To the uninitiated many of the words and actions are very strange and seem to make little sense. Aikido, a Japanese art, involves the use of many techniques. Somebody attempted to count them once and stopped at around 3,000. Other estimates range to around 10,000. If translated into English, many of the techniques would sound very similar, and make learning even more confusing. In addition, the masters from Japan do visit us occasionally, which means, they can teach easier if we understand which technique they are talking about.
The term for the person throwing is “TORI”. Another term is SHITTE (she tay). The mat techniques will always show one party to be the Tori. The purpose is multi-fold. One reason is to allow proper learning of the intricate moves and another important factor is that if both parties were attacking there would no harmony. If both parties were defending there would “harmony” and no need to apply a technique.
The term “UKE” stands for the person attacking and taking the falls (UKEMI). The Uke must develop his falling techniques to a refined point. The falls are graceful as well as functional. There may be observed several different styles of falling, depending on his ability and interest in developing his or her falling skills. Of primary importance always is the protection of the Uke. The techniques, of course, when applied in self-defense will bring about severe pain and strain on the bones, joints, ligaments and nerves. The Uke is learning in this relationship to harmonize with a force slightly stronger than his own, take a fall and be prepared to face the Tori again. In summing up – one might conclude that the UKE’s actions are in fact “self-preservation”.
The tradition of bowing goes back in history. One of the reasons for bowing, in addition to showing respect, is to demonstrate humility. Showing the back of the neck is considered the ultimate in trust. An individual who refuses to show humility may be considered to be without respect for his fellow man. The Aikido practitioner has to consider the following upon entering the dojo (training hall or gym): 1) What is this art? 2) Who has contributed to this art? 3) What is the worth of my partner on the mat? This exemplifies self-respect as well. Bowing is the last thing to be done as the practitioner shows his final act of gratitude to his dojo, the art of Aikido and those who have helped in it’s study.
Many people have a mistaken belief that “bowing” is a religious thing carried over from some “strange Oriental culture.” This is not the purpose! Rather, it signifies respect for the art of Aikido, respect for where it is practiced, respect for whomever is on the mat, and finally respect for one’s self.