Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ko uchi gari

Ko uchi gari is a small technique, but a phenomenally powerful one when pulled off perfectly, capable of knocking someone unconscious.

When its not being used to flatten people Ko uchi gari is a perfect attacking technique to induce movement and create opportunities and as such is very often used as the first technique in combinations with major throws.

A deceptively simple looking technique, there are several key points that should be born in mind when practicing it.

Body positioning

Body positioning is the biggest cause of throw failure and wasted practice time when it comes to Ko uchi gari. Or more accurately, incorrect body positioning is the biggest issue.

Its very common when beginners are introduced to Ko uchi gari or are practicing it either as a solo technique or as part of a combination, that they bend over at the waist as the apply kuzushi or try to sweep.

It is vital to ensure a good Ko uchi gari that tori’s body is upright when attacking.

However, this doesn’t mean that tori should be bolt upright on tip toes.

Tori’s upper body should be upright, but his centre of gravity lowered so that it is below uke’s.

Tori should also concentrate on attacking the chest, ensuring that he doesn’t enter for the thow side on.

Instead tori should attempt to ensure he is making as much chest contact as possible and that as much as possible his shoulders are in the same plane as uke’s.

Correct body positioning is vital and by ensuring your position your body for Ko uchi gari, correctly. You will find that the other aspects start to fall into place fairly naturally.


As in other ‘Gari techniques’ tori should concentrate on attacking the chest with the hand action.

The tsurite is very important in all ‘Gari techniques’ and is equally important in Ko uchi gari.
The forearm makes firm and sustained contact with uke’s chest.

The sleeve hand draws downwards and towards tori’s hip.

As in all techniques both hands should work together and simultaneously. So that uke’s weight is shifted on to the rear of the heel about to be reaped.

So that when the foot action is performed uke is perfectly position to be thrown.


As I see it there are two main ‘schools of thought’ on the foot action for Ko uchi gari.

There is the school I ascribe to which is the oikomi school of thought, in which a tsugi ashi foot movement is used to create a very powerful explosive attack and there is the ‘touch step/kick out’ school where the attack is less explosively and relies more on the reaping action.

Regardless of the exact footwork one point remains constant.

The foot should be turned over and cupped so that the sole of the foot is what makes contact with uke’s ankle, not the ridge of the side of the foot or the instep.

Tsugi ashi

In this form of Ko uchi gari the tusgi ashi foot movement is used to generate force and then applied to power the reaping action.

The rear foot is brought to the front foot to provide impetus for the action of the advanced reaping foot.

The foot is then reaped roughly into the area indicated by the red box.

Some reap almost directly forwards akin to Ko soto gari others add some degree of diagonal angle to the reap.

I personally prefer this version, because it suits my style of Judo, which as a heavyweight tends to be fairly sedate with little movement. So opportunities for the drawing out/hikidashi style of Ko uchi gari so often practiced in this drill.

Are very few and far between.

As an aside, I loathe this drill with an absolute passion.

I think its literally the worst drill in Judo and whenever I’m at a club and end up doing it, every second of it I feel my blood pressure rising.

I hate it for two main reasons.

Basically no one uke’s for it properly. Instead of stepping forward and allowing themselves to have the weight brought onto their heels. They stomp the foot forward as if doing a Sumo shiko and as a result no one learns anything except how to waste everybody’s time.

Its utterly useless for teaching beginners, because to try and avoid the Sumo stomp people try and rush to get the sweep in before uke’s clubbed foot becomes glued to the mat. They forget all about the hands, body positioning etc and concentrate solely on stepping back and sweeping as quickly as possible.

So its a shit drill, please stop using it coaches. Unless you really, really, really hammer home to uke that it isn’t a contest into who can stomp the mat the hardest and that they’re actually supposed to help their partner out...

And even then, there are better options.

Touch step

Another common footwork for Ko uchi gari, in my experience is what I call the touch step movement.
In the touch step foot pattern the planted foot is brought to the reaping foot.

The advanced to the side of the foot about to be reaped.

Then the reaping foot attacks the intended foot.

The foot is then reaped roughly into the area indicated by the red box

Some perform a very linear reaping action, most tend to do it in a shallow parabola.

