The Japanese Martial Arts concept of Uke and Tori is a much more formalized concept than the attacker/defender relationship and is a tool I have successfully integrated into my Taekwon-do classes to aid in drill-work focus and participation.
The attacker/defender relationship is often thought of as “my turn”/”your turn” where as an Uke and Tori have a more well defined partnership. Arguably in each dichotomy both parties are actively engaged in the drill and both are learning aspects of the attack and defense based on their roles. Yet I have found that using the terminology of Uke and Tori set much clearer roles, responsibilities, definitions and expectations which in turn improved student focus and participation in drill-work.
Defined individually, the roles of the Uke and Tori can be thought of as:
Uke: The action of an Uke is called “taking ukemi (受け身)” which literally translates to “receiving body”, it is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack and often incorporates skills to allow one to do so safely. These skills can include moves similar to tumbling and are often used as an exercise in and of itself. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uke_(martial_arts)]
Tori: The term Tori (取り) comes from the verb toru (取る), meaning “to take”, “to pick up”, or “to choose”. In the Bujinkan, Judo and some other martial arts, the Tori is the person who successfully completes a technique against their Uke (training partner). [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tori_(martial_arts)]
The terms Uke and Tori are not synonymous with attacker and defender because these roles are determined by who successfully completes an effective technique (Tori), not who initiates one (which could be either party depending on the drill). Furthering the differences is the distribution of responsibilities between the Uke and Tori:
Uke are responsible for setting the pace of the exercise. If the Tori is not executing the drill as intended or is otherwise reacting with haste rather than intent, it is the responsibility of the Uke to slow the pace to allow the Tori time to react appropriately. The Uke is also responsible for maintaining a soft frame for their Tori to practice against and to react to stimuli in a realistic manor. Resistance and rigidity does not serve either party, though eliminating these elements can require the building of trust between the Uke and Tori. In short, the Uke is there to support their Tori and should leave their ego at the door.
A key outcome for the Uke is gaining practical experience on how their balance is taken, how they are manipulated into compromising positions, the effectiveness of their ukemi (tumbling) out of said positions as well as the proper execution of the prescribed attack(s) (if any).
Tori are responsible for the safety of their Uke. The Tori should be aware of their Uke’s ukemi (tumbling) abilities, ensure open lanes of traffic before executing a throw, conscientious of the Uke’s flexibility and level of discomfort/pain when executing joint locks and strikes. The Uke invests a lot of trust in their Tori and that trust should never be abused.
A key outcome for the Tori is gaining practical experience on the effectiveness of strikes, locks and movement via exploratory manipulation of the Uke.
For example: A kick to the groin. The Tori’s responsibility is to maintain control and not make physical contact with their Uke. The Uke’s responsibility is to react in a situationally appropriate manor, such as flinching to block, moving away from the attack or a measured reaction as if contact had been made. Saying this, it is still the Tori’s responsibility to affect their Uke with intent, though not in a manor that will injure their Uke. For instance, a Tori’s light touch should not engender a weight shift by the Uke while a full or near-full contact strike is also not called for. The key is that the intention of the technique is relayed in a measured way upon the Uke without injury.
Typical Application In Drill-Work
The Uke is normally (though not always) prescribed attack(s) that are delivered with intent to defined target(s) on the Tori. Each technique is executed with proper kamae (stance) and intent to where the target was at the beginning of the Uke’s motion. Uke does not anticipate the Tori’s movement or follow the target during execution of a technique, even if the Tori reacts prematurely to the attack (though this should be pointed out to the Tori).
Conversation between the Uke and Tori should be limited to feedback primarily from the Uke on the effectiveness of the Tori’s techniques; “you haven’t taken my balance”, “I feel weak in this direction, try taking me there”, etc. Tori should take the approach of “shut-up and copy” the drill as shown, while taking the time to consider what options are available at each moment in time. Tori’s internal dialog as well as dialog to their Uke should be along the lines of: “If I do this, how does the Uke react?” “I’ve ended up here, what can I do from this position?” “How can I get a response from my Uke that gives me new options?”
Drill-work is best preformed slowly to see all of the gaps in both yourself as Tori and the opportunities in attacking your Uke. Moving too quickly misses these moments and does not allow for the fullest learning experience.