Monday, May 17, 2010

The Dynamic Role of Uke

In the olden days, students learned from their teachers by taking techniques from them. They attack wholeheartedly in the hope that if they win they have nothing else to learn, and the teacher shows them the error of their ways. Thus, a student's aim was to defeat his teacher as his ultimate goal. Once he is on par or better, they then part ways.

This is true of almost all martial arts. Be it Jujitsu (in the times of Osensei) or Silat. Most assuredly, things didn't end in a blood bath as depicted in most Kung Fu movies, at times we Malays call it, ambik syarat. Or in other words, a formality. The teacher acknowledges the student's skill by sparring with him. Knowledgeable martial artists will know how good a person is even from the way they carry themselves, or from a handshake. A friendly spar will reveal much.

Thus being an uke is very very important in learning a martial art. Being uke in the formal Aikido way, means one learns the art of taking waza safely. Attacking in a prescribed method so as to best deal with the resulting waza in the safest outcome possible. However, we have since carried this too far. Thus, the birth of an endless debate of what is a bad or good uke.

Simply said, the argument is a bad uke is one who doesn't conform to expectations. In one school an uke is expected to attack in a methodical but non offensive fashion. Once nage achieves contact, the uke is expected to just furnish energy and keep the movement going. Nage then goes about doing his thing. In another school, an uke is expected to attack 'realistically' whilst keeping to the prescribed manner. In another school, resistance is considered bad, while a different school some resistance is always sought after.

It is no wonder, people are confused on what exactly the role of uke should be.

In Aiki Kenkyukai, we prescribe the following manner to uke. Uke's are to learn how to take ukemi properly. It starts with knowing how to attack. Attack in a way that is correct technically, and which is intended to hit nage at the correct target areas, and will hit him should he not be able to perform waza correctly. The strength and speed varies according to skill grade, but the intention and commitment remains the same. Uke also learns to take proper ukemi in that when good waza is performed, uke doesn't flop and die, nor does he resists and stiffens up, instead he moves as naturally as able so that kaeshi waza can be performed if waza is incorrectly executed, or he can take safe ukemi to prevent self injury. Ability to perform kaeshi waza is dependant on skill and relative ability, it is not a goal, but a natural response to incorrect waza by nage. Uke's job is to make nage's learning possible... it is done by being honest, not by deliberately being a nuisance. Allowing nage to perform waza with impunity hinders proper learning, thus is avoided.

Senior belts are to direct energy flows so that it becomes intuitive for junior nage to follow. Junior belts are allowed total freedom to oppose senior nages according to rank. Dan grades are supposed to handle all measure of resistance. 3rd Kyu and above, must handle some level of resistance.

So the last class, some time was spent on being a good uke. Attacking properly. Taking waza will be done in the future as shown in the seminar previously. One of the things pointed out in the last class was how katatedori has become the symbol of modern Aikido. Always the outsiders will question the relevance of katatedori, and always the answer from Aikidoka would be that katate is relevant because attackers do grab victim's hands. Yet, the grab in Aikido classes is never as panic inducing as the real thing. Short of being a listless grab, most grabs by uke are secure holds that seek to detain you in place. Some uke uses a vice like grip to squeeze the life out of your wrist whilst, straining to hold their position. Some grab you like you're a piece of cotton. In each case, one should ask what can they do from that grab. If its just you wanting to hold someone in place, perhaps the strong grips might be real. If your intention was an attack, a simple grab followed by an attack would be more representative. In any case, decide on the action and relive it through training.

Training should be done with purpose. Not just for training's sake. Sensei doesn't mind how you grab, since nage gets the chance to try out Aiki from any position or manner of attack. Uke though needs to learn something from that attack, so make it count.

One should also try to understand the waza from uke's point of view. Sometimes, its necessary to just feel the flow, sometimes to feel it with passive resistance, sometimes to feel it with follow through attacks. In this manner, uke understands truly how the technique works in different situations. It is also wise to use the dojo as a place to experiment in terms of positioning. Afterall, the hall mark of Aikido is that it is possible to receive multiple opponents. As budo this is a decisive characteristic. If a martial art deals only on one on one situations, it is more suitable to call it a sport. Therefore, resulting from your response to an attack, your positioning must be able to handle other attackers.

Training this way requires some freedom in class. Sensei needs to allow proper kihon form in one class, and kinonagare in another, and randori in another... Also different positioning and different levels of attacks from uke is important. Only in this differing situations, will we finally be able to see through the basic form of the waza.

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