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Ukemi:  Remaining Martial and the Potential Negative Consequences of Over Training Classical Technique Ukemi

Inside the typical NGA dojo, it might not be a stretch to say that 50% of the time is devoted to Classical Technique.

While this ratio might not be true for every session in your dojo, it would not be a stretch to say that Classical Techniques (“B Kata”) is our general obsession, and there is nothing wrong with that.  

That being said, when training the Classical Techniques, uke is as compliant as a lamb to slaughter, and because of our predominate focus on nage’s role in Classical Technique, uke is only encouraged to follow (but ideally remain ahead of) the lead.  

The extension of this nage focused practice is that junior belts (as well as many senior belts) are inadvertently not trained to do anything but fall down when the beginnings of a technique is applied.

In this fashion, uke has

no desire to try and regain his balance before falling

no hint of a follow-up atemi,

no ambition to counter,

no thought to test nage’s control,

no desire to seek an escape,

no eye contact with nage,

no thought of actually resisting in any fashion what so ever.

Generally speaking, Nage receives nothing at all from uke after the initial attack but a giant flop onto the mat when the technique is performed.  Then uke (with back turned to nage ~ as if nothing has happened), gets up and returns to nage and they switch roles so the process repeats itself.  

I’m a lowly sho-dan and what do I know, but if I may be so bold:  I believe this may be unhealthy training, and could also be reinforcing some dangerously bad habits in our students (me being foremost among them).

I think it might not be a bad idea to maintain a martial relationship between uke and nage the entire time.

In fact, once training shifts from Classical Techniques to Applications, it might make sense for uke to constantly trying to:

Strike Nage Again,

Counter, or Reverse (if possible ~ which helps nage to work transitions)

Test Nage’s Control

Seek to Escape,

Maintain eye contact,

Resist in any fashion possible.

This will only improve nage’s technique.

On Saturday, while working with a yellow belt, I found myself pleading, “Don’t fall down yet.”  “Try to keep your balance.”  “Look at me ~ you just hit me, you’ll probably want to hit me again.”  “Try not to let me get behind you.” “Why are you facing backwards?

All these corrections were needed to be said over and over again because uke had ZERO martial awareness, and realistic transitions and indirect applications were nearly impossible with him for many techniques.

After stewing about it all weekend, I mentioned the scenario to a buddy of mine, who is a sho-dan in traditional aikido (aikikai).  He thought about it for awhile, and asked, “When did you begin to strike him?”

I laughed at his inquiry, but he followed up by saying, “Seriously, a gentle atemi, to let uke know he needs to be paying attention, can go a long way in helping him become more instinctively martial, and that’s what you want, right?”

Maybe I’ll add that to my nage waza at some point.  For now, however, I’ll simply seek to attach a video demonstrating this martial presence in training between uke and nage.  In the mean time, please feel free to post your videos comments and observations in the comment box below.


Jonathan Wilson

Sensei John Carter nage, uke Frank Purvis

Steven Seagal, Sensei generally has some great ukes and he also makes the best use of Lift Up Applications (and generally always in randori situations ~ see picture above) than anyone I’ve ever seen.

Sensei Durand receives an honorable mention for Lift Up Applications, as I’ve seen him bust out a few timely ones also.

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As I typed out this article on the correct uke behaviors, I was reminded of a story I heard about a policeman who, after stopping someone due to speeding, was forced to disarm the citizen ~ who had then pulled a gun.  To his credit, the policeman successfully disarmed his assailant.


Then, through sheer force of habit in training, the policeman proceeded to hand the weapon back to the assailant!  The assailant, with a newfound opportunity successfully shot and killed the policeman.

Chances are good, if not great, that we will defend ourselves on the street in a similar fashion to how we train in the dojo.

Stay Martial My Friends!

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