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April 11, 2000
By Scott Anderson

Part 1: Submisions

Even the rawest rookie in judo, sombo, or jujitsu learns to tap out when his or her partner applies a submission or finishing technique. “Tap or snap,” has no place in any serious, proficient training room. Tapping is a symbiotic agreement between two training partners, so that both practitioners may learn the techniques thoroughly and SAFELY. Most people have full time jobs and can’t afford time off for needless silly injuries caused by ego or poor judgement. Accidents do happen, but accidents are minimized with caution, consideration, and good judgement.

Uke is providing valuable feedback and training to tori. If a technique is not applied ballistically, but incrementally, uke is teaching tori the exact amount of pressure that is needed to submit uke or to begin to cause uke damage. If uke toughs it out until she is damaged, tori is cheated out of learning his technique correctly. Also, tori may unwittingly begin to compensate for uke’s poor judgement and not apply the technique properly and without the proper controlled power, or he may apply the technique with insufficient power or follow through for the technique to be effective. This could hurt tori’s performance in competition or in self-defense. Uke is learning to know when uke is in trouble and how to handle being in caught in a painful or dangerous technique. As the technique is applied, uke can learn to detect the signs that her body is getting into trouble and about to be harmed. To wait for the proper moment to tap takes poise and experience that may serve uke well in competition or on the street while teaching her not to panic in a fight. More importantly, uke is learning in what situations uke is in trouble, and when uke has to act to prevent a painful lock from being applied to her.

Some law enforcement practitioners are known to apply an extra quarter crank to their techniques after uke taps. This is part of their training for the street. If you aren’t in their organization, but you are practicing with someone working under these guidelines, there is nothing wrong with anticipating the painful part of their technique and tapping early. In this case, you are not cheating your partner out of valuable training. Your partner is a professional (at least in this narrow arena) and should be adjusting his techniques to his partner’s skills, etc. The same holds true for instructors. No one should have painful techniques applied after they have tapped. That is abuse.

The glue that holds this training convention together is not belt rank but trust. If tori is being thrown with koda gaeshi, there is no tap required because the throw is relieving the pressure of the wrist lock. Once uke hits the mat and tori carefully begins to apply a wrist or arm lock, uke should be prepared to tap at the proper moment. Uke can afford to do this because tori is obligated to apply the submission technique with control and incremental pressure. Tori is responsible for giving uke a clean landing and preserving uke’s joints through the full range of motion on the ground. Last but not least, turn about is fair play. Uke and tori alternate between being uke and tori. Tori should be aware of exactly how the technique feels when it is being applied, so he gets to be uke. Knowing that your turn as uke is next, is a great reminder to be compassionate and not betray uke’s trust by applying unnecessary force.

Part 2: Learning Throws

Who can be your worst partner when learning to throw? You can. First, you may lack patience. It takes time and correct repetitions to learn a technique fully and properly. Bad habits take about three weeks of conscious training to change. Bad technique is a bad habit. No serious practitioner (even if you are doing it for fun) has three weeks to do something over if it can be helped. Second, you may not take the time to understand each part of the technique and how to accomplish it. Take the time and effort to master it, and you will be able to eliminate most bad habits up front. That is why having a competent and patient instructor is valuable. We all need feedback to improve.

Your fastest speed for doing a technique is the fastest that you can do it without sacrificing form. If you are hurting your form, you are ruining your technique, and that comes with the three week penalty built in. The more times that you do the technique correctly, the better your form will be when you are very tired or in danger. The better form means less effort that you will need to perform the technique. Your energy and wind should last longer. Lastly, you and your uke will stand a better chance of practicing injury free.

Injury free technique maximizes everyone’s training time. In practice, do not force techniques. Blowing out someone’s knee because you had bad form and no patience but all the power and body weight is not good training. It is good kill or be killed training, but it is not considerate training. If you keep breaking your ukes, you will get a reputation, and you will run out of ukes. The last self destructive training mode usually occurs with women or smaller male practitioners who are learning martial arts for self defense. Their assumption is that they must prove all of their techniques by using only the largest of ukes. Actually, this is just another path to bad form. Learn the technique properly with an uke properly sized to train with you, and after mastering the technique for your size, learn its variants to include with larger opponents. I am not a proponent of the throwing line in our class format as a training device for the reasons stated above. Throwing a bunch of mismatched practitioners (skill and size) into a dynamic and often ballistic environment is dangerous. If class sizes were large enough, I would recommend having separate throwing lines for light weights, middle weights, and upper weights. The mixed bag of skills and weights can be saved for belt testing under more controlled situations like the four corners drills.

Part 3: The Bad Uke

There are three types of bad ukes. The first of these believes that martial arts are not martial arts if they don’t hurt. To be fair, this character is as interested in feeling his own pain as in dishing it out to you. This is not a virtue. Sweet reason will not work on these characters, and retaliation just eggs them on. Save yourself the trouble and talk to the instructor at the first opportunity. Don’t be complacent with any unsafe situation. If you cannot correct the problem yourself, it is the instructor’s obligation to do so. The instructor or senior belt present must ensure safety in the training area. That can’t happen if a problem is kept secret. The second bad uke believes that he is helping you the most by sabotaging all of your techniques. He counters your slow motion by going seven per cent faster in spite of the fact that it is your turn-you were supposed to know to cheat and go faster than slow because on the street… He counters your technique even when he is not supposed to because on the street…

When you simulate your strike, he pretends that he is superman and refuses to react to the simulation. If you are striking the stomach to get him to lean forward, so you can execute an arm lock, he will stare at your simulated tummy punch and possibly do an unplanned technique to keep you on your toes while providing you no energy for the practice throw. He is not a partner. Again, that is another great reason to have a good instructor around because the only other option to regain your proper training is to not simulate the strike. The third and worst bad uke is the jumper. The jumper often means well and usually really wants your techniques to look good. Unfortunately, he also usually wants everyone to know that he has mastered ukemi, and that he is the one making you look good. He violates the first rule of uke-hood: he jumps for no reason-whether the technique will work or not.

He has no idea what your technique is because he doesn’t wait to find out. Instead, he jumps with all the grace of his best breakfall accompanied by a tremendous slap of the mat. A good uke may be graceful while “naturally” reacting to tori’s technique. That is excellent training for both practitioners. The jumper never lets tori execute his techniques and can find a way to turn tori’s osoto gari into tomoe nage. In short, once again, tori is being robbed of his training uchikomi (fit ins) and being put in a dangerous situation for both practitioners. The jumper may unbalance tori by applying improper energy to the technique. For example, tori is executing taiotoshi. Just prior to the point when tori will lean forward with the technique to throw uke, uke jumps. This may cause tori to fall-usually onto uke who will let everyone know that it must have been tori’s fault for his sore ribs.

What is the prescription?-- the same trust and cooperation that tori and uke use when tapping out. Uke is obligated to know how to fall and should be able to survive any reasonably clean and controlled throw. Those nifty colored belts that we wear do indicate the type of falls that each practitioner should be able to absorb. If in doubt, tori should inform uke of each attempted throw by name in advance of attempting it and ask if uke is prepared to handle that fall. Why should tori do this?-because tori is obligated to give uke the best landing scenario possible.

Uke and tori are esoteric terms that correspond to throwee and thrower. Myself, I like partners for my own terminology, but that may be my wrestling background. On the other hand, I do like to think of those that practice with me as partners because we are investing time, trust, and effort into our mutual training.