Observations About Ukemi

Editors Note: The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Often times the importance of ukemi is understated leading to various outcomes, such as: inefficiencies in techniques, miscommunication, and injuries.

Uke’s level of commitment to their attack is an important element in observing the applications of various Aikido techniques. This is not a suggestion that uke will determine the outcome of an application. Rather, that uke will influence the outcome based on various factors, such as (but, not limited to): commitment of attack, speed of attack, type of attack, tai sabaki, ma ai, etc.

Uke’s commitment should not end when nage reacts to the attack. Uke must stay committed in their role and maintain connection and move with the energy to offer nage the opportunity to carry out an array of techniques. Of course, this is not to say that uke should viciously attack nage, nor ferociously resist the applications of techniques. On the other hand, uke should not immediately collapse during applications, if projections are not producing energy, or immobilizations are ineffective. Factors such as level of experience, stylistic preferences, and stamina will affect the interaction between uke and nage, and should always be considered by the parties involved.

There are factors compounded upon factors in the world of martial arts that create a great deal of uncertainty, even in controlled environments. In any relationship, whether a business transaction or the interaction between uke and nage, communication is essential. As martial artists we communicate through ways that transcend spoken words. Among these channels is the physical connection between uke and nage. In either role we must feel the flow of the technique and react. In doing so, we continuously send a message until the technique is fully carried out. The direction in which one’s shoulders or hips face, the positioning of one’s feet, shifting of weight, looking in a particular direction, and tapping out are all examples of communication.

The relationship between uke and nage is one of cooperation, communication, self-control, and consideration. It is a working relationship meant to facilitate learning and development and to build confidence in one’s technique, and each other. Aikido has a certain level of sophistication that many other martial arts do not observe. As aikidoka fulfilling either role, we are selfless and concerned for the well-being of others by maintaining control over the situation, and ourselves.

4 thoughts on “Observations About Ukemi

  1. What I also find interesting is the communication that does not depend directly on physical connection. On a mundane level, I think it begins with the openings nage offers when he chooses a particular hanmi.

    But it really begins before that. Tell me there’s no difference, even before hanmi is assumed, between preparing to attack a shidoin or shihan, and preparing to attack a white belt.

    There’s a great entrance from yokomen where nage enters irimi and tenkans away from uke on his sword side. It’s been explained to me that the entrance is derived from the sword where nage cuts horizontally (a do cut) and then turns to stop uke’s descending blade.

    Although this technique depends on a kind of physical connection, I think it is more akin to connecting with uke’s intent, in that once he begins the strike, he must complete it else he dies.

    I’m sure there are other examples.

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