Uke (To receive/ to respond correctly to an attack/ defense/ parrying or blocking)

Translated it means to receive but in simple terms, defense, parrying or blocking. The technique is undertaken differently for many styles. The thinking of just one way in approach is both dangerous and short sighted. Along with the multitude of styles the way of defending is for many subtle in execution and vastly different for others. This approach is not just unique for open hand but also with the use of weapons where the dynamics in contact are often far more obvious.

For Karate we have the accepted Kihon generally as follows:

  • Jodan Uke
  • Gedan Uke
  • Gyaku Gedan Uke
  • Soto Ukea
  • Uchi Uke
  • Tsukui Uke
  • Shuto Uke

There are others but for the avoidance of over listing these will suffice

For weapons we also have most of these and some similar in approach but with differing naming protocols. For Bo for example the following is common:

  • Soto Uke
  • Uchi Uke
  • Sukui Uke
  • Gedan Uke
  • Harai Uke

Naming helps unify the thinking to understand the attitudes and ways of defending but this is looking at blocking simplistically.

The spectrum of hard to soft styles and attitudes makes the interpretation look and feel very different and this must be studied to avoid the one way fits all or the problem of slipping into total belief in an approach that only works some of the time or only with a particular style or way. Authentic attacks work at full power from A to B and are not always in a straight line and this is much understood for those who have been in a situation of reality rather than just in the dojo or in competition. Hard styles encourage holding the line but when you see a large student of considerable size and power using “Maegeri” on a small student, holding the line for them is the wrong choice and ineffective!

The approach with Uke can be broken down firstly into the obvious of hard blocking and soft blocking. Repelling or absorbing. Both ways also play a part in movement as hard generally holds the line or “Embu-Sen” and soft generally moves off the line using “Sabaki”. These two obvious approaches are executed with footwork being clearly defined. Hard remains rooted or has a small shift on the back foot to angle slightly or the front foot to engage. The timing of the arm and body movement is also key utilizing angles and impact point on the forearms. For the hard ultimately complete defense results in complete attack.

As well as complimentary footwork Uke when holding the Embu Sen requires forearm and hand conditioning to avoid injuries. “Hojo Undo” assists the traditionalists here and this must be ongoing practice to avoid injuries and ineffective Uke usage. “Nigiri Game” and “Chi Ishi” play a big part in the hands and arm developments.

Using weapons has the same connotations as open hand and this can be seen clearly with Bo. Using the front foot moving forward into the attack with Bo to undertake blocking inwards (Uchi Uke) results in high impact connectivity and the art of repelling. This can be seen with the Sensei Taira kata, “Kongo”. The same initial approach but shifting the back foot off the body line and absorbing in a softer approach can also be executed. The challenge for many is timing and balance and whether you see the attack coming early or late. Early allows all options whereas late is driven by survival and the ingrained approach borne of the style taught. The back hand grip for Bo is different in strength depending on the attitude of Uke.

Sai has also these options when using “Soto Uke Kaesu Uchi”. The Soto Uke can repel the body with power deflecting or it can soften and pull the opponent in or opponents Bo by deploying a feeling of “Hiki Uke”. Most students attack with Soto Uke using Sai against Bo but seniors diversify and often you will see a more pulling in usage to break the balance of the opponent and gain entry distance.

Each weapon has its “Tokui” and must be studied well to understand how to effect all attitudes of Uke.

For Karate and Kobujutsu junior students are taught large techniques (O Waza) and this allows the understanding of complete blocking. This is essential but should not be the ultimate approach. With seniority and understanding technique become (Ko Waza) smaller and the subtlety of blocking is often not recognized or seen. For Karate the movements of Tensho show a smaller Sho Te and this can be recognized with high class Kumite where power and timing engage the Uke and obtain greater results that large blocking techniques.

The following matrix shows possibilities that can be practiced irrespective of style. This is paramount as blocking on line is not effective against a knife but similarly if you are off balance blocking with power to re-root your body may be necessary.


Consider the following:

  • Rooting for Power
  • Engaging Body weight and Koshi
  • A lighter drifting front foot
  • Moving the front foot
  • A lighter drifting back foot
  • Moving the back foot
  • Tension in the front blocking arm
  • Softness in the front blocking arm
  • Reading the timing of the attack and using the distance correctly
  • Choosing the right approach based on the opponents size and power of attack with relevance also to your balance
  • Redirecting the attack
  • Creating the possibility of counter from defense

The list is not exhaustive and does all require the understanding of distance. Entering (Haeru), retreating back (Sagaru) and moving the body off line (Tai Sabaku) all need to be undertaken by evaluating the opponents distance, speed and timing in a split second to make the right choice. This is in addition to evaluating the power of the attack. If the wrong choice is made the consequences of defeat and inability to undertake the counter are made painfully evident.

Executing Uke correctly is also a state of mind. Holding the line requires the assertive rooted mind (Fudoshin) whereas moving off the line needs a more fluid way to utilize “Zanshin” and deploy techniques such as “Nagashi Uke”. Both however require confidence and practice continuously to ensure the body and mind unify and utilize the matrix of Shin-Gi-Tai!