Kuzushi & Tsukuri, or the Chicken and Egg Problem.


We’ve all learned the traditional mantra: Kuzushi, Tsukuri, Kake.  Or, as I commonly consider it in English, Breaking my opponent’s balance, Fitting in for the throw, and the execution of the throw.  We’ve probably all used the example of looking at our “wristwatch”, while executing the kuzushi pull for a forward throw… when teaching.

This three-fold breakdown goes back to the very beginnings of Judo - Jigoro Kano is credited with the discovery of the importance of Kuzushi.  As a 1915 book by Sakujiro Yokoyama puts it:

“Accordingly, victory may be here divided under three principal heads, namely:

(a) Put your opponent into a “broken posture.”
(b) Place yourself in the right posture.
(c) Perform the tricks in the proper manner.

These three are the most important elements for victory.”

So this concept goes all the way back to the earliest expositions of Judo knowledge.  It’s certainly not any recent innovation.   Yet in actual randori or shiai, there is almost never such a three-fold separation.  What actually creates kuzushi at the black belt level, against evenly matched opponents, is tsukuri.

Let me repeat that… what creates kuzushi is tsukuri.  Naturally, correct tsukuri… but it is almost never the pull or push of your hands that does it.  We teach the ideal, but what we practice is what works.  This is why it’s so important at the higher levels of Judo to have the 45 degree ‘angle of attack’ that Gleeson speaks of.  You must be able to exert the maximum amount of power at the moment of the attack - this is what creates the kuzushi you need.

This isn’t to say that it’s the only way to create kuzushi… tempo changes certainly play a role, the ability to control space is another consideration.  And, as all of us know, even the grip can play it’s role too.  I only dispute that it’s only the grip that is what creates kuzushi.

You can see now why I refer to the old “Which came first” riddle - what truly comes first, Kuzushi or Tsukuri?  In the Judo ideal, clearly it would be Kuzushi.  In real life, against a knowledgeable and resisting opponent, the answer is more complex…