Kick out

The ‘kick out’ Ko uchi gari is one of the other most commonly seen variations, it can be done with either the tsugi ashi foot action or the touch step foot action.

However, the initial footwork is done the reaping action is always the same.

The foot is literally kicked outwards laterally.

I don’t think its particularly important which action you do. Although I personally don’t teach the kick out, because I believe its too easily open to abuse.

Rather if you concentrate on getting the body positioning and hand action right then the exact foot action becomes of less consequence.


Ko uchi gari is a fantastic technique for use in creating opportunities and linking to big throws. As such its used a lot in combinations.

Some examples of combinations involving Ko uchi gari.

Ko uchi gari into Uchi mata

Seoi nage into Ko uchi gari

Ko uchi gari into Tai otoshi

As always, I hope this has been useful to people and comments, critiques and criticisms are welcome.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Tsugi ashi

So what is Tsugi ashi?

Tsugi ashi refers to a stepping pattern in Judo where one foot replaces the other before that foot can move. So that the trailing foot moves to the front foot then the front foot advances or the front foot retreats to the trailing foot then the trailing foot retreats.

The basic movement looks like this

Broken down we see that tori starts in a sort of T-ed upposition

Tori then moves his trailing foot to his front foot

And advances with his front foot

The whole movement looks like this:

Throughout the movement tori keeps his hips central and his head roughly above his hips.

The same process is repeated when retreating, the advanced foot retreats first to the position of the trailing foot. Then the trailing foot retreats.

The core of the tsugi ashi movement lies in the production and transference of power from the advanced or trailing foot through the hips into the upper body of tori. Normally, however, the power generation is from the trailing foot through the hips as tsugi ashi is rarely used in competition or randori going backwards.

One of the few exceptions is this classic tsurikomi/ kuzushi drill, which I do a few sets of every session and I would urge others to do as well:

One of the major flaws with beginners attempting the tsugi ashi movement comes when advancing. 9 times out of 10 a beginner will take a little step with their advanced foot first and then bring their trailing foot up to the advanced foot. This is natural as we are used to going forward by stepping with the advanced foot, it just makes sense. However, the movement, tsugi ashi, in Judo is very specific and serves a purpose to maximise forward transference of power and speedy entry. So it is vital that you ensure you only move the trailing foot first when advancing and only move the advanced foot first when retreating. Otherwise the movement fails.

Applying Tsugi ashi

Here Okano sensei demonstrates various applications of tsugi ashi:

Katanishi sensei demonstrates how tsugi ashi can be applied to the action- reaction sequence for forward throws:

Katanishi sensei demonstrates tsugi ashi as a ‘hip bump’ as part of the action-reaction sequence. This use of tsugi ashi was a favourite of Neil Adams albeit usually for Tai otoshi.

Here the applicability of the tsugi ashi movement for various throws including Ko uchi makikomi and Sukui nage is demonstrated:

Here for Ko uchi gari:

And here for Tai otoshi

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Positioning for Nagewaza

This is an updated, revised and expanded version of a previous article – Practising Combinations. If you wish to still view the original un-revised article it will remain on the blog, but is now superseded by this article.

One of the biggest issues beginners have is practicing combinations whilst moving and especially so when the movement isn’t linear and is a free moving situation.

There are of course a number of reasons behind this, lack of control, poor spacing, simply not being good at the individual throws etc...

However, a major factor is a lack of awareness of how to properly position yourself relative to your partner in order to throw them.

T-ing Up

I was taught the concept of positioning for nagewaza as ‘t-ing up’, I have heard Neil Adams refer to it as ‘setting your line up’ your coach or club may have a different name for it. Regardless of what you call it the principle is universal and fundamental.

If you’re T-ed up you’re standing with your lead foot advanced at the peak of the triangle, you other foot roughly shoulders width behind it and your partner standing with both feet level.

Imagine that there is an invisible line running between uke’s toes and that it is bisected by another invisible line that runs between tori’s feet. These lines bisect each other in such a way that the line between uke’s feet forms the horizontal cross bar of a T shape and that the line between tori’s feet forms the vertical upright bar of the T.

This position should be familiar to most people because it is roughly how you’re positioned after you’ve taken your first step when practicing uchikomi or nagekomi.

From this position you’re ideally placed to turn in for a throw and your opponent is ideally positioned to be thrown.

Note that the foot positioning is not set in stone and the trailing foot doesn’t have to be precisely behind the advanced foot.

The vertical line of the T is only a rough guide for foot placement and having the trailing foot ‘off centre’ of the T is not wrong.

Drilling positioning

In a static situation with a compliant partner its incredibly easy to get into the T-ed up position and then perform a throw.

However, beginners often struggle to T-up when moving around in a non linear fashion for uchikomi and nagekomi.

As such its usually necessary to drill moving around with a partner and positioning yourself to perform a throw.

Here in a free movement drill tori and uke moves around with tori leading the movement, getting into the T-ed up position and then performing tsurikomi.

Very few beginners, however, after being shown and having the T-ing up concept explained are able to go straight away into a free moving drill and control the movement so that the T-up properly.

So the drill needs to be introduced progressively. The most basic form of drilling for positioning is circling.

In which tori will start the movement by stepping out with his non-lead foot, for a right hander this will be his left, for a left hander his right, bringing uke around with him.

Here a simple circling drill is used to position tori and uke so that tori is T-ed up, lead foot at the peak of the triangle and therefore perfectly positioned to apply his throw.

This is relatively straightforward and most beginners are able to circle and T-up after a short amount of practice.

However, when attempting to apply the T-ing up concept to live uchikomi or nagekomi combination practice most beginners often struggle because its not a simple circling type action, unless the initial technique is a Hiza guruma or Sasae tsurikomi ashi.

Often beginners will find that after applying a technique like O uchi gari they’re left in this position.

Not T-ed up and impossibly placed to attempt any follow up technique except an O soto gari or Sasae tsurikomi ashi.

In this situation all that is necessary to T-up and be correctly positioned is a simple backswing with the trailing foot.

When a Ko uchi gari is the initial attack simply perform a ‘frontswing’ with the trailing foot to bring yourself into position.

Sometimes during free moving uchikomi or nagekomi you will need to create space as part of your tai sabaki to ensure you’re correctly positioned and T-ed up.

To do this a simple method is what I call ‘pulsing’ where you use the tsugi ashi foot movement to ‘pulse’ your partner away to create space.

Just for forward throws?

Although most of the examples so far have been of the T-ing up positioning concept being used for forward throws it also applies to backwards throws as well.

The T-ing up concept being used to position for O uchi gari

The T-ing up concept being used to position for O uchi gari following an O soto gari attack

T-ing up for combinations

The real usefulness of the T-ing up concept is in helping people position themselves properly for practicing combinations.

Here for a Ko soto gari to Tai otoshi combination

O soto gari to O uchi gari

O uchi gari to Tai otoshi in kenka yotsu

Should I do this in randori?

Often when introduced to the T-ing up concept beginners will move around and try and get in precisely that position with the feet in complete alignment and attempt throws. This will almost always fail as the position’s purpose is to teach a concept not a cast iron rule.

Also beginners often try walking around T-ed up, again this is a mistake as its a position that’s basically impossible to get into or maintain against skilled opposition without being thrown and again the position is conceptual not mandatory.

That being said the concept can often be seen being applied in contests and randori. Here in a ‘grip to throw’ sequence Jeon of Korea brings his opponent into the T-ed up position through use of movement and scores Ippon.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Drilling Kuzushi

I have discussed tsurikomi and correct kuzushi action previously.

However, I never clearly outlined specific drills or routines for people to do to improve their tsurikomi and thus general kuzushi action.

I’m going to split this into two sections –

Static drills
Moving drills

Static drills

The basic tsurikomi drill looks like this:

However, I know from experience that very few people, even supposedly experienced level players like brown belts have trouble going straight into this drill if they’re unfamiliar with it.

So it’s necessary to introduce the drill in two phases –
Sleeve hand action
Lapel hand action

Sleeve hand action

The action of the sleeve hand involves uke’s sleeve being drawn out high so that uke’s wrist is at least level with tori’s forehead, preferable above tori’s head.

As tori draws uke’s sleeve forwards and outwards tori’s wrist must rotate so that by the peak of the pull the palm is facing towards the mat.

The grip starts as normal

And finishes with the hand rotated, palm facing down towards the mat

To drill this action grip uke’s sleeve underneath their elbow, in the classic ‘judo grip’ position and only on their sleeve take no grip of the lapel.

Then repeatedly draw out uke’s sleeve, off balancing uke.

You should be T-ed up with uke as you do this

And best practice is to dip slightly from the hips on the ‘decline’ of the movement and so that you can rise up to normal height on the ‘incline’ of the movement.

It is important to dip slightly on the ‘decline’, because otherwise when attempting to pull upwards on the ‘incline’ you will have a tendency to make yourself go on tip toes, which is obviously totally unrealistic, structurally weak and undermines the practice objectives.

Lapel hand action.

Grip uke’s lapel and lapel only, take no grip on the sleeve and again start T-ed up.

And then apply the tsurite action, bringing the pocket created by uke’s armpit to your forearm  lifting simultaneously forwards and upwards.

A major error is to try and pull uke forwards by just jerking them with the arm like so

It is vital that your action brings the pocket created by uke’s armpit to your forearm and to ensure there is no slippage.

The wrist should also be kept straight and inline with the forearm, don’t allow your wrist to bend or flex.

Bringing it together

I would recommend that you practice each hand separately and then practice the two hands together.

If you were designing a set and rep weights type programme for your tsurikomi I would recommend that one set be:
10 sleeve pulls
10 lapel lifts
10 full tsurikomi entries

Do about 3-5 of these sets before and after every Judo session.

Concentrate on quality rather than quantity.

All sets should be down concentrating on smoothness and coordination of the action.

If it isn’t smooth and coordinated go back and start again.

Remember: First get it right, then get it fast.

Increase the reps in each set as competency-  fluidity and coordination -improve i.e

15 sleeve pulls
15 lapel lifts
15 full tsurikomi entries
20 sleeve pulls
20 lapel lifts
20 full tsurikomi entries

Moving drills

The above outlined static drills are excellent for improving your basic tsurikomi skills and will produce improvements in your static uchikomi and nagekomi.

However, at some point you will have to do some moving uchikomi, nagekomi or maybe even randori...

In a basic moving tsurikomi drill, as demonstrated by Inoue.

Tori retreats normally and then performs a backwards tsugi ashi step.

Note how tori sinks as he takes the tsugi ashi step, this facilitates him off balancing uke without raising his own COG.

This drill should be performed with multiple repetitions down the mat.

Again the focus should be fluidity and accuracy rather than speed and showy-ness.

When basic competency has been achieved with moving tsurikomi drilling as outlined above then more advanced drills can be done.

Note how tori only moves in tsugi ashi and uke is squatting to increase resistance for tori.

These moving drills can also be introduced in a phased manner as with the static drills where tori drills first the sleeve action in isolation and then the lapel action in isolation.

These isolation drills can be particularly effective in correcting problems with someone’s tsurikomi action.


I would strongly advise any Judoka who is serious about their Judo to devote time to practicing these drills under competent supervision.

I personally have done thousands of tsurikomi uchikomi like this:

And covered several miles of mat doing this

My coach would start every session with us doing about 5 sets on 20 static tsurikomi uchikomi- ‘half turns’ as he calls them. And my mate and I would book out a room on campus and spend 2 hours just drilling where we would do a couple of hundred tsurikomi drills static and moving apiece along with uchikomi for our tokuiwaza.

That’s not an example of badassery. That’s something anyone can achieve if they put their mind to it and are willing to put the hours in.

If you can’t get two hours on a mat to drill these things or your coach won’t give you the time to drill them. Then turn up 10 minutes early and stay 10 minutes late after each session and drill these with a partner or long suffering friend.

If you have absolutely no alternatives than attach a pair of bicycle inner tubes to the garage wall, draw a triangle in chalk and then practice doing your tsurikomi and observing the triangle.

Or if you don’t have a garage then shove a pair of innertubes in a rucksack with some pieces of chalk and go for a jog down to the park before or after work, mark out your triangle and attach your inners and get doing those half turns.

Practicing these drills will improve your throws and will help you throw more people more often. I can’t guarantee it will be immediate for you, but if you keep at it you will improve, you will get better and you will throw more people.

I promise.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

O uchi gari

After a few introduction articles, this one returns to a fuller in depth exploration of the throw. 

