Brazilian jiujitsu is an individual sport, but we can’t train alone. We need good partners, and we need to reciprocate, in order to develop our chosen art. We need to practice on each other in a safe and productive manner, to provide feedback, and to test one another. We need to learn to be a good Uke in order to achieve, and help our teammates achieve, our individual goals.
The term Uke comes from the Japanese sport of Judo, and in the simplest sense means good training partner. But what makes a good partner?
“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 up again.”Dave Lowrey, Sword and Brush: The Spirit of The Martial Arts (1995)
When our partner is learning and drilling a technique, our job isn’t to resist, nor is it to lie limp like a rag-doll. This is a cooperative relationship; a good uke in BJJ finds the perfect balance between allowing them to perform the move, while maintaining a posture similar to what would occur when the technique is executed properly. As our partner’s understanding of the technique improves, the uke can increase resistance, or counter the move with the intent of providing the feedback necessary for refinement.
Even during the free-rolling portion of class, or randori, higher ranking students recognize the benefit of modifying their intensity in order to provide the most beneficial training for them and their partner. The nuance of each pairing should set the tone of the interaction; differences in experience, skill level, age, and size should all be part of the equation.
Being a good uke means striving for the win-win.
See you on the mat