Category Archives: Ukemi

O’Sensei no kuden: ukemi(1)

Attack and defense are so tightly linked in aiki that it is impossible to put a hair between them.

– – – translated (and possibly paraphrased in translation) by Itsuo Tsuda, recorded by André Nocquet Shihan in his Hombu training diary, 1955-57.  Published in Maître Morihei Ueshiba: présence et message p.111

-~-~-~-~-~-~HOW TO BE A GOOD UKE~-~-~-~-~-~-

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

  • You have to be trying to get nage‘s center.  And then you have to let nage  get YOUR center. Depending on who you’re training with, you may have back off just enough so that they can get your center.


So.  The reason that we train the way we train is to help each other learn. So training has to be absolutely honest.  Honest is not being brutal, and over-coming the other person so that they can never do anything. Honest is not exerting an inappropriate amount of force for the level the other person’s at.

Being honest, you need to always take their center, or at least make a good attempt – and NOT with any stiffness – and we always want to get that little shift in balance – if not kuzushi, then the beginning of kuzushi – no matter what role we’re in. Because aiki doesn’t function,  in fact: no martial art functions,  unless you can do that.

So: if you’re uke and you’re working with someone who’s not as  experienced,  we use the correct grip,  so that it’s easy to take their center… so that it takes very little physical force to unbalance nage –  and then you hold that so that nage gets the feeling of “how do I work with that?…” “How do I restore, or avoid…?” or “How do I completely absorb this attack?” And then, hopefully,  their reflection back takes uke‘s center.

And that’s like the essence of benevolent but true training. And then you can increase the intensity as time goes on.


So, for instance, today we were working on the idea of what ura and omote are, and how omote might suddenly become very present with a certain kind of attack…

So: setting up to do suwari-waza-kokyu-ho, if we both do ura, then we have this balanced thing.  If uke and nage are both doing the same thing, then it’s all very balanced, the system harmonizes, and no-one gets thrown. Then it’s only when uke is tempted to extend –  only when uke pushes and tries harder to play their designated role in kokyu-dosa – only when uke puts their omote into it – and nage maintains their sense of ura, that the system absorbs it all and throws uke. Because that’s the nature of what we’re doing.

That’s the fun experiment we do a million, million, million times…

…in the dojo(45) – ukemi practice!…

In-yo-ho and Makoto…

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

So this movement of energy we’re showing, this thing, is creating a circulation within  y o u r   body.   Now some forms of aikido never go beyond this:  “I have my center…I take your center… I throw you…”  This is very much  “I’m okay, you’re uke“…  (in other words: “I maintain my integrity and you don’t need to….”)   Well, what I prefer is that you both have structural integrity and you both keep it as you feed in.  Which means that uke doesn’t bail out,  but is able to experience the influences of being drawn into a greater circulation of energy.

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…become an extraordinarily useful mirror!!!…

– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

“Taking ukemi means learning to read your opponent and his intentions instantaneously,  just as if he and you are of one mind…” – – – O’Sensei

Learning to take ukemi is not just a physical discipline but a mental discipline with a profoundly spiritual dimension: it demands…greater awareness and the expansion of  consciousness” – – – Mitsugi Saotome  Shihan

The only way to really understand the gift of aikido is to become an extraordinarily useful mirror. And that is the nature of ukemi: to become a perfect mirror to help the other person polish their technique.

Many people just take the fall which doesn’t help;  other people resist when, in real budo, their arm would be snapped off.

Learning how to roll and tumble and all that is amusing, invigorating and good for you: it’s a kind of massage.

I intend to approach ukemi in terms of what it is: the ‘presence’ of uke. There is a condition of mind that you want to be in: at any moment you could become nage – if you’re like the perfect mirror. When the person moving with the technique backs up, does some sort of movement error, concentration error, you should be able to fill in the void, causing them to increase their adaptability and adjust to that… or causing them simply to discover that they are backing up. So you become the perfect vehicle.

