” If all you are, are uke in your martial arts career and survive. Then, you have succeeded as a martial artist !”


To write about being an uke, or for that manner, anything about budo is extremely difficult. One cannot even hope to express fully the reaches of the soul to explain it’s travels. Regardless, I will pass on my thoughts at this present time in regards to being uke for your teachers.

When I say teachers, I mean every person that you engage in training with. I do not limit my teachers to the men who stand in the middle of the dojo. The closest teacher you will have during each training session will be your training partner for that day. If one can think like this, then you will be looking at developing a common wave length to connect in both mind and body to truly get the most from your training. This does not mean that you firstly question your partner about their life, but “feel” for a commonality between you both and drive toward creating a harmony.


Being uke is about cleansing yourself. It’s about controlling your mind and body and unifying yourself ( shin gi tai ichi ). Being uke is not about trying to “beat your opponent up”, or ” fight them”. Being an uke is training. We are training in the principles of taijutsu. We are training to make use of the kihon ( punches, kicks, kamae, ukemi, cuts, etc ) We are aiming to deliver effective, and straight attacks at the right distance with an awareness of timing and flow. Being uke is about understanding your Kihon. The better your kihon, the better your training experience.


” Training is a promise. You trust that your partner won’t hurt you, and you do so in return. Take things slow and practise them properly. It will do you no good to creat bad habits by practising improperly. There are countelss ways to punch, but you as Uke, you should punch straight and true  for the beneift of your tori – none of those tracking, side-like punches that  float all over the place. That type of punching does not benefit anyone.”


Nagato Shihan

If a person is not able to be a good uke, than he has no chance of understanding the budo he endevours to learn. Learning budo requires one to understand the relationship and feeling of both victory and defeat. There are two sides to everything, and budo is no exception.

Understanding and performing the role of uke requires the student to relinquish the ego. If one cannot do this, than they will only be able to learn %50 of what it means to study Taijutsu. To hold onto ones ego actually, is a means of  ” killing oneself “. The abililty to absorb attacks requires one to release ones conscious mind to the point of responding subconsciously. To do this, one must move away from ones desires.

People who are unable to accept the role of uke hold fear within themselves. To be able to perform sutemi, one must transcend fear and move forward with a single mind. This feeling to me, is required for a good uke and tori training relationship. If you cannot forget yourself, and move forward with a mind of ” giving “, you are holding back your discovery of the self and budo. As an uke, you are giving yourself for the betterment of not just your tori’s life, but for your’s and possibly those who are viewing your training. You must look at the greater picture! Training is not just about you. Training as uke is about assisting everyone in obtaining a better life and understanding of living.


There are diseases in people. These diseases are shown in their taijutsu. It is shown greatly during their role as uke. Please watch people carefully. Your ability to understand budo is from obtaining a healthy, natural understanding of both the role of uke and tori.

Many people  (of generally higher ranks ) from my observations give no energy when being uke. As a result, the partner is unable to assimilate the “feeling” of the waza. Why? Budo is about fighting. Budo is about energy. Fighting is energy. You have to give energy that is focused with a sence of conviction or committment. This energy is not malicious, but is energy that enables the tori to feel for the correct taijutsu. What I am trying to say is that there are people who just put their arm out like a wet and dead fish and just let it droop with a dead limp whenever someone tries to perform a waza. What is this!!!???? Is that a realistic feeling for two people engaged in a possible life and death situation?!

These people hold selfish desires through their insecurities. There is no use trainin with someone like this. Sometimes these people fancy themselves as teachers and like to show you that you cannot do it. If you experience someone like this in training. Reply by moving your body the same way and tell them that you are just mimicking them! If they don’t get it, train with someone else, or hit them!

Some people like to purposely change the attacks to make it difficult for you, or counter everything you do. If this happens, you must never do what they expect. From the beginning, you both have viewed your teacher and will go and try to emulate their teachings. If your training partner changes the attack constantly, how can you learn what was shown? The person changing is adhering to their own ego and has their own agenda. Don’t waste your time or money. They are only concerned about their own training, not yours.

Soke often asks us to accept new things and forever evolve by not becoming obstinate or adhering to ones desires. Those with the in-ablility to rid themselves of debiliating desires will forever be immersed in ego and have a strong sence of competitivness with everyone. We can often see this in the dojo.

To be uke, means understanding the opposite side of life. It means coming to terms with ones true character, personality, and heart. The tests of being uke are in fact sometimes greater than that of being tori. To recieve physical pain is one aspect, but to endure the psychological element is far greater. Being an uke is a spiritual path. You feel your emotions, and have to learn to control them at all times. Ukeship is an incredible journey.


