On being uke

What does Uke mean? In martial arts terms it means to receive. What are we receiving? That depends on what you want to get out of it and I will go into that later. Let’s go back a few years to when my life changed and I discovered the Bujinkan. When I first started training I was learning a few simple techniques and was occasionally called up by my teacher Shihan Heslinton to be uke. In the beginning things were done softly and I learnt how to take ukemi for example. Things were done at a slow pace and you knew roughly where you were going to end up, most times on the floor.

As training progressed, so did the intensity of the techniques applied to you. So being uke was deemed something that we had to just put up with and suffer. This is now something that I see in my own students when they get the pleasure of being my uke. What do I see? I see their faces, sometimes with trepidation and sometimes why me! I guess that was my feeling when I was just starting out.

But I was missing the point of being uke, in fact I was losing 50% of my training by not experiencing being uke. What do I mean this? When the technique is applied to you, you get to see exactly how your teacher moves and how your own body reacts to the stress placed on it. It was a lightbulb moment when I realised this and in my excitement, I sent my teacher a personal message when I got home and thanked him for my lesson.

So what am I receiving when called out to be uke? I am receiving one to one transmission. Being uke is far more than just taking ukemi or being the crash test dummy for the rest of the class to see what is happening. So if your teacher calls you out take it as a gift and learn from it. My teacher has said on my many occasions that feeling how a technique works is important. Being uke is a symbiotic relationship with your tori; one cannot exist without the other, just as darkness cannot exist without light. You also need to train with intensity and apply pressure on your uke otherwise training is pointless. Remember that your training may save your life one day or those who you hold dearest and practice accordingly.