Black and Blue

As I’m sure you know, three karateka in our club are testing for their black belts in March. As part of their test, they must demonstrate all of the defense techniques on an uke, and I was honored to be asked by Phil to be his uke for the test. This past Saturday was the first black belt practice session that required the use of an uke. I went in expecting it to be our provisional black belts, a few others from the dojo who are testing, and their ukes who I assumed would be of intermediate rank like me. The actual turnout was quite different from my expectations. There are a lot more black belts associated with our organization than I realized, and it seemed like they all showed up for the practice. It was an impressive and humbling experience to be in the dojo and train with two dozen black belts, especially considering that as a blue belt, I was the lowest rank there and one of only three who didn’t have a black belt.

During basics at the beginning of class, Hanshi noticed that a few of the students were executing their back-knuckles incorrectly. One by one, he asked them to perform it, and promptly told them that their technique wouldn’t work. Finally, he asked me to demonstrate it. Much to my relief, he approved of my strike. I think this speaks to the quality of Renshi Mike’s teaching, and I wanted to take time to mention it. I’m very grateful to have him as our teacher (and not just because it kept me from embarrassing myself in front of Hanshi and two dozen black belts). I hope you are too.

I learned a lot from the experience, especially by paying attention when one of the senior black belts would offer constructive criticism to one of the provisional black belts training for their test. Their comments highlighted things that I hadn’t even considered about the techniques. For example, in the advanced applications of the defense sets, the standard “poke, kick, kiah” ending is not always the most effective way to finish the technique. Based on your position near the end of the technique, it often proved much more effective to throw your opponent. It was interesting and very beneficial to see what students at the black belt level were working on.

In general, I learn a lot from being an uke. After I’ve gotten the basic sequence of moves down for a technique, I find that the thing that helps improve my technique the most is having it done to me by someone who has already mastered it. I encourage the newer students to really pay attention when they’re being an uke for someone. Don’t just wait until it’s your turn to try it out. Every experience is an opportunity to learn – take advantage of it. When you’re an uke, ask yourself: What makes the technique effective? What’s happening to your center of gravity? What is it about your two positions that makes THEM in control? What hurts? What can you do from your position? More importantly, what CAN’T you do from your position? Asking these questions will help you uncover the key of the technique, and applying the lessons to your own technique is the best way I’ve found to improve it.

2 Responses to “Black and Blue”
  1. Sensei says:

    Nice post Bo. I spent a lot of years as an uke to advanced students and often would seek out the more experienced, not only because I knew they had greater control of the techniques, but because of their mastery of them. So often, just after having the technique done on me, I would immediately ask them to do it again “a little slower”, “right there”, “go back”, “do it again, please”. I contribute my jujitsu skills to this way of training – learning from feeling where the pain is, at what point, and as you mentioned all the other questions that should run through your head as you are having the technique(s) applied to you. Yes, you can learn a great deal by being the uke.

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