Many people cannot endure pain or discomfort. Many of these people have been training in the martial arts for a long time and are highly ranked. Noone likes pain, but when it comes to learning budo, there is no way to avoid it. Pain is an indicator that you are still alive, so be thank full !! Perservering with strenuous training gives you the chance to develop your character, learn about your body, and how to let go of your ego.

A balanced character is important. Uke that are too soft, are not realistic. So to are those who resist everything. For those that have endured real fights, we know that the body has moments of intense strength and also moments of relaxation. For the professional or experienced fighter, the effective use of energy is important to last the distance, especially if there are many attackers. There are many more aspects that can be discussed in regards to topic.

In one experience at a seminar, I asked my uke to throw a basic right punch. My uke threw two punches insetad? I will cut a long story short….Do what your teachers asks you! If you want to fight or test teacher, do it outside. If you pay money and want to learn, do what your teacher says! Isn’t it obvious that he has a plan to teach a particular point or two or three?! I’ll put this to you. Would you throw wild hay maker punches at Nagato shihan if he asked you to grab him by the collar? No need to answer that one, eh.

We are told to “show” our partner his openings or “suki”, but this doesn’t mean that we should knock his block off! You can see some people take great pleasure in showing that their training partner has a weakpoint. Remember. Two can play at that game!

Training in the Bujinkan Hombu is unique. Every martial art around the world has it’s own unique training manner. What is important is to train according to what is expected at each school. When in Rome, do as the Romans do! Many Bujinkan dojo’s around the world train according to their culture or the desire / experiences of their teacher.This is fine. What is important is that we transcend individual desires and follow the path of this Japanese budo as closely to the Japanese Shitenno and Soke as possible. If we do not, then we are doing our own thing!


Also, over committing with strikes or under committing is not balanced ( unless desired to study a particular waza ). The important thing is to have the right mind. In the Bujinkan, we can see a varied level of skill in regards to uke and attacking. Nagato Sensei himself has said that there are very few people in the Bujinkan that has shown any real skill in attacking. This is appalling really isn’t it.

Many people believe that self defence is learning to defend against punches and kicks, and not that of learning how to do them! Real budo is about balance. And this means that one must understand and have skill in all elements of fighting. Hence, we have the 18 skills of the Togakure ryu Ninja.


There are many, many things to consider in regards to being uke. You should love being uke, and love having the chance to feel the teachings of the ninja traditions from your teacher. The ninja were masters of ukemi, and therefore we need to put ourselves in as many situations as possible to learn and develop our skills. You learn about distance, angles, timing, kyojutsu, and more. By enjoying the role of uke, you will learn and also appreciate a greater training experience and feeling for life and relationships.

I could write for longer on my thoughts about being uke. I will endevour to write some more at a later date when the feeling arises naturally.

My words regarding training are from personal experience. For me, I have been lucky ( along side many, many others ) to endure being uke for the many great teachers of the Bujinkan. I’d like to think my approach to training has helped me recieve these expriences. Of course, everyone is different. So, please follow your own path and keep going.


Gambattee Kudasai


6 Responses to “Uke”

  1. marshal Says:

    At this time in my training and as class uke i believe i might have needed to read this article. It gave a depth to things i have trained with that have gone unnoticed to me. Action speaks louder than words so verbs are the loudest words!

  2. […] during this search that my shihan recommended I read Duncan Stewart’s blog entitled “Uke” (  Shihan Stewart’s thoughts resonated with me, and from his writing I found exactly what I was […]

  3. Thank you Duncan for the great insights. I have found that when I work with a partner who is difficult or egotistical, that I learn a great deal about myself. Usually this happens a few days later, after I finally get over my own ego! haha!

  4. alexander hajtmanek Says:

    Duncan is brilliant , so is his training ,it was a highlight in our japan trip,
    being uke is what makes tori complete, we form a one together which is budo and life itself!
    Hope to see you this year, Duncan, thank you !

    alexander hajtmanek, frankfurt/germany

  5. […] Steward เกี่ยวกับอุเคะที่ Be a good uke ในการฝึกศิลปะการต่อสู้ […]

  6. I am new to the Bujinkan and I am very pleased to have my teacher try to emulate Duncan. I can see why he chose you to follow. He often says “Do what Duncan does”. After reading this, I will certainly volunteer to be Uke as much as possible, and practice my Ukemi in all aspects of my life. Thank you for your insights.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: