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Classical Osotogari Doesn't Work!

geesink1.jpggeesink2.jpgI always like to say - let's start a debate by agreeing to the fundamentals… you can't really have a debate if you aren't agreed on the topic… so here is a description of Osotogari that comes from the 1986 version of 'Kodokan Judo':

Begin in the right natural posture.

Make your opponent step forward with his right foot by pulling him gently to his right front corner. Put your left foot outside his right foot to break his balance to this right back corner by pulling him toward you with your left hand and pushing him backward with your right.

Lightly raise your right leg and swing it past your opponent's right leg. Clip his thigh hard from behind with your thigh. At the same time, pull down hard with your left hand and push toward his right back corner with your right hand.

Your Opponent's legs will fly up and he will fall directly backward.


I don't think any reasonable Judoka will disagree with the above description of Osotogari.

It has long been a pet-peeve of mine that Osotogari is rarely taught as it is actually performed. All of us are familiar with the 'classical' form of the technique, as described and shown above. (Anton Geesink is demonstrating) And as many times as we practice that form, when it's time to _actually use this throw_, in either randori or shiai, it's never done this way!! Interestingly enough, Osotogari is generally roughly the third leading throw used in competition, so it's not by any means a rarely used throw. And yet, it's rarely taught the way it's actually performed!

My first assertion: This 'basic' (or 'classic') form of Osotogari doesn't work. I'm fully aware that most Judoka reading the previous sentence will now think to themselves that I must know very little Judo to make a statement like that. However, Phil Porter makes a very similar statement concerning 'classical' Osotogari, so I'm in fairly good company. If you are facing someone who knows no Judo, and can be manipulated easily by you, then yes, this version of Osoto will work. But if you are attempting to make this work against either a resisting opponent, or a knowledgeable opponent, sorry, won't work.

This is rather easy to demonstrate… simply start looking for it. You'll not see it. It doesn't occur at all unless you are watching the 6-8 year old yellow belts… When you get to serious randori and shiai, the 'classical' form of Osotogari disappears completely.

geesink3.jpgyamashita1.jpgNow, we saw in the above photos how Anton Geesink demonstrates and teaches Osotogari, let's examine how he performs Osotogari in competition. As you can see in this photo on the left, it would appear that Anton Geesink forgot everything he ever knew about Osotogari, since he's doing what is virtually a different throw altogether. Instead of stepping forward with his left foot, he has evidently either left it in place, or even stepped back in order to get a 45 degree 'angle of attack' on his opponent. It looks like it might even be the beginning tsukuri of Ashi Guruma, but in this form of Osotogari, uke will be thrown backward. To the right, you can see Yasuhiro Yamashita, who authored a book on Osotogari, executing the dynamic form of Osotogari. And yet, in his book on the subject, this was relegated to a couple of pages as a variation. Then throughout the book, he taught the classical version, and all the competition photos showed the dynamic form of the technique.

One of the principles of Judo is Seiryoku Zenyo, commonly translated as “Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort”. Another way to translate it, and a personal favorite of mine, would be “Best Use of Energy”. My second assertion of this article is: The classical version of Osotogari violates the principle of Seiryoku Zenyo. Covered in detail below as I show why the classical version doesn't work.

Now, a step by step discussion of why this classical version won't work. I'm going to use the initial description of Osotogari given at the beginning of this article to make my points.

Begin in the right natural posture.
No problem yet…

Make your opponent step forward with his right foot by pulling him gently to his right front corner.
Now we have a problem… why are you going to attack the leg that has no weight on it? If you believe that you can exert enough pull later on to force uke to place his weight on his right foot, doesn't this violate the principle of maximum efficiency?

Put your left foot outside his right foot
Another huge problem… we are attempting to force uke backwards, but then we place our driving leg in the totally wrong place to exert any force! Take any six year old child, and ask him/her to push as “hard as they can” against a wall… and they will naturally assume a 45 degree 'angle of attack' against the wall. If a six year old doesn't have to be taught how to exert maximum force with minimum effort, why did we forget it? (Think about the 'driving' or rear leg of the Boxer doing a right cross, or the batter swinging the bat, or a track & field coming out of the blocks… yep, they're all at a 45 degree 'angle of attack'.)

to break his balance to this right back corner by pulling him toward you with your left hand
In order to pull downward (to set uke's weight on the leg you are attacking), you must be in a position that won't allow you to exert any force to the rear… you must be 'even' with, or slightly behind uke's vertical line. This particular 'pull' must accomplish more here than in the version which follows. Here the pull must actively set uke's weight on his right leg, in the version which follows, the pull merely keeps the already existing weight in place. Which is a more efficient use of force?

and pushing him backward with your right.
With what force? You are pushing against what? Try stepping right up to a heavy filing cabinet, and see how far you can push it. Then set one or both feet behind you at a 45 degree angle, and see how much easier the task is. Maximum Efficiency with Minimum Effort is a very real principle that can accomplish things if followed…

Lightly raise your right leg and swing it past your opponent's right leg.
Raise your leg while you are standing on one foot? I sure hope you succeeded in off-balancing uke to the rear, cause if you didn't, you're about to take a nasty fall. In the more dynamic form of Osotogari, you'll also raise your leg, but your path to the ground is blocked by uke.

Clip his thigh hard from behind with your thigh
Attacking the leg that has only as much of uke's weight on it as you've managed to pull onto it. If you've failed to pull enough weight onto it, you are about to take a nasty fall.

