Gozo in the beginning of Total Aikido) is that (1) in a fight, a real aikido technique is decisive, and (2) if you want to use aikido techniques in a fight, you have to create the opportunities to use them. The idea that the attacher spontaneously puts herself into a position for you to use a technique is unrealistic. So, most of the fight is atemi, looking for openings, maybe a little bit is maybe failed aikido, and when you perform real aikido, the fight is over.

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Old 05-21-2013, 08:59 AM   #22
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

I don't think you need to get rid of anything regarding notions of uke but rather include everything.

Uke is attacker so it would be best to understand all parts of that. How else can uke initiate an attack which is what uke does in Aikido.

Uke is also the receiver and thus ukemi, the art of receiving. So both are true.

Uke is also the helper so that explains the interrelationship as a pair in training.

Uke attacks by strike (atemi) or grab or hold all equally valid. Each has a purpose. The purpose for each is to neutralize whilst remaining in a safe position. That's the simplicity of it.

Then we can look at role of nage to get the complete picture.

So uke gives and receives and nage receives and gives. You could say it's just the art of communication, good, perfect, communication in action.

My perspective.

Peace.G.
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Old 06-01-2013, 07:40 PM   #23
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Two years ago i started to train my ukemi as Ledyard is pointing in this article; trying to stablish good kuzushi and trying to feel the structure of nage throught the point of contact.

The first months were frustrating, i was always losing the feeling of nage's structure after he started to move; I was too tense and holding myself. Months passed and i started to feel that i could use nage's structure to support my own structure, this new knowledge allowed me to achieve a higher degree of relaxation, to move freely and to spot holes in nage techniques (this also caused that many mates wanted me to take ukemi for them).

So i totally agree with Ledyard way of thinking... but I had another experience.

When taking ukemi for some shihans in his seminars, it was impossible for me to feel any structure on them, so the kuzushi turned to be unidirectional (from shihans to me), so when i attacked them i felt like traveling to the past in a time machine; i found me holding myself again and withouth any structure to relay on other than mine. This situation brought me an idea; what if instead of trying to establish kuzushi with nage's body structure i try to stablish kuzushi with nage movements?.

What i'm doing from six months to now is trying to give nage the sensation that i'm weightless and that i have no body structure (the same i felt with shihans as uke) while maintaining my intention to attack. By allowing nage to move freely i feel a higher number of holes on his technique and i can choose between make an atemi explicit, give nage some body structure or unbalance him depending on his level.

I don't know if this could be an evolution of what Ledyard is exposing or not, but i believe that it is something interesting to try and to experience.
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Old 06-04-2013, 06:09 PM   #24
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Ledyard Sensei, this is going to sound like a trolling question, and I apologize in advance for it.

In the initial post you mentioned that uke should strike nage at any point in the technique during which uke "can" strike nage, which I understand .... for higher-lavel practice.

Simple question, based on your own instruction of students. About when, or after what benchmark, do you allow the uke this "freedom" to actively counterattack with a "strike?"

Not to be funny, but what I, personally, do with my students is make a stupid game-show buzzer noise for auditory input as I touch them in the vulnerable location (tacticle input) and/or wave a fist about in their face or other vulnerable area (visual input), but... I've been at this for decades and I've no clue when it came easily and automatically, i.e. "when I wouldn't hurt anyone."

Any idea as to what to watch for to open this up to a student base?

I find it interesting that the kanji character for kuzushi illustrates a mountain falling on a house.
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Old 07-24-2013, 11:54 AM   #25
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Re: The Role of Uke in Aikido Training

Ledyard Sensei, it has been my great privilege to have attended some of your classes at various ASU seminars. Once, I asked you one on one in a public swimming pool in Colorado what you meant by your statements about ukemi and you showed me with a grab how that felt. I totally got it, but I didn't have words to describe it though at that time it had been what we had been focusing on for about four years in my dojo.

Because in my dojo techniques are not taught or demonstrated, it is a practice dependent on authentic attack energy. No nage in our dojo will ever see an uke "complete his mission" unless there is a spontaneous manifestation of aiki, usually born of a transcendent consciousness.

We spend an inordinate amount of time on what constitutes authentic attack energy since our practice of aikido is absolutely dependent on it. Clearly the most difficult part of this practice is to maintain the intention to meaningfully impact the central core of nage with an intensity low enough not to damage the nage if nage fails to embody the principles of the aiki interaction.

It becomes even more difficult to maintain it through the entire aiki path because as soon as uke's system is flooded by ki from nage's beneficent intention, the attack energy provided by uke is transformed into a unified field with nage. It takes a lot of concentration of intention to overcome the natural reaction to this (dissolution of attack energy) in order for the attack to lead uke to the ground. The nature of committed attack must be understood.

In that regard, I agree with Peter Goldsbury's assessment that aikido is 100% ukemi because first, without an attack there is no purpose for aikido, and second, that if the attack stops in the middle or is not really an attack because there is no authentic attack intention, in our dojo everything stops except the core energetic connection.

To get to this point of understanding, we describe forms of energy as they arise from intention in conflict situations.

In broad strokes:

The only kind of energy that will produce aikido is what we call spear energy. It is energy as you describe - it is meaningful and intentionally directed into the central core of nage in a penetrative way. When answered with energy from nage that extends to the central core of uke, and the basic principles of aikido movement are incorporated into that extension, aikido manifests in any number of paths determined by uke and nage's combined expressions of energy.

The next kind of energetic expression we look at is shield energy. This kind of energy will not produce aikido because it is basically arising from a defense intention. This is what we call the energy you describe as locking on someone's arm or resisting a technique being applied. We also call this wall energy when it is extended to an extremity in a way where the extremity withstands force but most of the energy is withheld in the central core.

The third kind of energy we examine is withdrawn energy or a giving up of the attack. This is the flow of energy retreating back toward the central core. This arises from the intention not to interfere with nage, and is what I find to be the typical "going along with nage" kind of ukemi.

In the context of understanding and applying these types of energy in physical conflict we get a picture of how uke's intention drives aikido to manifest or makes it purposeless.

It is also in the understanding of these various types of energetic flow (in a continuum, not necessarily one or another) that we then get to see as nage, when we think we are responding harmoniously, that actually we are responding to the attack with our own spear, shield, or withdrawn energy because uke will feel it instantly as a counter attack, defense, or escape, and aikido will not manifest. The only exception to this is if nage expresses spear energy to the central core of uke. In that case uke will have to have a level of committment necessary to override his own limbic system response to defend against the counter attack. When this happens it resembles hard style aikido. It works just fine with the exception that the feeling uke is left with is that of being thrown, not of having been lovingly protected. Therefore it cannot be counted on as a resolution but as an invitation to retaliation.

All this examination of energetic expression arising from intention brings us as nage to then find the most important kind of energetic expression for aikido to manifest in a way that completely eradicates the desire to attack. We call this flood energy because rather than a constricted flow meant to forcefully impact uke's center, it is expressed as an expansion of ki to our partner which is uplifting, literally and figuratively. It arises most naturally from beneficent intention, and clearly demonstrates why Osensei called his budo one of love.

At this point it is common for the attack to end instantly, so beginners must be taught to maintain their spear energy until their own energy brings them to the mat, or meets either subsequent resistance or withdrawal from nage, in which case they will naturally find their own balance and continue the initial attack intention.

In this way, without any technique emulation, participants know why aikido suddenly manifested with uke on the mat, or why it did not. The key for us is in conscious expression of energy on both sides of the coin.
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