The Relationship between Uke and Nage in Aikido

In 2001 Tom Read and Kimberly Richardson Senseis exchanged thoughts about the role of uke and nage’s role in our aikido practice.  What I learned in this conversation continues to be relevant fifteen years later.  Below are a few excerpts from our exchanges.

On May 1, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

In high-level Aikido, uke and nage are both working on the same thing. Uke is (at least momentarily) caught in illusion, evident in the moment that he forms intent to attack an 'external.' Nage is like uke in the sense that nage is commonly caught in or at least always in danger of falling into, illusion. But in the Origin, at the core of Existence (the source of the Stream of Creation), there is no external. Regardless of appearance, the entire universe is Subjective.


On May 1 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

As my understanding of the uke-nage rapport deepens, I feel that in the moment of connection there was a seamless unification between both parties.  However as I read your first paragraph I need to look more deeply to see how nage is like uke – commonly caught.  Perhaps this resembles how nage may be standing at the bus stop minding his own business and then out of nowhere an attack comes.  He is caught, if even for a snatch of a moment, by surprise, he’s caught and must garner his spirit to blend with the circumstances.  You can let me know if I am in the ballpar.


On May 3, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

It is the activity of the Known that hides the deeply seated essential oneness. For uke to succeed in his intent to attack, the 'external' must actually exist, but since it doesn't, uke's attempt to attack the 'external', to split this 'oneness', is something that it cannot do. Therefore all attacks are inherently flawed. That is why O Sensei said 'the opponent is defeated before he has begun', and 'he is injured by his own intent to strike.'


On May 3 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

I am not sure what you mean by the first sentence: ‘The Known.’ But the remaining part of your point above makes sense to me.  The moment one has intent to attack he/she is out of balance.  The notion that there is an enemy is the ever unfolding illusion we face in our lives. We are all inherently connected and the idea that we are separate is fallacious (although our culture certainly attempts to refute that as often as possible) - - the attack is a defective act of ignorance.


On May 3, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

Instead of looking at the Aikido interaction as people commonly do, with uke attacking nage, and nage throwing uke, it is possible to view the whole situation as one in which both are engaged in a high-stakes effort to move beyond illusion and come to see into the heart of Existence, into an order which is beyond illusion altogether. In this vital (and critically important) effort, Aikido techniques can be seen as pre-existing both uke and nage.


On May 3 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

You are describing a day when Aikido will be understood primarily as an art of seeing the truth of our nature and how we might use the art to ‘practice’ how to be in synch with ourselves and our natural world?


On May 3, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

When uke makes the decision to 'externalize' nage, and forms intent to cross space, a curvilinear trajectoral line is 'selected' out of the potential field, and that line represents the optimal means of energy management by which nage can capture, redirect, and ultimately return to uke his mistaken expression of energy. This isn't idealism. The more you look at Aikido this way, seeing with an intuitive very real part of yourself that there truly is a pre-existent 'line' of perfection that is 'selected', and 'comes into being' the moment of uke's commitment to his intent to attack, the less attention you pay to uke in the particular, and the more your attention dives deeply into the unknown.


On May 3 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

Of the many tenets I have gleaned from you, one of the more important realizations is that the moment uke commits to the attack, the attempt to connect, all possible lines of action slim down to one possibility.  The more I read uke with this in mind, the less I relate to him personally and the more I work the field of energy that we share and how I can direct the lines that precede his physicality.


On May 6, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

Aikido techniques share a very characteristic set of 'shapes', spirals, commonly occurring curves.... I think it is important to wonder why. When I teach, I often point out the logarithmic spiral, for example, because it is commonly at the root of technique. That spiral is a pre-existent structure of Creation itself; it isn't something that I, or anybody else, has created, or ever could. Yet it lies at the heart of nearly all aikido technique.


On May 7 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

I love what you are saying here. Tai ji has given me a place to study shaping and spiraling by myself, sometimes in a gorgeous natural setting where I reach my arms up to the sky and imitate the cloud formations as they pass across the sky.  Last Thursday afternoon a windstorm swept through Seattle and the giant douglas fir in our backyard swooned wildly about in the sky. I must have spent an hour watching the massive branches of that venerable tree storm waves fold in on themselves and then stretch away from the trunk. I pretend I am that tree when I practice my forms.


On May 7, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

There are many other 'preformal structures', some of them existent because they express the preference of the Origin, and others coming into being due to the ongoing force of Intelligence known as intent. Whether or not they know it, in their martial arts practice, nage and uke (of every style) are united in the attempt to internalize and align with the optimal curvatures of space, because it is the way to non-resistant power. Most importantly, informed high-level study allows the mind to enter a state wherein the Known can be suddenly seen as it is (Insight.) The life of the Known is only a representation of that which is beyond the ‘Known’ altogether. It’s something utterly spectacular, the living unknown. I wrote what I did because, to me, the activities of uke and nage, in high-level Aikido, are virtually the same.


On May 7, 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

What I continue to struggle with is the concept of “preformal” that you often reference.  I am sure it is not as simple as things that come before.  Excuse my ignorance.


On May 7, 2100, Tom Read wrote:

For teaching purposes, the relationship between two body surfers and a building wave might provide an illustration (you probably would relate better to tapping the currents of a river, but I never did that.) Two body surfers about 40 feet apart on the face of a 25 foot wave believe their activities to be their own, essentially separate, but in truth they are united as they are both being made with respect to a deep, virtually invisible, powerful, building force. It is obvious that both surfers have to understand the wave or they will soon be in turbulent times. In spite of their conditioned belief in their essential separateness, ultimately their activities are being governed by something beyond normal perception, their sense of isolation denied by the power of the building wave. The advanced uke provides a single opening for nage to use, but then instantly recognizes the nature of the essential 'wave' of the consequence of his mistake, and works to correct himself by 'riding' the wave with perfection. This isn't different substantially, if at all, from the activity of nage who is also attempting to ride the perfect wave. Who ever falls off the line, who misses the break, especially someone who misses it because of exclusive commitment to internal imagery, will certainly be slammed into the bottom, and will therefore not be able to ride the wave, nor have any chance to learn to tap the power and order of the wave.

By understanding the structure of the forces that are governing the manifestation of existence, by moving beyond just accepting the Image in its totality, by moving beyond the win/lose ideation of 'martial arts', and coming to increasing focus on what is really of essence, the distinction between the activities of the high-level Aikido uke and the high-level Aikido nage can no longer be legitimately made. And while the aikidoist, even on this level, could theoretically be defeated by a highly conditioned, very fast and powerful martial opponent who is only trained in martial combat (because the art of non-resistance is one of the most difficult endeavors of human life), the advantage of Aikido training is clear, because movement beyond ignorance and conditioning, of whatever level, crosses all boundaries, goes far beyond the winning and losing of the momentary martial situation, and provides an essential, truly critical, means of approach to all of the problems of human life and experience.


On May 8 2100, Kimberly Richardson wrote:

The more I consider these ideas, the more I experience myself emphasizing shape-making in class.  That the role of uke –nage involves a connecting on a transpersonal level and- for just a nanosecond- there is no separation- just the experience of joining.  Duality melts into unity conscious. Very few things in life get us there.

Thank you for your teaching. Love and light to you. -Kimberly






Tom Read and Kimberly Richardson