Back in March, I posted a video clip on BetterJudo’s Facebook page of a failed O soto gari, and asked my readers why it had failed. Knowing that respondents would blurt out the go-to solution of no kuzushi, I debated whether to include, “Come up with something other than no kuzushi,” as the reason the throw failed. I didn’t include that caveat, and sure enough, half the answers mentioned kuzushi.
Geof Gleeson, author of seminal books like, Judo for the West, Anatomy of Judo, and Judo Inside Out, empowered coaches and players to be skeptical of what the Japanese were teaching Westerners. He was astute enough to notice the differences between what was said and taught during technical practice, and what actually transpired during randori and shiai. We’ve all been fed the kuzushi/ tsukuri/ kake line of thought for so many years that we hardly question it. It’s time to be skeptical of the concepts of kuzushi and tsurkuri as they are traditionally explained.
For starters, our understanding of how throws work is hampered by the theoretical model of Happo no Kuzushi, which shows the eight directions of off-balance. In this model, uke is teetering onto his toes, heel, or side of the foot. In the real world, this almost never happens. Off-balancing is more subtle. And perhaps, off-balancing is the wrong word to use. Does stable/unstable work any better? If I have 40% of my weight on my left leg and 60% of my right leg, am I off-balance and falling over like in the Happo no Kuzushi model? No. Am I unstable? No, not necessarily. So what am I? I may simply be in a position from which I can’t move, or move efficiently, quickly or safely as I’m being attacked.
I must also point out that the Happo no Kuzushi model is one predicated on throwing an opponent while tori remains standing. This is what I call “demonstration” Judo. On the other hand, in randori and competition, tori goes to the ground in order to throw. This is called “terminal” Judo. Terminal Judo requires different biomechanics, and with that we begin to question the relationship between kuzushi and tsukuri.
Does kuzushi comes before tsukuri, or vice versa? How does kuzushi occur without moving into position to throw? Does it occur in a vacuum? Does tsukuri generate kuzushi? If you watch Kyuzo Mifune execute his sutemi waza counter against a forward attack, you should be able to answer the question. Look more closely at video clips, and see if you can figure out which element comes first. Perhaps they are simultaneous. Perhaps what really happens is tori opens uke up to enable attacking penetration, and this penetration (tsukuri?) is what makes kuzushi possible.
Putting aside the kuzushi/tsukuri or tsukuri/kuzushi debate, what is sure is that kuzushi, however it’s obtained, doesn’t guarantee a successful throw. Sound biomechanical elements are what guarantee a successful throw.
Chief among the important biomechanics are straight supporting/driver leg, proper angle of attack, locking hand/arm, driving/power arm, attacking leg, and position of the head. We must also consider the dynamic factors; attacking space, tempo and direction of movement, posture, attacking opportunities, and gravity assisted power or GAP, a term authored by the late Danny DaCosta, a European medalist and British coach.
This leads us back to the failed O soto gari, which failed for several biomechanical reasons. Although tori had a straight driving leg, he started his attack from too far away, thus his angle of attack wasn’t optimal. In addition, his power arm was tucked underneath uke’s arm, so it wasn’t in a position to drive uke back. Finally, because he was too far away when he started the attack, and his power arm was in the wrong position, his torso and head were stood up, making him easy to counter. Had his power arm been higher, and the start of his attack closer to uke, he probably wouldn’t have been countered, and may very well have been successful. Look at how Teddy Riner attacks with his O soto gari. See the difference in the mechanics?
If you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to watch the 2016 All-Japan Judo Championships final pitting Ojitani vs Kamikawa. Lots of strong O soto gari attacks, leading up to an Ippon throw in a different direction. Try to figure out what happens before Ojitani hurls himself into his O soto gari. Does he merely open Kamikawa up and penetrate into the attacking space? Or does something else happen? What of his biomechanics? What allowed Kamikawa to turn out of Ojitani’s O soto gari, and only be scored against once?
If coaches are to be more effective in helping their students, telling them “More kuzushi” or “No kuzushi” isn’t very useful. We must address how to throw successfully from a biomechanical viewpoint. As I said before, kuzushi by itself doesn’t guarantee success. Strong biomechanics (tsukuri) and terminal Judo (GAP) can create the kuzushi needed to overcome an opponent.
I encourage you to use within your class instruction the biomechanical terms and concepts presented in this post. I’m convinced your students will be better throwers if they understand the biomechanical principles of throws. Happy coaching!