Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Initiative in ukemi

We have this tendency to see uke as the loser.  Even when sensei explains the non-confrontational, non-competitive, mutually-beneficial nature of the relationship to us over and over and over for years on end, it still sometimes feels like losing - and it chafes.  Even though we can't even express what it is that we are losing, it still sometimes feels like losing.  Intellectually, we know uke does not mean 'loser,' that it means something more akin to 'receiver,' but it still often feels like it is a painful, shameful loss that we are receiving.  
Aaron Williamson writes in an amazing article on his blog...
Though the 'uke' in 'ukemi' means 'to receive' in Japanese, 'ukemi' can also mean 'to have lost the initiative'; which is an important part of understanding what the purpose of the practice actually is. As you progress in Aikido, you realize that the purpose of ukemi is to regain the initiative in a situation where you have clearly lost it
So, we're not competing and contesting and winning and losing - our practice is more like a game of catch - tossing initiative back and forth, occasionally for the fun and experience of it, stretching or challenging each other a bit, but still playing catch instead of keep-away.
What is this initiative thing that we're talking about?  In common parlance we use initiative as nearly synonymous with motivation, like, "Take some initiative, you slacker!"  But in martial arts it is a timing and rhythm idea something akin to who gets to take the next turn.
Or maybe a better understanding of initiative is who has the power to make choices and affect the relationship.
So, after uke has attacked and tori has taken his turn and uke has countered and tori has flowed and the initiative has flipped back and forth from one partner to the other several times, eventually one of them gets in a bind.  The other one has actually "gotten a technique" and the receiver of that technique is out of altitude, airspeed, and ideas, and he has to take a fall.
Does that mean that tori came out on top and uke lost?  No, that means that tori has used his turn/initiative to put such an interesting bind on uke that uke's only choice to get the initiative (the power to keep going in the relationship) back is to take a fall. 
Uke is not the receiver of the loss, uke is the receiver of the initiative.

photo courtesy of PacoPH

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Patrick Parker
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