- Uke: Receiver of the technique. (The person initiating the attack.)
- Ukemi: Receiving with the body. Sometimes stated as break falling.
- Ukemi waza: Receiving techniques.
“50% of your time spent on the mat is an uke. Learn to use this time.” I hope many of us have heard these words spoken at some point during their training. Yet it occurs to me that too often we concentrate on teaching people to be good tori (the person defending) and not enough time going through the steps to being a good uke.
In my Jitsu classes we typically spend a quarter of the session practicing various break falling techniques. Safe break falling is just one part of ukemi, albeit an important one. The way an uke moves his body in response to arm and wrist locks in order to prepare themselves for a safe break fall is just as much part of the ukemi. In my Aikido classes I would say we spend about 30% of the class specifically focusing on ukemi. This is probably why Aikido as seen as more flowing than Jitsu, the uke learns to move in a way to minimise the pain on themselves.
Regular readers of this blog will know that some time ago I damaged my left shoulder muscle set. Occasionally the pain flares up. A lot of the time the memory of that pain causes me to hesitate in my left side ukemi.
At my last Aikido session I was concentrating on my ukemi, especially on the left side, acknowledging the way my body wanted to move and trying to be neat about the way I landed. And when I was being tori I looked at my partner and noted the way they moved. As the session went on I concluded that there were two factors in being a good uke.
1) Confidence. Clearly through time you become more proficient at ukemi because you have practised more. Hence why my right side is better than my left. In addition, I would add having the confidence in your partner to execute a technique well also helps. This is indirectly tied into how well you know them and the amount of time spent training together.
2) The energy your partner gives you back. This is a subject for another blog entry! In brief, if you move in with a confident attack, and then your partner blocks you but then becomes hesitant as they move you around ready for the throw, it is really tricky to let your body move. (And yes, I’m just as guilty of this!) In some ways, as an uke, I’d rather have a steady, slow flowing technique performed differently than a stilted correct technique.
So being a good uke, in my view, takes two.
An example of good ukemi can be seen in the first 20 seconds of this video. (You might want to switch the sound off.) Uke’s movements allow them to land safely rather than being contorted and thrown to the mat.