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Martial Arts: Judo

Relationship of Kuzushi and Tsukuri in a Judo Throw

By Elie Morrell, Hachidan

The majority of individuals practicing judo today are aware that three required elements make up a successful throwing technique. In the early phase of judo learning your sensei indicated that these elements are called kuzushi, tsukuri and kake. I was personally taught (almost 57 years ago) that kuzushi, tsukuri and kake were defined as the breaking of the balance, entry into the technique and the culmination of the throwing technique, respectively. Of the forgoing three elements, the judo community is in full agreement regarding the definition of kake. It has never been the subject of debate as far as this author knows.

Controversy, debate and misunderstanding have been clearly evident over the years regarding the relationship and interaction of kuzushi and tsukuri in a throwing technique. Furthermore, the accepted definition of tsukuri as the entry (fitting in) into a technique Is NOT correct. Before you take my name in vain, allow me to refer you to references 1 and 2. Both of these authors (Toshiro Daigo and Kazuzo Kudo) define tsukuri as the ‘positioning of the uke’. If in fact the prevailing definition of tsukuri were true, then it is logical to conclude that it should apply to all throws. A careful scrutiny of the officially accepted 67 throws of the Kodokan will indicate that the currently accepted definition of tsukuri is not physically applicable to all sixty seven.

Tsukuri can be best defined as the initial or preparatory moves made prior to the attack. The tsukuri is achieved only when tori and uke are in motion and tori supplies the necessary reactive push or pull to place uke in a position to facilitate the throwing technique. Without motion of both players, the uke is stable and any attack is a waste of time. Inexperienced players will often attack with zero motion and sometimes succeed. This is not proper judo. In addition, all attacks should be in the direction that the uke is moving.  

Knowing when to initiate the preparatory moves is vital. The best time to attempt positioning the uke is when he is shifting his body weight. The shifting of uke’s body weight can include physical moves such as forward or backward motion, initiation of an attack, and a failed attack, to name a few.

Once uke is placed into a position (tsukuri) which makes it easy to throw him, breaking of his posture (kuzushi) immediately follows. The two actions of tsukuri and kuzushi are linked very close in time. So close, that it is extremely difficult to discern between the two actions of the tsukuri and the kuzushi. Reference 3 discusses the preparatory moves for nage waza and is suggested reading.

When considering the push or pull utilized by the tori to properly position the uke, it is best for tori to react to a pull with a push to position the uke rather than to attempt to use force directly against the uke to attempt the positioning. Conversely, tori should react to a push with a pull to affect the positioning of the uke. The tori must take into consideration the relative strength of both players. If the uke is much stronger than tori, it should be obvious that the direct use of force to position the uke would more than likely result in failure. If the tori is stronger than the uke, he should adhere to the principle of reacting to a push or a pull by the uke as stated.

Timing in the application of force is very significant. It is difficult to explain and master as it applies to throwing techniques. Only through experience and constant practice can a player begin to get the feel of when the opponent will push or pull. When this happens, a player will have truly mastered the sense of timing.

I find it disconcerting that to date all the individuals involved in judo that I have met still maintain the prevailing belief that tsukuri means to fit in during the execution of a judo throw. To some extent many of us are the product of poor instruction.

Not only is the meaning of tsukuri misunderstood, but some practitioners believe that kuzushi precedes tsukuri, others believe that tsukuri precedes kuzushi and finally others believe that they occur simultaneously! How is that for a mixed bag?  It is difficult to comprehend why such diverse opinions exist in the judo community.

Those individuals who read this article should take the time to verify the statements contained herein. Of particular importance is the definition of the term tsukuri. It only seems proper that the meaning of the term as stated by the highest ranking Japanese judoka be accepted as truth. We should all be willing to correct any incorrect products of faulty instruction we may have given in our early judo training.

This paper has pointed out a significant area of misunderstanding regarding the requirements for a successful judo throwing technique.

Based on the definitions contained in references 1 and 2, the sequence of events for a throwing technique are: tsukuri, kuzushi and kake. Finally, the definition of tsukuri is defined as ‘positioning of the uke’.


1.    Kazuzo Kudo, Dynamic Judo, “Throwing Techniques,” Japan Publications Trading Company, November 1967

2.    Kodokan Judo Throwing Techniques by Toshiro Daigo, Copyright 2005.

3.    Preparatory Moves for Nage Waza by Elie Morrell, Copyright 2003.

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About The Author:

Elie Morrell began judo in 1955 and currently holds a United States Judo Federation (USJF) rank of Hachidan (8th dan).  Over the years Morrell has taught judo in California, Colorado, Texas and Oregon. He is the former chairman of the USJA coach certification committee (1980-1982) and has served as a certified master judo examiner and national coach.  As an author Morrell has written over 25 technical articles on judo. He holds an engineering from Brown University (1950).

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

judo, judo terminology, kuzushi, tsukuri, kake, Elie Morrell, off balancing, entering, moving an oppponent

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