Don’t Break Your Uke

We asked our skaters if any of them would like to contribute to the Keweenaw Roller Girls blog. We received our first feature by the newly recruited, I Love Skatin’ #666. Here she write about karate, roller derby, and how to treat your “Uke.”

don't break your uke


When I was 28, with no previous experience, I joined a karate dojo. Long story short, it wasn’t easy.

When I was 35, with no previous experience, I joined a roller derby league. It was also not easy.

Being not a particularly athletic person with few experiences on which to draw, my roller derby journey is evoking many memories of when I began my martial arts training. One idea that especially resonates is the notion of the uke when sparring or training in karate.

In Japanese, an uke (pronounced oo-kee) can be referring to one of two things. First an uke is a stone for sharpening a sword. Second, it is the title of one’s opponent when practicing sparring or martial arts techniques. Sensei taught that one should interact with one’s uke as if they are the stone used to hone the sword of one’s technique. If one is too rough or careless with one’s uke, you can break it. Go too easy on your uke, and your sword will not be as sharp as it could be.

Unlike the relationship the blade has with the stone, the uke learns from and is shaped by their interactions with their training partners. It is not a passive position. Inherit in this idea of the uke is the notion of respect. Sure, a big sword could probably chop a sharpening stone in half… but aside from one singular display of might, there is no future value in that. In karate training, we need to respect our partners, our ukes, and not get so carried away that we seriously injure them.

We as derby skaters also need to approach our training with the idea of the uke in mind. Train hard, skate hard, hit hard… but not so hard that you break your fellow skaters on purpose (always understanding, of course, that accidents happen in contact sports). As a heavy-weight skater, it’s very convenient for me to throw my weight around, sometimes not being as mindful of the well-being of others on the track as I could be.

Next time you catch me, #666, being disrespectful of my ukes, please let me have it and say  “Hey Skatin’, don’t break your uke!”


-I Love Skatin’