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In the time since I began training in the 80s, there has been an increased focus on the importance of better understanding the native languages of the places where our arts come from. Rough translations of technique names lead to rough understandings of how they are done, which means we will never be able to reproduce the original at the highest levels. It’s the equivalent of trying to copy the Mona Lisa using crayons.

In my opinion, perhaps the most damaging translation from the Japanese has been rendering the word “uke” (受け) as “block.” This is incorrect. When we block something, we stop it. If we block the entrance to our home, we keep someone out. It is an act of resistance. Blocking something says “NO!” As our friends in jujutsu and aikido can tell us, that isn't at all what “uke” means.

受 (“u” in “uke”) is the important character here. It means “receive,” not block. If you go back to the ancient versions of the kanji, you can see two hands passing a boat from one to another. The second hand receives the boat: it doesn't turn it away or block it. This is very different, no? If you're interested in the kanji, check this link to see how the old characters developed into the modern ones:

I tell my students to think of it like this. If someone comes to your house and you slam the door in their face, that's a block. All that can come from that is making an enemy and hoping they don't break down the door. If you welcome them in, though, you are able to control the tour. You have time to shove the dirty clothes into the closet and you can walk them in a big circle around that bathroom that hasn't been cleaned this year (you know the one!). By welcoming guests, you control what they see and where they go. You have multiple options available when you receive.

This is the same with karate. If you're busy trying to stop what's coming, you can't control what's next. You're already on the back foot, playing the other person's game. Instead, receive their attack as a gift. They are giving you the physical and psychological energy you will use to defeat them. Open your door and welcome them in for the tour.


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