A post by Sensei Ando Mierzwa entitled “What I learned from Getting Beat Up” inspired me to write this post. At the beginning of his post, he says “As a martial artist, I’ve taken more than a few beatings… and I’m thankful for every single one. Why? Because getting beat up teaches you lessons you can’t learn any other way.”

I feel the same way!

Ask any Master of Tapi-Tapi about their times training with the late Professor Remy Presas and all of them will tell you that Professor taught them the old school way. Not one of them regret it as they really learned the art of Modern Arnis hands on. Some may call it brutal. Others will just shrug their shoulders and say “What better way is there to learn?”

The Masters would all invariably say “when I got there, the beatings commenced” with a nostalgic smile on their faces. Let me tell you, all of them are tremendous Modern Arnis players and could not have gotten to their level of expertise without those experiences.

Having trained with Master Chuck Gauss and having been his uke (receiver of a technique) at many seminars and camps, I can say that it’s the best way to learn an art. Moreover, that involves beatdowns and being thrown around like a rag doll! I’ve seen more than a few stars along the way. You know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.  As uke, you definitely get a feel for what the art is supposed to feel.

The first time I was uke for Master Chuck was at a seminar in Dayton, Ohio in August of 1998. He only demonstrated basic material on me at this seminar as I was a relative beginner in Modern Arnis. A turning point was the June 2000 camp at Rice University in Houston, Texas. It was customary for some attendees to present Modern Arnis demonstrations in front of camp attendees and, most importantly, in front of Professor. During this camp, Master Chuck asked me if I would help him do his demo.

Turning Point

A turning point was the June 2000 camp at Rice University in Houston, Texas. It was customary for some attendees to present Modern Arnis demonstrations in front of camp attendees and, most importantly, in front of Professor. During this camp, Master Chuck asked me if I would help him do his demonstration.

Me: “What are you going to demonstrate?

Master Chuck: “Just some tapi tapi.

Me: “Ok, when are we going to rehearse?

Master Chuck: “Nah, we don’t need to rehearse, Don’t worry about it, just follow me.

Me: (Gulp). “Um, okay.

(for those not familiar with the term “tapi tapi”, it refers to “counter for counter” play.) 

To put that conversation in context, I hardly knew any tapi tapi at that time. Moreover, the fact that Master Chuck didn’t feel the need to rehearse made me feel nervous. I mean, we were demonstrating in front of the Founder and Grandmaster for crying out loud! I was nervous all day long and kept telling myself “just relax and go with the flow.” Much to my relief, the demonstration went off without a hitch and Professor complimented me on keeping up with Master Chuck.

A lighter moment in the middle of a technique demonstration! Photograph by Estelle Sullivan

From that point on, I was uke for Master Chuck at many camps and seminars (including a memorable demonstration inside a kickboxing ring at a martial arts tournament at another Houston camp) and have trained with him in private as well. Being uke is a valuable learning experience. You learn many things close up; how joint locks are supposed to feel, the timing and rhythm of various techniques, the flow, the basics, subtleties in footwork, positioning, angling, body manipulation etc. In short, you feel many aspects of the art up close. And there are the beatdowns!

That said, let’s turn to:

Tips For Being Uke

(1) You’re there to help teach the art, nothing more. I’ve seen YouTube videos of ukes purposely messing up the instructor’s demo.  That said, it doesn’t always end well. Don’t be that idiot.

(2) Relax; don’t force anything.

(3) It’s always a good idea to check with the instructor to see what they have in mind when demonstrating. “Oh, so that’s what you’re going to demo next?”

All the above is just common sense. But what about what to watch for while being uke? Maybe he’s doing a technique you’ve seen a thousand times. Stifle that internal yawn because this is the time to pay attention!  Watch for:

(a) Variations of a technique;

(b) Variations in timing and rhythm;

(c) Variations in speed and tempo;

(d) Variations in angling footwork;

(e) How the technique is connected to another concept;

(f) How an effective joint lock feels;

Ouch! 🙂

(4) Listen carefully to the instructor:  Verbal cues will tip you off as to whether the instructor wants to slow down his demonstration or speed it up.

(5) No resistance: unless the instructor explicitly asks for resistance, don’t. Remember, you’re helping the instructor demonstrate a technique or a concept.

(6) Be respectful: To look bored, desultory, or going half-assed is quite disrespectful. Therefore, look alive and engaged when helping your instructor!

(7) Watch out for that impromptu tapi tapi demo that may happen;  Remember, there’s always some variation or unseen technique that you can mentally file away. I can’t tell you how many times I saw something completely new while Master Chuck was demonstrating a familiar technique. If you start to say to yourself “I know that already,” remind yourself that you don’t!

(8) Check out how the instructor flows from one technique to another. There might be something that makes you say “hmmm…I need to work on that”;

(9) Pay attention to body manipulation techniques. From afar, some techniques may seem a bit difficult to pull off. But a tweak here and there may transform that technique from a moderately difficult one into an amazingly simple technique. Feeling that difference is one of the benefits of being uke. For example, at the last Toronto Modern Arnis camp, Master Chuck introduced some judo concepts to incorporate into Modern Arnis. Being uke and being able to feel his judo techniques was invaluable.

(10) Don’t just go up and help the instructor demonstrate the technique and then just walk away.  Ask questions. Most instructors are happy to answer your questions. “Hey, you did this neat thing while demonstrating this technique. Can you show me again?”

Over to you, can you think of other things to watch for while being uke? Let’s hear your answers!

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6 thoughts on “10 Tips For Being Uke

  • February 24, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Wow, thank you very much for writing this! Usually it’s bigger, more senior students who get to be uke, but occasionally I’m called up in front of class. The most interesting thing that happened recently was along the lines of your #7 (impromptu). Sensei was demonstrating range while I pretty much just chilled in fighting stance. Nothing’s gonna hit (yawn). Kicking range (light block). Punching range (light block). “And in some styles of Karate, they get even closer!” Full out sparring with Sensei grinning maniacally in my face! Yike! Sensei controlled the distance so I didn’t have to think about it myself, and boy, it was very interesting fighting way closer than is usual for our style! I couldn’t help but grin back after a few seconds of adjustment. The rest of the class thought it was fun to watch 🙂

    • February 24, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Joelle, thanks for sharing your experience. I think that you probably had a maniacal grin at the end of that impromptu session! 🙂

      • February 24, 2015 at 1:12 pm

        Yep, and shaking with suppressed laughter ’cause it wasn’t the time or place 🙂 Fortunately, I had a minute to stop laughing while we scrambled to get mouth guards and fist pads on 🙂 So yeah – be prepared for the completely unexpected!

  • February 25, 2015 at 4:01 am

    I’m honored by the mention, sir– thank you!

    When I started training, I didn’t realize that being chosen as the uke was an honor. The teacher wants you to feel the technique in order to give you a deeper understanding than those who just watch and listen. I noticed that some teachers would never demonstrate on certain students… invariably, the ones who were unfocused or disrespectful. The beauty is they didn’t even realize they were missing out!

    Lesson: It always pays to show good respect. And sometimes hurts!

    • March 8, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Sensei Ando, somehow I missed your comment! Don’t know how! But, yes, I agree that being uke is an honor. I’ve noticed the same thing about instructors choosing never to demonstrate on some students for the same reasons that you’ve noted.

  • Pingback: 10 Tips To Avoid Killing Your Uke :-) - Bamboo Spirit Martial Arts

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