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I practice 合気道. We do a lot of break falling that we call ukemi. I was led to believe that it meant safe escape from a technique. However, I started looking at the Japanese and found I only had part of the answer. I believe that ukemi can be translated as receiving body (受け身). It is what uke (受け, whoever receives the technique) does when nage (投げ thrower?) or tori (取り, grabber?) applies a technique.

Am I correct in my assumptions?

Are my kanji correct?


Cross posted from [Martial Arts SE].

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Your kanji are correct. [受]{う}け[身]{み}. You can also write it [受]{うけ}[身]{み}.

The general meaning of 受け身, however, is not "receiving body" but "passive." Thus, the passive voice "it is written by him" (vs. active "he writes").

I am not familiar with your martial art, but I would guess that it means you take a passive rather than active role in the combat -- receiving the action of others and responding to it.


I could imagine this being understood as "safe escape" if there are Buddhist overtones that imported in seeing actively fighting as being interested. But it's definitely not a very natural translation.

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  • @Sardathrion as written above "passive." Maybe, "defensive." Also shows up with the "art of falling safely" but that means as in the technique of being 受け身 (for list of English definitions see csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?1E ) – virmaior Jul 29 '14 at 9:29
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    Oops sorry about that with the link... should have known just from looking at it. Same data is here: jisho.org/words?jap=%E5%8F%97%E8%BA%AB&eng=&dict=edict – virmaior Jul 29 '14 at 10:07
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    @Tek: I shall but I do not accept answers within 24 hours of asking the question as it might discourage someone else to post an even better answer. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jul 29 '14 at 13:27
  • @Sardathrion-againstSEabuse, in taijutsu classes I took years ago, 受身【うけみ】 was talked about as "receiving" an attack, which aligns with the 受【う】け part and avoids the "not acting of one's own volition" sense inherent in "passive". The teacher stressed the importance of being good at 受身 in order to be able to safely handle things. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 20 at 0:10
  • @Sardathrion-againstSEabuse, as I understood it, the idea was that you're not just getting hit / thrown / grappled / etc. as a passive target, but rather actively receiving the energy of the attack -- and redirecting it. I suspect that the 受身 in Aikidō is similar. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 20 at 0:24
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Here is how the relevant terms are defined in the Kodokan New Japanese-English Dictionary of Judo:

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And here are the respective English language entries:

uke ("receiver"; the thrown; uke) The person who receives a technique during repetition (uchikomi) or controlled (yakusoku) practice.

ukemi (breakfall) General term for breakfalls designed to protect the body when thrown.

ukeru (to receive) To receive a technique or attack from your opponent, or to have a technique applied to you.

Note that these are the definitions of these terms in a judo context, and 受け身 (ukemi) and 受ける (ukeru) more generally mean "that which is passive" and "to receive".

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You might also translate it as "receptive" body, as in a body prepared to receive a blow, strike or onslaught. Judo techniques, as I remember in my distant past, are primarily defensive, or "receptive" techniques, using the opponents' force and action against them.

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