Aikido has two positions or sides of an attack.  The first of which is the position of Tori.  This is the person who is being attacked or is reacting to an attack.  Also, in formal Kata settings this is the person who is demonstrating technique.  The other position or side is that of the Uke, which is the primary focus of this discussion.  The Uke is the person who is committing the attack, or giving Tori something to react to in formal settings the Uke is the one taking the falls.  Keep in mind that there is more involved in being Uke than just taking a fall.

First and foremost being an Uke is being part of a relationship.  The relation is with Tori, for he/she is who Uke is working with.  This is a relationship because there is trust involved.  Uke is giving Tori his or her body to work and practice with.  Therefore, Uke must trust Tori not to hurt him or her while keeping their best interest in mind while training.  The purpose of training in martial arts is not to hurt or learn to hurt someone, for a true practitioner will have enough control as to perform a potentially devastating technique without causing any harm whatsoever.  The Trust Uke gains in Tori will allow him to commit more to his or her attack giving Tori the energy needed to perform his or her technique. This commitment is a vital aspect of what Uke is and does.

What is a committed attack and why is it important?  A committed attack is one that no matter what speed your’re moving your balance can be broken lightly and easily.  You are allowing Tori to break your balance, which is vital to allow the technique to happen and flow full circle.  It also provides realism, which gives Tori the input he or she needs in order to learn a technique.  In this sense Uke is playing dumb, and the only thing he is worried about is attacking Tori.  Uke should not try to “win” in the situation.  Allowing your ego to step in and attempt victory slows the learning process for all parties involved.  Again, focus on attacking only and go with the attack.  Tori will read energy and use it against Uke, thus culminating the technique with a throw or joint lock/immobilization.  With Uke being only an Uke he or she plays a role in both reacting and allowing the learning process to happen.

Although Uke is to play “dumb” and focus on attacking there is a level of sophistication involved in being Uke.  As a good Uke you will know your surroundings and be able to protect yourself from colliding with other practitioners, walls, etc.  As you grow as an Uke your sophistication will allow you to learn from being thrown.  This may sound odd to a new comer, but it is very true.  Your body will develop muscle memory to techniques, and movements involved in techniques.  By being Uke you learn what it feels  like to to be thrown and to be in certain situations.  The subconscious mind becomes in tune with the senses and completes the two parts of the learning machine, being body and mind.  Once these two are in relation to one another Uke will pick up on subtleties in techniques and may even learn how to perform a technique without ever being taught.  Your body will memorize positioning, feelings and movements as mentioned before.  The body will even memorize positions by being the inverse relationship.

The ability to be Uke is important not only to Tori’s growth in the art, but also Uke himself.  It is important to be well versed on both ends of the relationship.  It is the only way to continue the circle of knowledge available not only in Aikido, but in any art.

This article was written by Brian Atchley who is a Yondan in Karl Geis Kihara Aikido and Nidan in Karl Geis Judo at the Hikari Aikido Dojo in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  He is an exemplary Uke.