The book is titled, "The Phoenix Tastes a Lot Like Chicken." It is about the Yin aspects of our training.
The Yang aspects, the forms and drills, repetitions and hours we put in are easy to grasp. The subtle unseen aspects of our training are just as important and my go unnoticed. I thought it was time to give them their due.
The Phoenix Tastes a Lot Like Chicken is available on Amazon for the Kindle.
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Below is a chapter from the book, on the value of being on the receiving end of technique practice. Enjoy. If you read the book, please leave a review. It will help me out.
‘Tis Better to Receive Than to Give.
When we watch an aikido demonstration, what catches our attention the most is the performance of the Shite (sh-tay), the “doer” (aka Tori (tor-ree), “controller”; Nage (nah-gay) “thrower” or whatever term your school uses). We pay less attention to the Uke (oo-kay) the “receiver” unless he performs some spectacular break fall. We tend not to give the role of Uke much thought.
In the style of aikido I trained in when I was a young man, we practiced our aikido with a “compliant” uke as opposed to one who “resisted.” Different schools have differing philosophies on training and the use of a compliant uke was our way of doing the techniques for both parties in our budo practice.
When we practice in class, we would take turns playing the role of Shite and Uke. We patiently grind through doing our service as the Uke so that we can once again take the seemingly more interesting role of Shite where we think we’ll develop our “real” aikido skills.
The role of Shite is the Yang aspect of learning aikido, and volumes have been written on how to perform countless techniques. It’s high time we discussed the role of Uke and how that half of our budo practice contributes to the whole.
The Yin aspect of learning aikido is developed by taking the role of Uke. As the Uke, you develop all the fundamental characteristics that are necessary to become a credible Shite.
Just as the Shite measures the distance/relationship between himself and Uke prior to execution of the technique, so must the Uke. The term used is “ma-ai” which means interval. In the simplest terms, this means the distance between the Shite and Uke. To go a little deeper, this is more than just the physical distance between the two participants in the technique, but also denotes a relationship between them.
From the Shites’ perspective, there is an ideal distance between himself and Uke where the latter is too far away to attack him as is, and must move towards Shite in order to make the attack. Shite reveals an opening enticing Uke to attack. By having moved, the Uke leaves an opening for Shite and is now so close that whatever Shite does in response to that attack, Uke has little time to adjust.
Standing on Uke’s side of the interval, we see that he wants to be close enough to do the one thing that will make an aikido technique “work;” to make this repetition right here, now, a learning experience worthy of the two participants: a sincere and committed attack. Anything less and this whole practice of an aikido technique becomes an empty dance where both parties have largely wasted their time.
A sincere and committed attack doesn’t mean however, that the Uke is about to try annihilate the Shite. If you are the Uke in a demonstration with a Master, you have got to give it all you have; but in a class setting with a peer or a junior, your attack must not only be sincere and committed, but appropriate for the type of practice you are undertaking and the relative skill of Shite. Uke must give Shite a sincere attack that he can handle. This develops sensitivity and discernment.
Sincerity, commitment, discernment and sensitivity; now what? What comes next is perhaps the most difficult thing asked of anyone studying a martial art. Most fail in their ability to do this to any great extent. The Uke must set aside his ego and fully submit to Shites’ response to the attack. The Uke must empty his cup.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
To empty one’s cup is probably the first real test in anyone’s martial arts training. It can take many forms: following Shite, setting aside any previous knowledge when joining a dojo to train the way the current instructor says, or any number of things which requires that you set your own ego aside.
If you can’t pass this first test, you probably won’t accomplish much else in your training either.
Wherever Shite leads, Uke sticks, follows and yields. Whatever changes the Shite presents to Uke, he adapts and continues. Uke can’t do just anything “he wants” either. What “he wants” doesn’t matter in the performance of the technique. If he gives up his ego, Uke doesn’t “want” anything other than to flow appropriately with the rest of the technique and be in harmony with Shite, who is leading the way.
Uke must empty himself to respond quickly and appropriately to Shite. This is the very characteristic that one who is playing the role of Shite requires the ability to respond to any attack from any direction and number of opponents. The role of Uke is the most immediate training ground for cultivating this type of mind because he must do it again and again in real time. Trying to think and anticipate will only open the door to falling behind. The only way to keep time is cultivate a calm, clear mind; to be like the proverbial water reflecting the moon with “no gap.”
The harmony between Shite and Uke is where aikido happens; where Budo is practiced. The Yin Yang symbol is complete.
We sometimes hear that “Master X was uchideshi (inside student) to Master Y for n years.” The uchideshi is a special student, an inside student. The uchideshi is typically a live-in student so that he may observe the master throughout the day and absorb lessons from his daily life. The uchideshi is the master’s personal grunt in order to knock down the ego a bit. Most importantly, the uchideshi serves as the master’s personal uke during this period of his training.
Teaching and learning an internal martial art is an intensely personal matter and as you can see the “correct transmission” is literally handed off by touch as one candle is used to light another.
Uke and Shite. Yin and Yang. The practice of Budo. In our daily lives, by learning to stick follow and adapt, to be a good Uke; we develop the qualities that allow us to take positive action like a good Shite when the opportunity is ripe.
The combination of the skill and understanding of both roles, Shite and Uke helps to make us complete.