As uke it is our role to receive technique, to perform ukemi. This is different from breaking our fall or ‘doing break falls’. One may be part of the other but I feel that the goal of uke is to be able to receive powerful technique without injury or avoidance.
In Aikido I feel we are learning to deal with an attack, not learning how to win fights. The dynamics of attacking and fighting are generally very different. If we watch the video footage, widely transmitted within fly-on-the-wall television, of violent attacks on the streets or at the doors of pubs and nightclubs we see quick, gross lurching movements used to connect with a target that send the head forwards and abandon poise and posture to gain power and distance. Whereas when we watch a boxing match both competitors stay behind practised guards whilst they look to take advantage of an opening for their attacks, either through a weakness in the guard of the other, or through counterattacking following an attack which leaves such an opportunity. It is not hard to see how very different these dynamics are.
On the mat we can easily fall into competing with our practice partner, often unconsciously. In competing we stop offering the committed attacks that give us the chance to practise self defence techniques, and we start to guard against techniques as if we are fighting.
I don’t believe this is new. Interestingly in competitive Judo and Karate points can be taken away for a lack of aggression. I guess that this followed too many competitors staying safe behind a strong defence and only attacking on the counter when they saw their opponent as vulnerable. If both competitors fight in this way positive results must have been hard to achieve.
In Aikido we are not burdened with the need to fight. I remember this as being the most stressed issue in the literature available to me when I first started practising. Aikido is about dealing with conflict by transformation through the way of harmony. We do not have to win, in fact this is one of the big spiritual struggles that Aikido offers us to engage with, not having to win, and understanding that ‘not winning’ is not losing. There are many other options. Not least moving our attacker on their way past us without having to hurt them, teach them a lesson or subdue them.
So as uke we are making best practice when we give a fully committed but synthetic attack that maintains the dynamics of a full paced attack even if practised at safer slower speeds. That is to say we do not hold back our posture so that we can resist what we consider to be either poor technique or potentially harmful technique. The former needs to be addressed through feedback, preferably by whoever is taking the class and the latter by slowing to a pace where things can be kept safe and there is time to tap or take a comfortable ukemi.
The attack is synthetic because it is not made up of all the ingredients of an actual attack which would include high levels of aggression, a need to overpower and a want to hurt. If we are asking uke to experience such feelings every time they make an attack I feel we are creating the very thing in someone else that we wish to diminish in ourselves and our life space.
It is important, I feel, for uke to be looking to make their own connection from the start. In the practices I enjoy uke does this and the technique is experienced through the mutual connection in a way that creates smiles and sometimes laughter for both uke and tori.