The following editorial was submitted by George Kirby. It originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of his monthly newsletter, Kokoro.
Finding and retaining uke can be a serious problem for everyone who really wants to learn a martial art. Regardless of art you ultimately need a workout partner. Getting an uke, especially on a long-term basis, is much easier said than done.
What is most important in securing an uke is not setting up anymore “hurdles” or barriers than absolutely necessary. Although it would be ideal to expect your uke to get his/her BJJY membership, buy the books, DVDs, etc., & have the same enthusiasm you have, that may not always be possible or realistic.
You have to realize what your goal is in the process: to learn the art and progress in rank. Ideally, your uke may have the same goal but may be unwilling to make the same commitment. Does that mean you shouldn’t use him as an uke or involve him in the process? What is YOUR goal? It’s to learn the art and progress in rank. If your uke’s sole purpose is to get you there, that’s very noble and self-sacrificing of him. If you sense that he’s interested in progressing as you are, but doesn’t want to “make the commitment” you can still use him as an uke, help him learn the art [because he’ll then be a better uke] and eventually he may realize the benefits of pursuing promotions officially.
In essence, you’re offering a helping hand. That’s something every sensei should be doing for their students and every parent should be doing for their child. It’s natural. It’s morally justifiable. You both benefit from the experience.
Sometimes you have to help with both hands. If you uke is really dedicated, you may decide it’s worthwhile to “compensate” him for his effort. Maybe you’ll pay for an “associate” or full membership for him. Maybe you’ll buy him a book or two — or a gi. It all depends on the relationship you have and how much you feel your uke is worth.
However, as a word of caution, you must also realize that your uke may not have the same commitment you have. If you try to “buy” his loyalty or mat time, don’t hold your breath. Ultimately, he will depart and you’ll feel cheated. If you want to help your uke, do it because YOU want to do it, not because you’re expecting something in return. That way, you’ll at least know that you did the right thing if your uke departs. However, if you sense his sincerity, then he may really appreciate what you’re doing for him and work even more closely with you, ultimately securing his own membership, etc.
If you’re going to succeed at anything [martial art, occupation, marriage, and family, etc.,] you do, you have to positively nurture those people who can help you reach your goal. In the process you will help them reach goals they did not anticipate, and they will respect you for your commitment and dedication to them.
It’s not what you do, but how you do it that’s important! Thanks to Dan Patten for inspiring me on this topic.