As I only know how to do about 6 throws and I’ve already written about four of them this will be one of the last in depth articles, although I will continue the introduction articles until I have exhausted the Dai ikkyo and dai nikkyo.

I’ve opted for a slightly eclectic organisation for this article, I’ve started in the middle of the body and then moved outwards in a spiral, yeh I know sounds weird, but it will make sense once I stop waffling and star...

Body positioning

I’ve decided to start with body positioning for O uchi gari, because I believe that correct body positioning makes head positioning, hand action and use of the feet relatively straight forward whereas incorrect body positioning causes a whole host of problems throughout the rest of the throw.

Correct body positioning has two key components:
Having your COG lower than uke’s
Making chest to chest contact.

Body Positioning 1 – COG

Whenever practicing forward throws beginners are always instructed and reminded to ‘get under uke’ and ‘go low’, however, for some reason in O uchi gari this key piece of advice is rarely given, but is just as critical.
You must position yourself so that your COG is lower than uke’s, the best guide for this is – is you belt lower than uke’s.

As with forward throws a common mistake is to concentrate overly on lowering your COG below uke’s and not on striking the balance between lowering your COG and raising uke’s through off balancing them.

Here Yamashita demonstrates correct COG positioning for tori relative to uke in O uchi gari

Failing to properly lower your COG relative to uke is often combined with the second major error in body positioning for O uchi gari not making chest contact.

Body Positioning 2 – Chest to Chest contact

I have previously written at length about body positioningand chest contact for the Kari waza family, however, I believe it’s important enough to revisit.

As outlined in the linked article the most common error is coming in side on to uke, like so

Instead your should attempt to attack chest on chest and make contact, like so

Here Yamashita demonstrates correct chest to chest positioning for tori relative to uke in O uchi gari

Hand action

It is important to remember what the purpose of the hand action in O uchi gari is. The purpose is to break uke’s balance to the rear corner of the leg that is being reaped. So that uke’s weight is concentrated over their heel

There are two main hand actions for O uchi gari, for which the central difference is the action of the tsurite/lapel hand.

In the first action, which is generally considered the more canonical action tori’s tsurite forearm makes firm and sustained contact with uke’s chest and drives upwards keeping a straight wrist.

In the second action, which is equally valid, but often considered slightly non-canonical and is often not the expected version at grading and demonstrations etc... The tsurite action is upwards and over uke’s shoulder wrapping the gi around the upper arm.

For the hikite action, which remains constant regardless of the tsurite action, tori draws uke’s sleeve outwards and downwards towards his own hip.

Whichever combination of hand actions you choose it is vital that the hands must work together in concert.

Leg action

When performing the leg action for a canonical O uchi gari, it is vital that uke’s leg is reaped in a circle rather than lifted upwards from the mat.

Lifting uke’s leg up is less efficient as it is much easier for uke to retain their balance if their leg is merely lifted clear of the mat, than if it is drawn outwards away from their centre of gravity and out from under their hips.

Practicing O uchi gari

O uchi gari going forward

Katanishi advances with his left then suddenly decelerates allowing uke to continue retreating with his left despite Katanishi not advancing with his left.

He then advances with his right, cross stepping and placing it in front of uke’s right which is commencing its retreat.

Uke then continues his retreat whilst tori’s advanced right foot remains constant and tori’s trailing left foot accelerates to a position behind the right.

Tori then accelerates his advanced right foot to catch uke’s left foot as it is fully weighted.


Seen from another angle

O uchi gari in a circle


O uchi gari to Tai otoshi

O uchi gari to O soto gari

O uchi gari to Uchi mata

O uchi gari in Kenka yotsu

As I have discussed previously resolving the kenka yotsu situation usually requires T-ing up by missing the classical first step.

A classical T-ing up sequence

Whereas in a kenka yotsu T-ing up pattern the first step is missed.

In Competition

In competition O uchi gari can often look quite different to how it is performed in uchikomi and demonstrations.

This is not due to a flaw in the technique itself, rather to the difficulty of performing the technique canonically against a competent resisting opponent. Although you do see examples of it being performed canonically.

As a result O uchi gari often morphs into an Uchi mata esque technique. As demonstrated here in the infamous Resnick video.

And also in, oddly, far less controversial Inoue videos.