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The Classical O-Soto-Gari Judo Throw

Part 2: The Rebuttal

by Steve Cunningham

Editor's Note: This is a two part series discussing the effectiveness of the classically taught major outer reaping judo throw, O-soto-gari. Part 1 faults the classical method while a rebuttal to this criticism follows in Part II. In a follow-up article the jujutsu and combat roots to this same technique will be illustrated.

Ben Holmes' article on about the stupidity of "classical" o-soot-gari is incorrect. The version of o-soot-gari that Holmes ridicules bears little resemblance to anything I was ever taught as "classical" judo. This may be one person's version of o-soto-gari, but it certainly is not "the" classical o-soto-gari. The author argues that the classical method has you attacking the unweighted leg. No way. I don't even know anyone who would advocate that. It makes no sense, regardless of your brand of judo.

The next step for a right-handed throw, according to the author, is "Put your left foot outside his right foot," which we are told is silly because your left foot is your driving leg. If your left foot/driving leg is beside your opponent, then you have nothing to push with.

There are many problems with this characterization. First of all, this assumes that both kinds of judo use the left leg as the driving leg. You have two legs. I think the real difference here is that in classical judo, you off-balance before you attempt kake (execution of a throw). In the classical method, you are driving in while pushing with the right leg, to drive your opponent off-balance while placing your left foot beside him. That is where the driving is done. NOW that he is off-balanced, you attempt to remove your opponent's standing leg, that is, his weighted right leg. If you can't off-balance him, then you don't continue with that o-soto-gari.

As the competition photographs show, the competitors have not off-balanced their opponents. No wonder. These are extraordinarily skilled, internationally-ranked competitors at the peak of their careers. It is not easy to get them off-balanced. No argument there. But if you are going to try to drive someone over their leg when they are NOT off-balance, then you had better have the left leg in a driving position. You need to do this because your opponent can muster a great deal of resistance to your attack when he is not off-balanced.

But, of course, this means that by attacking an opponent where he is strong and on balance, you are already engaging in an inefficient tactic. You threw seiryoku zenyo out the window with your first move, so don't tell me this is more efficient than the "classical method". The idea is that you didn't have much choice because you were unable to get your opponent off balance in the first place. Right?

If you are fighting with no time limits, you might be able to keep working your opponent until you can catch him off-balance. When you are fighting top-caliber judo people and are required to make an attack every few seconds or get disqualified, however, you have a serious problem. You are forced by the rules to engage in inefficient practices. That's just the way it goes.

The author describes the hand actions of tori (person attempting a throw) in the classical method as operating independently, which they do not. He argues that the classical approach does not use the entire right forearm against uke's (the person being thrown) chest, when that is the only way I've seen it (when we didn't have a vice-grip on uke's neck for self-defense). I always put my forearm against uke in randori (practice) or shiai (contest).

"Lightly raise your right leg and swing it past your opponent's right leg" -- It is hard to reap your opponent's leg forward until you get your leg behind him." How far do you take it past before coming back with the reap? I know I don't usually take it much past the minimum distance necessary. So I don't get this one, either.

Mr. Holmes argues, "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?" I have never heard of anyone in classical judo arguing to do ANY pushing or pulling with just your hands. This is utter nonsense, as is the rest of this. We do drive the hand movements with the dynamic use of the entire body.

He further argues, "You will remain standing, which won't happen in the dynamic form of o-soto-gari. 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."

Wrong again. As I have already said, in the classical method, you drive and off-balance on the entry, before the kake. That is the real difference. Because of this, tori does not have to be off-balance at kake (although tori might choose to be). There is more than one way to cause your opponent to hit the ground hard with a throw.

One way is to just wrap up in him and fall with him. Classical Judo people call that "makikomi." But there other ways. If I gave you a sledgehammer and asked you to hit the ground with it as hard as you could, would you cling to it and take a flying leap? I don't think so. You'd probably take a stable stance, and swing it downward from the handle with all your strength. You can do the same thing with your opponent once he is off the ground.

Using your grip, you use the stability of your position to slam him down into the mat, separate from yourself. I am not suggesting either approach is the only way to do this, only that there is more than one way. Moreover, believe it or not, classical Judoka do o-soto Makikomi, too. (1)

If you are going to argue that something is wrong, you'd better first know what it is. My guess is that the author is really arguing against one person's written description of something that one person calls "classical o-soto-gari". Extending the generalization to all classical Judo just does not apply.

As a result of the rules, modern competition sets some real and important constraints on players that may force them to do things that are, strictly speaking, inefficient. This is just the way it is. Competitors have adapted their methods accordingly, making their techniques work within the modern competitive environment, and I have no argument with them about it. That is not the purpose of my comments. You do, after all, play to win.

Note: This article is an edited version of commentary about Ben Holmes' writings on o-soto-gari. It appears here with the permission of Steve Cunningham and Best Judo.

Editor's Footnote:

(1) This is a simply a follow-up technique to O-soto-gari. When you try O-soto-gari, and you can't quite get it, you can release your lapel hand, and take it up and over the head, and instead of sweeping to the rear (that has been failing), you now drive straight down, twisting away from uke as you do so. It's a sacrifice of your body position to 'win' the throw.

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About The Author:

Steve Cunningham is a holder of the rokudan (6th degree red and white belt) in Judo and the shichidan (7th degree red and white belt) in Takagi-Ryu Jujutsu. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the United States Judo Association (USJA), and is also a member of the United States Judo Inc. (USJI) and the United States Judo Federation (USJF).

He was an uchideshi to Taizo Sone, who was a direct student of Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo, Kotaro Okano and Hidekazu Nagaoka (10th dans under Kano), and Zenpai Kondo (Jujutsu Menkyo Kaiden), among others. Sone signed his keppan or blood oath at the Kodokan shortly after the turn of the century.

Cunningham extended his Judo and Jujutsu training under several of Sone's friends, including the current soke (grandmaster) of the Takagi-Ryu Jujutsu. Cunningham has over 35 years experience in the martial arts, and his students have gone on to win national and international competitions. Cunningham teaches at the Ju Nan Shin Martial Arts Academy (also in Connecticut), and travels and gives clinics upon invitation. See his website at:

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

judo, competitive judo, judo technique

Read more articles by Steve Cunningham

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