I recently had a request to give some insights on fighting from the Russian grip and other non-classical grips and that spurred me on to put out some thoughts on what are fundamentals for contest Judo. Seeing as we’re now into competition season for most recreational players and I’m starting to eye up getting in shape looking to pick up some points for my 2nd dan in tournaments in the new year. I thought I’d start a new series that I have been considering for a week or two now, Fundamentals of Contest Judo.
I have already explored some of the fundamentals of Judo, however, competing requires some fundamentals of its own that are built upon the foundation of good Judo. If you don’t have a decent grasp of the fundamentals that I have covered in the FoJ series then what is contained herein will likely only be useful as a crutch to overcome lack of knowledge and poor quality of opponents. The reason you win or lose in a Judo tournament is not because you don’t know how to do high level grip fighting, but often because your Judo isn’t good enough, you weren’t fit enough or you just made a mistake and were unlucky.
In a Judo contest ensuring you have your desired grip and that you aren’t being outgripped and placed in a vulnerable position by your opponent is a vital skill, please note that all the gripping advice I give herein will be orientated towards Judo although some of the principles are applicable to other gi based grappling forms such as BJJ and Sambo. So learning how to grip fight is important.
The two fundamental principles of contest gripping:
This is a BASIC introduction to grip fighting it is not meant to be comprehensive or in depth.
Control your opponent’s sleeve
Fight with two hands on
Control your opponents sleeve:
Ai yotsu – Right on Right/ Left on Left
No matter what style of grip you favour – classical sleeve/lapel, Russian, high collar etc.., controlling your opponents sleeve is central.
When I talk about ‘the sleeve’ what I mean is controlling your opponents ‘tsurite hand’, for right handers this is your right hand, people give this gripping hand many names ‘power hand’, ‘action hand’ etc... but they all mean the same thing. The reason you want to control this hand is because it forces your opponent to adopt a less favourable and probably unfamiliar grip and it places you in a vastly superior attacking situation where all your attacks are open to you but your opponents options are very limited.
Here is an example of an Ai yotsu situation where tori, white, has successfully controlled uke’s sleeve and has established his grip with two hands on:
Note how tori has gripped underneath uke’s forearm and has rotated his hand so that the palm is angled towards the mat.
This has the effect of tightening the gi material around uke’s wrist and forearm and ‘pinning’ the hand in place down by uke’s hip and a long way away from tori’s lapel thus ensuring that uke is placed in a vulnerable gripping situation.
Two hands on:
Now unless you’re reading this and your name happens to be Toshihiko Koga then you will need two hands on your opponent’s gi to be able to throw them, this isn’t hard to work out once you look at the gokyo and notice that the vast majority of throws require two hands on the gi.
Although there are very many methods to how you have two hands on and various gripping styles you should always work to the mantra that you want two hands on your opponent’s gi if you want to attack or to actively defend. Never allow yourself to be in a situation where your opponent has two hands on you and you have one or no hands on him because you’re going to get thrown.
Securing the sleeve:
As controlling your opponents sleeve is vital to having a superior grip it is important to have several methods to secure and then control the sleeve.
The most obvious and simplistic way is to simply lunge and grab it, however, as anyone with any sense reading this will realise, lunging and attempting to grab a sleeve isn’t a great idea and is likely to see your contest end quickly and humiliatingly.
There are two main options open to you, you can actively hunt for your opponents sleeve or you can be reactive in securing it.
The simplest method of actively hunting the sleeve is to use your own tsurite hand, for right handers the right hand, to grip your opponents tsurite sleeve and then feed it into your hikite.
Starting in the normal right handed stance:
You reach across your own body to secure a grip on your opponent’s tsurite sleeve with your own. Grip the gi material firmly bringing it taught and angle your palm into the mat. As quickly as possible grip the sleeve end of your opponent’s tsurite hand with your hikite hand, left hand. You should now have both hands on your opponent’s sleeve. It is ok to take a second or two to ensure you have the sleeve firmly secured, however, try not to spend more than 5 seconds as you risk being penalised. Once you’re happy you have a secure hold with your hikite hand release your tsurite hand and proceed to control the sleeve as outlined above and then get your tsurite hand onto your opponent’s lapel.
This, however, can be problematic as your opponent can bait you into reaching out with your tsurite hand and use it as an opportunity to secure your sleeve and put you in a bad situation.
A better method of actively hunting to control the sleeve is, somewhat, counter intuitively to grip your opponent’s lapel with your hikite hand, this gives you control over the dominant side.
Tori, white, secures uke’s dominant side with his hikite and pressures uke to keep the space between them. Tori actively controls both the space and uke’s dominant side
By pressuring uke and controlling the space and uke’s dominant side tori forces uke into action and uke attempts to throw their tsurite hand to get a grip. At this point tori intercepts the tsurite hand with their tsurite, right hand.
There is little chance of uke achieving a decent grip on you with their tsurite hand as your hikite, left hand, is actively creating a keeping space by controlling their dominant side.
Once you have intercepted uke’s tsurite arm with your tsurite, right hand, you bring it down and control it using both hands.
Here the relevant area of action is circled in black, tori’s hikite hand is indicated by the white line, tori’s tsurite hand is indicated by the red line.
Tori secures the grip with his hikite hand on uke’s tsurite sleeve and then controls it away from his body as outlined previously.
In a grip fighting scenario, however, you may not feel confident being an active grip hunter if for example your opponent has a very strong Seoi otoshi and any attempt to get hold of uke whereby you lean or step forwards risks a throw attempt. As a consequence a common tactic is to be reactive, you know that your opponent probably has the same objective as you – get the tsurite hand on the lapel, over the shoulder, round the back or on belt. Therefore it is quite common to secure the sleeve from your opponents attempt to take their desired grip.
