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Dealing with Less-than-Ideal Ukes in the Martial Arts | Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu

Dealing with Less-than-Ideal Ukes in the Martial Arts

wpid-023.JPG-2011-10-27-12-49.jpg Last year I wrote a post about how to be a good uke (training partner). But what happens when you have to work with someone that’s a less than an ideal uke? Depending on what the problems are with the person, there are different approaches you can take to help fix or minimize them. I’ll characterize a few types of less-than-ideal ukes and offer solutions for dealing with them in this post.

Inexperienced Uke. Sometimes you’ll have to work with people who are new to the dojo and need a lot of understanding and guidance as they train. They may not be the most fun for you to train with when you want to go a little harder or work on more advanced techniques, but it’s important to help them take those brave first steps into the world of martial arts. Everyone has to start somewhere. You likely received guidance and encouragement when you first started. If you didn’t, think about how much better it would have been if you had and try to make the experienced better for your uke. They will appreciate it more than you can imagine, which helps add to the general positive atmosphere of your dojo.

Stinky Uke. If you don’t like working with a fellow student because he or she smells bad, you can help fix the problem through communication. If you’re comfortable enough with the person, you could let them know privately what the issue is. B.O. can come from infrequent uniform washing, wearing stinky shoes, or even personal hygiene issues that are specific to the person. Here is a useful post about odour management for martial artists. You can help the person by sharing it with them, or if you don’t feel comfortable addressing them directly, you could post it on your dojo’s Facebook page as a “useful reference” and hope they read it and get the hint. If you don’t feel comfortable addressing the person directly, you could also bring it up privately with your Sensei. If you don’t like working with the person due to B.O. chances are that other people feel the same way so the Sensei will probably want to help the person resolve the issue.

Overly Compliant Uke. For an overly compliant uke, it depends on the reasons for the overcompliance. First ask the student if they’re protecting an injury. If there is no injury then ask questions. Are they nervous about falling or receiving joint locks? If this is the case, assure them that you’ll go slowly so that they can tap or that you’ll throw them in a way that they’ll be able to breakfall safely. Communication is the key. Work with them openly to get them to give you an appropriate amount of resistance.

Under Compliant Uke. The counter point to the last type, the under compliant uke either resists too much with their strength or simply by countering the attempted technique with subtle twists, turns or body shifts. Sometimes they aren’t aware of their actions and they do these things out in an attempt to protect themselves. You can address this in much the same way as the overly compliant uke by asking if they’re protecting an injury. If not, reassure them that you’ll go slowly enough to keep them safe. Sometimes this isn’t the situation though and the uke either doubts the person’s ability to apply it correctly or they doubt the technique altogether. A good way to address this is to put it in Sensei’s hands. Ask them for help saying that you’re having trouble applying the technique on the person you’re working with. The Sensei will usually watch it play out to figure out the problem. They may see what your uke is doing immediately. or by trying to apply the technique on the person themselves. The hope is that the Sensei will tell them to relax or stop resisting so you can learn how to properly apply the technique, explaining that some compliance is required at the earlier stages of learning before students learn to do the techniques against a resisting attacker. If the Sensei doesn’t take this approach, try taking matters into your own hands by being humble and saying, “I’m not that good at this technique yet. Would you mind toning down the resistance to let me learn better how it works?” Most people respond well to an honest, humble attitude.

Chatty Uke. Sometimes you like a fellow student as a person, but find that they tend to talk too much while training. This can come in the form of analyzing a technique you’re working on, giving too much or unwanted feedback taking away from your training time, or maybe they just talk about things that are irrelevant to the class. There are a few ways to deal with this. If the problem is over-analysis, suggest that you discuss it after class so you can spend more time actually training it. If they’re giving you too much feedback, you can politely tell them, that you’re a tactile learner and that you’re aware of the problem but just need to practicing until you get it. If you don’t want the person’s feedback either because you think they might be wrong or they’re just confusing you with too much info, just say something like “Let’s just keep practicing and get help from Sensei when s/he comes around.” Lastly, if they are talking about things not related to the class, say you’d love to hear more about it after class, then set yourself up to start the attack they are defending against so they have to re-focus on training.

Careless Uke. The issues surrounding a careless uke are important to address. The Careless Uke is the one most likely to cause injuries and is a danger to fellow students. S/he often has no idea what they’re doing wrong so it needs to be corrected asap. Give them feedback when they do something careless, whether they are applying a lock too fast, throwing too hard or with bad form, hitting too hard, etc. If it keeps happening, talk to your Sensei privately after class. A responsible Sensei will want to stop situations that could cause injuries to her/his students, and will take action to resolve the situation.

Annoying Uke. Sometimes people just rub each other the wrong way. Personalities inevitably clash in every arena in your life. Maybe the person is too negative, comes across abrasively, is too loud, or maybe you don’t like their world view. The world is made up of all different types, and as martial artists, we should do our best to make the most of every interaction we have. If they’re an overly negative person, give them honest positive feedback, and help them to see that their troubles aren’t insurmountable. If they’re loud, try standing further away from them while they’re talking. If they’re abrasive or you don’t like their world views, use your time interacting with them to exercise your patience and/or still negative emotional reactions. While managing any of these issues, also try to look at the positive sides of the person in question, focusing more on those things. No person is 100% bad. It’s always a good to practice to look for the things you like about other people, in training and in life.