Almost all the aikido stories I’ve heard center on ukemi: including the people I’ve trained as soldiers: stories like: driving down the road, the road blows up, they’re airborne in the vehicle… and they take a roll and walk away. While the vehicle’s tumbling after them they walk away…

Because they’re aware, and they move to the side.

It is the marvelous jewel.

In olden days often you trained three, four, five years, only doing ukemi with the teacher, and you learned the techniques inside and out.

Done really well, you should be able to do all aikido techniques without a nage: you should be able to do all the movements. They should be so embedded in your body…

It is the marvelous jewel of aikido.

…there are some things I want to talk about (7)…

– – – – – – – – – – ukemi, receiving and blending – – – – – – – – – –

Uke is Tori…

…But I learned from Kobayashi Shihan:  “Uke is Tori“.  This means:

  • Being more in control of Tori through your ukemi.  When you can do really good ukemi, then your partner can perform Tori more securely: and in this way you can support your partner as they practise Tori.
  • Uke becomes Tori. After your ukemi you can quickly react and with Kaeshi-waza slip into the rôle of Tori. For this reason, when I was a student, I used to be uke over and over again – and that’s how I got my nickname: “Ukemoto” instead of Kunimoto.
  • At the time that I was teaching Aikido in Kodera, Kobayashi Shihan used to teach the way to “improve your waza by taking ukemi. ”  If you take the opportunity to learn not just by watching, but by taking ukemi – thus through direct physical contact – this is how you will best come to understand the techniques. I was always very happy to be [Kobayashi] Shihan’s uke.

Train diligently, and take to heart these benefits of practising as uke.

– – – Yasuhiko Kunimoto, in  Bu-Iku: Ritterlichkeits-Erziehung,  tr. Kiyoko Furumoto,   p.52


…ukemi training!!!…


…taking ukemi for Aritomo Murashige Shihan…

One day in the Fall of 1962,  when I attacked him, I understood that the Aiki  practised by this apparently frail old man had nothing in common with anything I had seen or learned up to that point.  Because, of course, given the strength I had built up in training, and from being in the military, and from being uke for several expert practitioners, I attacked him with a certain moderation, given the great difference in size between us, and out of respect for his position. But then, emboldened by the way he avoided me while remaining apparently motionless, I redoubled my assault with power and with spirit – having seen that he was a great master. And it was the most wonderful, the most extended, and – truly – the only “fall into the void” that I was ever lucky enough to experience… because it left me – after I had regained on auto-pilot my place with the other students – no longer “myself”, for several minutes that appeared to me to be hours…

This experience is one that it is, certainly, impossible to convey clearly, but it compels the one who has lived it to acknowledge and recognise the power that emanates from the “magical” procedures of “Hojutsu” – the method of silent kiai,  the ability to influence, and the true “revelatory atemi” administered by a master – and which K. Tohei showed us twenty years later.

This anecdote can lead us to think about the term “throw” used in Aiki-jitsuJudo, and wrestling.  This word means “throw a projectile forwards” and can only be used if there is volition to perform this act. It belongs to a vocabulary that is dualist, and corresponds to “project”, “launch”, “expel”, “repel”, “rid oneself of”, and, finally, “have won”! This, we must agree, is far removed from the spirit of letting aggression disappear into the void, and so it is far removed from the proper action of aikido correctly understood.

In true aikido practice, a throw happens when a strong attacker discovers only emptiness before them, loses his/her balance and “throws themself,” as it were –  in order to regain their balance and get free of their adversary.

In the example that I just cited, the person attacked “did nothing” – except to create an emptiness by being empty themselves – an emptiness in which the intensity and strength of the attack is melted away. The more violent the strike, the stronger the “throwing themselves”.  We can see that this is a very different way of thinking of attacker and attacked than the previous.

So right from the start:  as long as the person attacked becomes physically and mentally unbalanced, then we cannot say that there is aikido happening.

– – – Métamorphose de la violence par l’Aikido de Sumikiri,  J.-D Cauhépé and A. Kuang, p. 143-4