At the same time, pull down hard with your left hand
As above, this is only possible if you are in the wrong position to deliver effective backward force. The amount of pull required is greater here in this version than in the more effective version. What's more efficient?

and push toward his right back corner with your right hand.
Which is at best, weak, and at worst, not possible. Notice, that in the classical version, the pushing and pulling is done with your hands, whereas in the more effective version, the pulling is still done with one hand, but the pushing is done with your whole body, driving off a strongly set leg. What's more efficient?

Your Opponent's legs will fly up and he will fall directly backward
You will remain standing, which won't happen in the dynamic form of Osotogari. And in order to remain standing, and to execute this classical version, you have completely failed to deliver the force needed, at the appropriate locations, with maximum efficiency. It is also very easy to resist this classical version. So easy, in fact, that this classical version is never seen against a knowledgeable, resisting opponent.

Now, on to the dynamic, better way to do Osotogari, staying within the principles of Judo.

First, let me identify the basic elements that will be important.

1. We want to attack the leg which has the majority of the weight already on it. Generally, this means you'll attack the rear leg, and in general, against a right-handed opponent, this means his left leg. (Although I'll give a right side example.)

2. We will want to have a 45 degree 'angle of attack'. This means that instead of stepping forward into your uke, your first step will more than likely be backward. This is the largest difference between the two types, and the one most easily recognized. There have been those who believe that this doesn't predate 'Olympic' Judo, but here's a series of photos from 1905 showing a large space between the driving leg and attacked leg: Old Osotogari Not much of a 45 degree angle, but certainly not the current practice of putting tori's left foot next to, and alongside uke's right foot.

3. Instead of pushing with the right hand, we will be 'setting' our entire forearm into uke's chest. This creates a solid 'connection' between uke and the forward momentum of our whole body. Much more effective than 'pushing' with the right hand!

4. And… somewhat more 'esoteric', this is a 'driver', not a 'roller' throw (See anything by Geof Gleeson or Phil Porter on these concepts). Your attack will not be from the front of uke towards uke's back, but from uke's side to his other side.

To put this effective version of Osoto Gari together, you'll wait until uke has stepped backward with his right foot… at that time, you'll step backward and slightly to the right with your left foot. At the same time as you've stepped backward, you'll be slamming your right forearm against uke's left side chest, and pulling downward with your left hand (Your right arm looks like it's delivering an uppercut to uke's chin or ear). You'll now reach out with your right foot (you are now leaning on your left foot with a 45 degree forward lean), and attempt to 'hook' uke's right knee. Then just 'drive' forward… although notice that your 'forward' direction is actually more sideways by your uke's viewpoint. Very common at this point, by the way, is the need to 'hop' forward to maintain the optimum 45 degree angle of attack (maximum force).

In the Ippon Masterclass “Osotogari” - authored by Yasuhiro Yamashita, the following series of photos appears, and Yamashita titles it “One of the finest Osotogari's ever photographed”… Angelo Parisi throwing Shota Chochosvilli.

parisi.jpgparisi2.jpgparisi3.jpgparisi4.jpg

Notice the power generated by his '45 degree angle of attack' that Parisi has. This is the most efficient use of strength!

Demonstrating the ineffectiveness and failure to follow a principle of Judo, does this mean that a classically taught Osoto Gari has no place in modern Judo? No, not at all. The classical version is very easy to take a fall from. It's doesn't require the skill at ukemi that the more effective version requires. And during the time that Judoka are acquiring the falling skills needed at the higher levels of Judo, they can still learn the 'demonstration' form of throws. And this sort of comparison between classical, and dynamic effective versions, can be done for other throws as well. And in many throws, the classical version is the most effective version as well… De Ashi Harai comes to mind here.

Judo is evolving, both for the good, and in some aspects, for the not so good… and if you are not keeping up on new techniques, and new methods of training, teaching, and doing Judo, then you should look into finding out about these things.

As a side note: the term 'Classical Judo' is more commonly meant to refer to the entire repetoire of Judo, including Kata, Atemi, Kappo, and so on. It was being used in this post in it's more narrow sense to refer to the style of throw… It goes without saying that my comment that 'Classical Judo' doesn't work - was referring to the narrow sense of the term. I've often come to regret my original title - as far too many Judoka think that I'm arguing that Judo doesn't work. Indeed, at least one Hachidan objected quite strenuously to this article - not realizing that the description of Osotogari comes from an absolutely unimpeachable source. I'm not trying to 'trick' anyone here.

yokoyama1.jpgseoi1.jpgHere's a couple of photo's from “Judo” by Sakujiro Yokoyama, published in 1915. On the left you'll see a rather interesting form of Osotogari. Anyone care to try it and see if it works?

On the right, you'll see a 'classical' technique. I always enjoy showing it to Judoka who believe that old classical Judo is the best. Sometimes it's not… Give it a try next time you're in the dojo. It was the original form of Seoiotoshi.

I hope I've given you something to think about the next time you're teaching Osotogari. Especially when you're teaching your more advanced students. I don't believe that a Judoka should make it past brown belt without a firm grasp of the difference between the classical and the dynamic forms of Osotogari. They really are virtually two different techniques, in my opinion, even though both the IJF and the Kodokan recognize both as the same throw.

Martial Arts


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