The most basic way of doing this is to allow your opponent to take their grip on your lapel and then to break that grip off.
In this photograph temporarily imagine that blue is tori and white is uke:
Uke has taken hold of your (tori’s) lapel and now you must react to secure your desired dominant grip.
Your first step is not to panic, ensure you have a stable and balanced stance and the attempt the grip break.
In this photography tori is, once again, white and uke is blue:
Tori secures the underside of uke’s trusite sleeve, with their hikite hand, gripping tightly and taking the slack out of the sleeve by angling their palm towards the mat knuckles angled towards the ceiling. Tori grasps the top of uke’s wrist with his tsurite hand so that uke’s hand/ wrist is controlled form both top and bottom.
A common beginners mistake at this point is to try and pull uke’s grip directly away from you whilst leaning backwards.
As shown in the above picture a common a serious mistake is to lean back in the direction of arrow 1 whilst trying to jerk/snap uke’s grip off in the direction of arrow 2. The reason this is bad practice because if you come up against someone with good grip strength and you strain to break their grip whislt leaning backwards you have committed both your hands to the grip break and so have nothing to repel an attack with and you have placed yourself off balance. Thus pretty much begging to be Ko soto gari-ed for Ippon.
Instead you should remain on balance and not over commit yourself either forwards or backwards and break the grip at a 45 degree angle from your chest as illustrated:
Stripping the grip in this direction doesn’t run the risks of putting you off balance, it also will result in uke’s tsurite hand being suitable pinned away from your lapel if performed correctly and if you fail to totally strip the grip you will at least move it down an inch or two which can make the vital difference between an effective throwing grip and an ineffective one. If you aren’t sure about this try gripping 2 inches lower than you would normally and notice the sudden dramatic increase in difficulty of control. Also enabling you to have a second stab at the grip break later once you have a second hand one as uke will have weakened grip.
Freeing your own sleeve:
Everything I have said so far should be absolute basics for your average shodan so it should be expected that your opponent will also have similar strategies and may even be better at them than you are. In this situation it is important to understand how to free your own tsurite hand from a controlling grip.
The most basic, and most abused, method of freeing the sleeve grip is what I call ‘the washing machine’ a.k.a the disastrous results the first time you tried to French kiss a girl.
Tori either wraps their hand under and round uke’s hand or over and round and then continues to keep twirling as if on a very fast spin cycle or the set of a remake of the Three Musketeers. You aren’t d'Artagnan and so this method usually fails, much to my amusement, when beginners furiously try the washing machine and then stare dumfoundedly at their sleeve because my hand hasn’t popped off. The first thing 10/10 of all beginners miss is taking the slack out of the gi before you attempt the ‘washing machine’, you need to bring your thumb to your face to tighten the gi around your elbow and forearm before attempting the ‘washing machine’.
You will then end up in a variation of this position:
The second important step beginners miss is that you then snap you arm back towards your hip, rather than out to the side or just continuing the whirl. It is very important that this is a whole body movement, imagine it something like a reverse boxing punch. Instead of using your legs and hips to throw the punch you’re using your legs and hips to retract the arm. If you use your whole body against their fingers in conjunction with the taught gi fabric you will be much more successful with your grip break attempts.
I’m not a big fan of the ‘washing machine’ grip break hence my somewhat pejorative name for it. My main sleeve grip break is what I call the ‘elbow show’ Pedro calls it the ‘tear away’ no matter what you call it, it is in my view the more effective grip break.
In the ‘elbow show’ you first need to tighten the gi fabric around your forearm and elbow:
Pedro shows this with the thumb to nose method, self explanatory, however, I was taught and prefer the thumb to chest method. Imagine you’re trying to throw an elbow rather than adopting a position for a 12 to 6 elbow you instead go for a 10 to 2 elbow, with your thumb able to touch your chest. Obviously don’t elbow your fellow Judoka in the face as this will get you an instant hansoku make and make everyone think you’re a dick. This will keep the fabric tight around your elbow and forearm more consistently than the 12 to 6 position. The next step is to snap the elbow back and downwards towards your own hip, so if freeing your right arm you snap it back to your right hip.
This should break their grip on your sleeve and allow you to then attempt to re-impose your desired grip.
Also if you happen to be on the receiving end of a sleeve control grip break, which is entirely possible, you must not panic and always try and regain control over uke’s dominant side by using your hikite hand to control the space and the dominant side.
Dealing with Kenka yotsu:
Unfortunately not everyone you will meet on the contest mat will be right handed/ left handed and you will have to face someone who takes the opposite grips right on left/ left on right. In this situation you need to be aware of how to deal with a kenka yotsu situation.
The three principles of Kenka yotsu gripping:
Get the inside grip
Control your opponent’s sleeve
Two hands on the gi
I understand an inside grip to be as such:
Tori, white, has an inside grip on uke, blue. This is advantageous for tori because uke has very limited defences from this position and tori has a wide range of attacks, also tori, with a good sleeve grip, has extensive control over uke.
However, from this position you only have on hand on and it can be difficult to achieve a grip on uke’s sleeve. One method is:
To temporarily grip with a double lapel, which is threatening enough to force uke to react to it at which you can attack their sleeve.
Uke will react by trying to disrupt your grip on their collar
You swap your hand underneath uke’s securing the sleeve as outlined previously and then are in a dominant gripping position.
Never forget to keep using your inside grip on uke’s lapel to create and control the space.
Hopefully this simplistic introduction to Judo contest gripping has been of help to some people. If you feel your Judo isn’t ready for contests yet I recommend you head over to the JMA forum and check out my threads their.
The Russian gripping stuff I will let develop in the thread.
As always I open up the thread to comments, criticisms and contrary opinions.