Did I miss any types of less-than-ideal ukes in this blog post? If so, please feel free to discuss it in the comments so I can address more types. 🙂

Comments (14)

14 thoughts on “Dealing with Less-than-Ideal Ukes in the Martial Arts

  1. For an overly compliant uke, it depends on the reasons for the overcompliance. I would first ask the student if they are protecting an injury that is recovering. If there is no injury then ask questions. Are they nervous about falling or receiving joint locks? If this is the case, assure them that you will go slowly so that they can tap or that you'll throw them in a way that they'll be able to breakfall safely. Communication is the key. Work with them openly to get them to give you an appropriate amount of resistance. Hope this helps! I might just go ahead and add this to the post. 🙂

  2. under-compliant uke. this is number one on my list. this is the person who is going to subtly resist your every attempt to complete a maneuver. not to be confused with inexperienced uke. sometimes it's hard to learn with this person as you don't get a chance to gradually work on the technique before your challenged too much.

  3. yes, the most annoying of all

    the sabotaging uke,

    The one, because they know exactly what technique you are attempting to do, makes it very hard to practice the technique because they are reacting prematurely to whatever you are doing, or are muscling, or subtly changing the attack so that the response should actually be different, etc.

  4. Christopher, is the person big and resisting? Do they have a big waistline making it hard to control them around the hips? What exactly makes this person challenging to throw?

  5. How about the incompetent/stupid uke? This is both highly annoying and dangerous and not easy to correct, the more so if they happen to wear an advanced belt that they clearly don't deserve. I sustained a back injury due to an exponent of the incompetent variety: the exercise was to just stand there and let him practice his strike placement, he apparantly didn't know it's not ok to hit your training partner in the back with force… Next time I'll ask to be careful once, the second time I'll respond in kind. The guy was a third degree brown belt in kenpo: you've got to wonder what his teacher was thinking handing him anything over orange belt. May the budo kami save us from dangerous idiots who have no business threatening others safety and health, clearly the belt system is no garantee for either technical competency or personal responsibility.


  6. Thank you so much for this, Lori. It was very synchronistic for me. Repeatedly in the last 6 months I have had trouble with the 'Careless Uke'. The main problem is that it triggers me terribly when someone comes on hard and fast. The first guy I asked directly to ease up and go slow. He didn't hear me at all. When he kept at it I just wanted to hurt him back. I realize this is an inappropriate response. I avoided him but let him know I wasn't happy. Next time it happened I confronted the Uke on trying to prove something. We had a verbal exchange but he did ease up.
    The next one I just wanted to kill. He was worried he was scaring me. He was the one who should have been afraid. Again, I realize this is an inappropriate response. I need something to say to these guys that will get through and right off establish a boundary. The problem is, they don't always hear it and meanwhile, I risk getting injured. They invariably think that there is something wrong with me. This further infuriates me. The last one, who didn't even know my name and we were working for the first time told me he 'thought I could 'take it'. He was actually bouncing up on his toes like a boxer to prep for a simple nage and I simultaneously wondered why he wasn't in Karate/Kickboxing and how I could use his forward weight to take him out. I did call the Sensei over to help us but I don't think this guy got it at all. These all happened in different dojos/workshops. The last one is in my regular dojo and I don't want to work with him ever again. I hate him and his smug idiocy. What to do? What to do? Please help. Arigato, Lisa

  7. Lisa,

    Careless Uke can definitely be a challenge. If polite discussion doesn't work and asking the Sensei to deal with it doesn't work, you should take extra measures to ensure your safety. Avoidance is the best policy. Tell your Sensei plainly that you won't work with the person any more, that it's not personal but the person continues to train unsafely after repeated attempts at fixing the situation, and you don't want to get an injury from carelessness that will prevent you from training.

    If it comes up in conversation with the person in question why you're not training with them any more, just tell them calmly that it's nothing personal but that you tried to balance things out with them, but that it just didn't work out. Yes, the person may come to their own conclusions about you, but let it slide like water off a duck's back. You needn't care what he thinks because you don't respect him anyway, right?


    I think avoidance would be best in your scenario too. I'm assuming you've already tried all other methods, so why put yourself at risk, right?

  8. Thank you. This is very helpful. Especially the support to not work with them if they can't hear me. Any advice on what to say in the beginning that is clear but not confrontational? Thank you muchly.

  9. Lisa,

    It depends on what you're working on. If the person is hitting you too hard, I'd say jovially with a smile, "Whoah, ease up there, guy. You don't have to hit that hard if you're on target. And if do hit on target, or on a dangerous target it's likely to be too much." If they're throwing too fast/carelessly, I would say, "Let's just slow down a bit and work more on technique. You're throwing is a little off and that's how accidents happen." If they're using too much strength/power while grappling, I'd say, "Relax, you're much bigger than me so you don't get much from training with me unless you take it easy and focus on technique."

    Any time you can use team-oriented wording like "we", "let's", and "us" it can also take the sting off your words, by making them less accusatory.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

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