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YAKUSOKU-KEIKO: The NAGE and UKE Relationship in AIKIDO Training

AIKIDO technique elbow lock

When we train in AIKIDO, we use the KATA method of training.  That is, after the SENSEI has demonstrated the attack and defense, and demonstrated the role he/she expects the NAGE (the person performing a defensive technique) and UKE (the person attacking) to perform, we pair up with a partner and alternate the roles of NAGE and UKE. It is important to understand that this KATA form we use is not a contest between NAGE and UKE in which they “compete” with each other, but rather it is a controlled situation that both parties should learn from.  

A proper understanding of the role of both NAGE and UKE is very important for the training to be beneficial to both.​There is a clear distinction between real life and what happens on the DOJO mat.  In real life an attacker would not willingly give you an opening and will probably vigorously resist NAGE’s attempt to apply an Aikido technique.  

In the DOJO, the roles of NAGE and UKE are fixed and the outcome decided beforehand.  ​The role of the UKE should be to try to realistically apply an attack and receive from the NAGE the technique being practiced – that is to take or receive UKEMI.  The NAGE’s role is to throw or apply the Aikido principle or technique to counter the attack.  If UKE applies a weak attack or resists unnecessarily, or if NAGE throws or applies the technique with unreasonable force, neither will learn properly from this.  With the proper cooperation between the NAGE and UKE, the NAGE will hopefully learn to apply the technique in a fluid and effective manner.  By reversing roles, this allows both partners to experience both the “giving” and the “receiving” side, and will allow both partners to learn.  This is only possible when both NAGE and UKE clearly understand what their respective roles should be.​

This practice or training can be slow and gentle for (or with) beginners, and more forceful and faster among more advanced students.  Each AIKIDO-KA (Aikido student) is different with varying levels of physical skills and experience, which makes each training experience unique.  The execution of proper KIHON WAZA (beginner’s level practice) will hopefully promote an understanding of the fundamental principles behind Aikido.  Negative force will not be met with opposing force but joined (MUSUBI or connection), controlled  MA-AI (or spacing) and redirected (IRIMI-TENKAN or entered turning) through the power and balance of spiral movement, KOKYU (or breath power), ZANSHIN (or martial awareness), control or your own center, off-balance your partner’s center (KUZUSHI)  and control of the technique being practiced. ​

Developing good AIKIDO skills depends not on an individual’s skillfulness, but on steady and continuous training.  With faithful practice and continuous training, both NAGE and UKE will develop strength, resistance and mental calmness that will allow you to control your own body and that of your attacker.