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Don’t Change the Problem

Cultivating good uke (oo-kay) skills is a critical component to good To-shin Do training and developing reliably effective technique. This is a rather expansive topic and far too complex for one short writing such as this. That said, here is one of the most frustrating things you can slip into that will foul up your training and your partners’ as well.

Changing the problem often occurs in one of two ways. On numerous teaching occasions I have set up a particular scenario, involving a specific attack, for which the technique I was focused on was an appropriate solution. It often does not take long for one or a couple of students to start pulling the lesson down the “what if” rabbit hole. “But what if he grabs with his left? What if he grabs with his thumb down? What if he doesn’t grab but pushes instead? What if he grabs with both hands?” If you’ve been training for a while you have probably been there. While these are all valid questions, at some point you have to pick one problem to work on. As the attacks (the problems) change, so must the solutions. It is very frustrating and can be very misleading to force an inappropriate solution on to a problem just because you happen to be working on a particular technique at the time.

The second way that I see the “changing the problem” issue manifest in training is a result of either lack of awareness or lack of experience. In the case of a lack of awareness it is often just plain not paying attention. For example, I am still amazed at how often I still have a dismayed student ask me for help with a failing technique only to discover that the uke was attacking with a left hand when the solution was offered as a response to a right hand attack.

In the case of lack of experience it is most often a student who has just never been in a position where they were never required to or chose to do violence to another human being. This is simply innocent ignorance and should be respected, and in some respects admired. In any case, in terms of training, it results in an inability to deliver a realistic attack. This frequently presents unrealistic energy, body position, timing and distancing. The frustrating product, for both teachers and students, is that training time is wasted solving problems that will most likely never occur.

The third way that this challenge can show up in training is the most insidious and the most difficult to tolerate. I find it especially disappointing when I see a student who is supposed to be assuming the role of uke (attacker – whose job it is to assist their partner in understanding how to make a technique successful), refuse to allow their partner to win. Of course at the higher levels of training, and during free response randori, you do not want your uke to just “give” you the technique. Here I am referring to those times when the defender is just trying to figure out how a technique works. To me this signals an ego problem, which is another massive and infinitely complex topic. It does not indicate a high level of skill to change the problem on your partner when you already know what they are intending to do, in fact I believe it often indicates the opposite.

The moral of the story here is to be vigilant and avoid this frustrating and diminishing training trap. The ability to deliver a realistic attack at a reasonable speed that allows your partner to engage in effective training is really a cultivated skill. It is a critical part of your training. Do your very best to model good uke skills. Ask your teachers for coaching. Your partner will greatly appreciate it, and so will you when they reciprocate.

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