Osoto Gari - What We Teach Doesn't Work...

I’m sure that those familiar with my website have read my article: Classical Osoto Gari Doesn’t Work! And yet, I’m constantly amazed at those who don’t understand the simple concept.

I was speaking with a Sandan last week after class, who’s been instructing classes for many years, and he couldn’t seem to grasp the concept that the way we teach Osotogari is never the way it’s actually performed in competition. Interestingly, he touted Yasuhiro Yamashita as an example of someone who regularly performs a ‘classical’ Osotogari in competition. Those of you who have read my article, and have seen pictures of Yamashita’s competitive waza, know differently.

This same Sandan who will correct beginning students who fail to step forward first before beginning the reap in Osotogari - fails to see the difference between the classical Osotogari, and the actual competitive version. I made the same challenge that I’ve been offering Judoka for years: Simply show me a photo of a classical Osotogari being used in competition. Perhaps such a photo exists outside of the white belt children’s division, but I’ve not seen it yet.

I was recently viewing a new DVD by Hal Sharp, that shows many historical film clips from the early 1950’s - and time and time again, I noted that these high ranking sensei were teaching Osotogari in the classical way - yet performing it in competition without stepping the non-reaping foot forward.

I have the sneaking suspicion that the problem of not recognizing this dichotomy between ‘classical’ and ‘competitive’ Osotogari is twofold - first, my use of the term ‘classical’ really irritates many Judoka - who will never admit that perhaps we can do things better today in some respects than the old masters. Perhaps if I referred to it as the ‘demonstration’ form of Osotogari instead, I wouldn’t have so much disagreement with such a simple concept.

Secondly - the martial arts are extremely tradition driven - and many sensei are not dissimilar to the old concept of a Jewish Rabbi - who would compare themselves to a cup that loses not a drop of what they had been taught. In the same way, we teach Judo the same way that we learned it, and often have a problem adapting to new methods.

Please don’t think that I’m advocating that we teach the competitive version of Osotogari to beginners - there are solid reasons for the way we teach the classical version of Osotogari. Let’s take a quick look:

    • The ukemi out of a classical Osotogari is much more controlled.
    • The concept of reaping is clear and cannot be missed.
    • Kuzushi is simple and understandable.
    • For beginners - this is simply a much safer version to work with… less chance of injury. This perhaps the strongest argument for retaining classical Osotogari!

But I would like to see the competitive form of Osotogari being taught to our competitors - who often have to figure it out on their own. By the time a Judoka makes sankyu, he should know the difference between the classical form, and the competitive form. They really are, in my opinion, two different throws - the classical form being a gari, and the competitive form being a gake.

What’s the simple difference between a gari and a gake? In a gari - you hold the upper body in position, and reap out the lower half of the body. In a gake - you hold the lower half of the body in place, and you push the upper half of the body over. This is a simplistic explanation, but it’s a useful one.

If you’ll at least consider the differences between the classical form, and the competitive form, my argument has been worthwhile. If you’ll move forward, and recognize that the classical form simply doesn’t work against knowledgeable opponents - I’ll have made the point I wanted to make.