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The resistant uke

Photo courtesy of fotoparceiros

Tonight a student asked one of the most common questions, "Does this work with a resistant uke?" A resistant uke is basically one that is trying to prevent whatever tori is trying to do at the moment. When we are practicing in class then the resistant uke is just a jerk because he is trying to prevent tori from learning the technique that the teacher is trying to teach at the time. If the resistant uke succeeds then the rest of the class fails. That is why we practice with partners instead of enemies or opponents.
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In a "real world" fight, resistance has some potential consequences, the most dramatic being that 90% of the time resistance may succeed adequately, but occasionally it will fail. When resistance fails it is just extra energy that the loser has to eat. Since you can never predict when that 10% chance will hit you, you can make the general rule that resistance is dangerous to uke.
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This issue of the resistant uke, like so many other issues in aikido, seems to pop up because neither uke nor tori is able to keep in mind what effect should ensue from properly applied aiki principles. It is important - no, vital, to keep in the forefront of your mind what we are practicing and why.
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Aikido is self-defense. This means staying alive and intact, not beating the other guy up or forcing him to do something or taking revenge on him or showing him up as a weakling or a fool.

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Sensei Mike Denton of the Wind of Change Aikido Dojo phrases it very well in his description of aikido:
"Aikido is not about 'winning' or finishing your opponent off, but rather about being able to disengage from a chaotic and violent situation as quickly and safely as possible."
Mark "Animal" MacYoung expands this idea in his excellent no-nonsense-self-defense website:
The goal of self-defense is not to win; winning is the realm of fighting and is concerned with ego, pride, gain, coercion and the countless other motivations for fighting. Nor is it to kick the @%!! out anybody who dares to attack you. It is not an excuse to "unload" on someone and physically harm them for dissin' your precious self. And it especially is NOT a chance to vent a lifetime spleen of anger, frustration and bile on someone who you think has given you a perfect excuse to engage in violence. The goal of self-defense is [to not] be physically injured by an unprovoked or unwarranted attack by using a reasonable amount of force. If you are engaged in physical conflict for any other reason or using excessive force, it is not self-defense. It is something else.
So, with tori's goal to survive intact instead of to execute technique, it isn't even possible for uke to resist your technique because there is nothing resist against. How do you resist someone who doesn't want to do anything to you?
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If you are having trouble working your aiki on a resistant uke then first reconsider your goal as tori (are you trying to win or to do aikido?)  Then perhaps your uke should reconsider the potentially severe consequences of resistance.

[Update - February 2010 - Other than rewording a place or two in this article, I don't particularly have any new ideas on it.  It's really a pretty good expression of why uke doesn't resist and what to do if he does.  Do you have any ideas to add to this discussion?]