“Attention and Intention in Ukemi Practice: An Aiki Perspective”

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“Attention and Intention in Ukemi Practice: An Aiki Perspective” by Eric J. Webber

There are many aspects to being a good uke and taking great ukemi.  Some of these aspects are proper technique in striking, proper distance and timing, maintaining balance and centeredness, and rolling safely.  There are two other aspects that are interconnected and exceptionally important, but are less obvious than the aforementioned aspects.  These are the attention and the intention of uke.  Even with the greatest physical technique and prowess, without proper attention and intention great ukemi cannot be achieved.  In order to fully grasp the importance of attention and intention in practice, some working definitions will be necessary.

            Attention is one’s awareness of the thoughts, objects, situations and events in or around her.  It is the experience of one within the environment, being aware of the environment and how she relates to the environment (Perls, 1973).  But more specifically, attention is the focus of mental energy, its output as one receives input from the environment.  We speak of “paying” attention.  Just what does one pay?  One pays with a currency of units of mental energy used in concerted mental effort.  What then is the cost?  The cost is that, given the budoka has a finite amount of mental energy, she must focus a certain significant amount of it to truly be attentive.  How much energy is expended will depend on the amount of attention needed for the situation at hand.  More attention requires more mental energy to be expended, and less attention requires less mental energy.  Therefore, attention is the result of expending mental effort in order to focus on a thought, object, or situation.

            Intention is the internal motivations of an individual.  It is the will that is to be placed into action that resides in the deepest depths of the person.  Though it may not have manifested itself as external action or readily identifiable evidence, intention is present and viable upon mental conception.  Should one choose to embrace the constructs of the unconscious and/or subconscious mind, the argument could be made that the intention could be present even without the awareness of the intending agent (see Freud, 1949).  However, because of the concern of concentrated effort (that in itself necessitating consciousness), subconscious intentions will not be examined here.  Nonetheless, intention may be so slight so as to barely be noticed, even barely by the agent of the intent.  When a budoka is fully aware of her intentions, as she should be in practicing her martial art and self-development, she makes some amount of choice as whether or not to display that intention.  It is present, but she may want to keep some intentions to herself, or let them be known at a controlled release, thus making it some amount of strategy through choice.  The issue of not being able to control one’s displays of intentions is also significant, but generally can be worked on (note the expression “not tipping one’s hand at the poker table”).  Thus, awareness to this intention becomes paramount for both uke and nage, as will be examined below. 

            When placed in opposition, conflict, contest, or pseudo-situations of any of these, it is important to become sensitive to both your partner’s and your own attention and intention.  Consider the role of uke in aikido practice.  Uke has both attention and intention focused on nage.  Uke will focus all of her energy, being 100% committed , into providing an attack on nage.  This is not to say uke must attack with absolute full speed and power; rather, it reflects the idea that the attack must consume the full of uke’s attention and intention.  All focus must be in and on the present moment.  There should be no room for thought to drift anywhere, uke should only have her full attention on nage, with her total intention being to give a solid attack.  A solid attack is one that is within the control limits of uke’s power, is sufficiently accurate to land where and when it is intended, and is within reason to be dealt with by her partner in practice.  This is what should be considered honesty and truth in ukemi training.  To be concerned with a verbal running commentary (excessive talking on the mat), or a non-verbal running commentary (an internal monologue with oneself), is to shift one’s focus from her partner back onto herself.  A good uke cannot afford this.  It is not truth and honesty in training.  How can one be focused on delivering an honest attack when her attention is diffuse?  “Attention!” as a command means to focus on the here and now, NOW.  “Intention!” as a command would then be the energetic drive to put one’s will into action.  Great ukemi entails, among other aspects, true and honest attention and intention in daily training.

            Through the practice of fully committed attention and intention on the part of uke, nage then begins to benefit.  Nage’s pratice is heightened through the truth and honesty of her partner taking great ukemi.  Without superior ukemi practice, nage cannot fully develop (Saotome, 1989).  Inferior ukemi practice due to a lack of attention and/or intention leads to inferior nage development because nage is not receiving the whole energy necessary to push the limits and boundaries of her abilities.  There is a gap in the nage’s training due to this lack of properly focused energy on her uke’s part.  With fully focused attention and intention on the part of uke, nage will be able to fully explore the boundaries of the martial exchange.  Thus, for good nage development, it is paramount to have good ukes who fully commit their attention and intention in their attack and practice.

            The practice of fully committed attention and intention leads to greater sensitivity, as well.  As one becomes more sensitive to her own internal processes in martial training, e.g. attention and intention, she then begins to become sensitive to the attention and intentions of her partners.  With increased sensitivity in martial awareness, obviously martial ability is heightened.  In this increased sensitivity, both partners in the martial relationship benefit. 

            In conclusion, implications of proper attention and intention in ukemi abound for one’s own practice as nage.  As one learns the attention and intention as an uke, she may simultaneously translate this into her own practice as nage.  Fully focused attention and intention as nage will then develop into full, strong, honest technique, as well as sensitivity to the movements and attacks of one’s partners.  The attention and intention practiced as uke will be evidently beneficial when performing techniques as nage.  Thus it becomes further evidence and argument that superior ukemi practice leads to stronger development as nage.


Freud, S.  (1949).  An outline of psychoanalysis (J. Strachey, Trans.).  NY: W.W. Norton  & Company.

Perls, F.  (1973).  The gestalt approach and an eye witness to therapy.  Science and Behavior Books.

Saotome, M.  (1989).  The principles of aikido.  Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc.