By Dave Lowry
This article is an excerpt from "Sword And Brush,"
a book detailing martial arts strategic principles
the author considers to be important to a broad range
of Japanese martial arts. In this book he explains
various characters and their meaning in the context
of the martial arts. This excerpt addresses the meaning
of the kanji character "Uke."
the conversation leads to the subject of toughness,
as inevitably it will among young men and women in
transit on the Way, opinions will flow liberally.
This master, it will be recounted, knocked an opponent
senseless with the briefest riposte. That one, someone
will say, uprooted young trees with his bare hands.
Still another will be said to crush stalks of green
bamboo with his bare hands. Comparative feats of strength
are presented as proof of toughness in these conversations,
especially those among younger bugeisha (a student
of old style martial arts). The more senior exponents,
however, tend to have a different way of measuring
toughness. With experience
comes too, the knowledge that toughness is less a
matter of dishing it out and is really more the ability
experience comes too, the knowledge that toughness
is less a matter of dishing it out and is really
more the ability to receive."
Uke is a pictographic kanji (Japanese character),
one written to depict two hands, one reaching down,
the other stretching up, and between them is placed
the character for "boat." This "conveyance
of goods from one person to another" became,
over the centuries, the kanji to indicate the act
of "receiving." The bugeisha uses the word
frequently. In grappling bugei, the method of falling
safely are collectively called "ukemi,"
the "receiving body." In judo terminology,
the exponent thrown is "uke," the "receiver."
Of the pair in karate practice, the one under attack
is the "ukete," the "receiving hand."
In kendo, the defender is "ukedachi," the
In these and other expressions in the bugei lexicon,
the importance of the term "uke" is significant.
It is commonly mistranslated in judo circles as the
"taker" of a technique.
Uke is thrown and so is considered the "loser"
in this way of thinking.
be on the uke end of training is not to be passively
accepting of the technique. It is instead the
attitude of receiving, meeting the throw on
one's own terms."
To understand that "uke" means more exactly
"to receive" opens new views for the practitioner.
To be on the uke end of training is not to be passively
accepting of the technique. It is instead the attitude
of receiving, meeting the throw on one's own terms.
The mentality of the uke is not one of resignation
or worse yet, of stubborn resistance. The uke flows,
absorbs the force of the throw, and while he does
fall, his ukemi does not necessarily signal defeat.
His fall is one he controls. He receives -- and bounces
The term "ukete" in karate and "ukedachi"
in kendo are subject to a similarly misleading translation.
Here they are thought of incorrectly as designating
the participant who "blocks" an attack.
Not so. The "ukekata," or "receiving
forms" of kendo and karate require a receiving
of the incoming force in order to redirect it away
or to use it to come back against the attacker.
In the mature training hall will be very senior bugeisha,
older men and women, and they can be seen happily
taking falls or blows, over and over, from children
trainees. Against adolescent members, young and full
of themselves, the senior will be just as complacent,
mildly taking all the excess energy of youth without
a bruise or wince, until, among the brightest of the
youngsters, will come the realization that there is
something more to all this activity than it seems.
They will, some of them, begin to suspect that the
toughness of these older bugeisha is a thing yet to
be discovered out there along the way. They will have
begun to see the true toughness of receiving.
About The Author:
Dave Lowry is a writer and historian specializing
in Japan and traditional Japanese culture. He has
been a student of the modern and classical martial
disciplines of Japan since 1968 - including karate,
aikido, the bo and kenjitsu. His columns have appeared
for years in a variety of martial arts magazines
and he is also an accomplished calligrapher. His
books include "Sword and Brush - The Spirit
of the Martial Arts" and "Autumn Lightning:
The Education of an American Samurai".
permission of Dave Lowry.
Copyright © Dave Lowry. All rights reserved.
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