Monday, April 29, 2013

What does Uke mean?

"The primary role of blocking is not mere parrying, it goes beyond that. In fact when one executes a real block it marks the beginning of a counter attack. If properly done the block nullifies the opponents attack for a short span of time that might be very short, but it is long enough for a counter attack." - Kenji Tokitsu Author of  The Inner Art of Karate.

In martial arts the root  term uke is usually referred to the person receiving a technique. In karate it ukete, in kendo ukedachi. In judo it is uke and in grappling arts it can be referred to as ukemi. Each of these variations convey the same general idea of receiving a technique. It is not an exercise of force being met with force but rather a redirection of force.

Once this concept is understood it completely transforms your training. You are not training to see if you can shatter an incoming technique, but rather flow with the energy that is being directed towards you, using it to your advantage. You are not just a passive participant in the exchange. Together with this concept of uke a student must learn what maai (distance) means and the importance of timing. In order to redirect incoming force your timing must be impeccable, this is only learned with constant practice.

When advanced students engage in kumite or the exchange of techniques, this ability can be seen. It seems effortless and it usually is. The difference is stark when a less experienced student interacts with an advanced student. The junior can be seen to expend large amounts of energy and use much effort, while the senior appears to be using very little to none.

Initially these techniques are taught as "blocks" because it is easier to understand. However, as the student progresses they will hear comments like "there are no blocks" or  "that technique is not really a block." If the student continues training they will discover that the techniques they have been practicing for years have different applications, that a parry is actually the inception of a counter, not and end in and of itself.

This transformation takes time. It takes time to learn the cadence and rhythm of dynamic interactions. It also takes time to become proficient at understanding the concept of distance and how it pertains to an effective uke. The benefit is that if the student perseveres long enough all of these techniques begin to unfold in their complexity, providing a deeper understanding of what it means when it is said "there is no first strike".

A vivid example of the power of "blocks" was Mas Oyama , the founder of Kyokushin karate. It was  recorded on several occasions that those who would engage in kumite with  him did so at their peril. His "blocks" were so powerful that he did not need to punch and kick.
 It is a level of technique we can all aspire to.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

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