Bad Uchikomi - Do You Do This?

The purpose of Uchikomi is to ‘groove’ a technique so that your body will perform the technique without thinking of how to do it. The goal is to perform a given technique just as you drive a car - mindlessly. When driving down the freeway, you don’t consciously think that the car in the next lane over is about to cut in - you simply slow down and make room without thinking about it. Good Judo technique is the same way. When my opponent goes into Jigotai, and makes the mistake of bending forward too much, one of my arms will snake over his shoulder, and grab his belt - without any thinking on my part… it’s simply an automatic reaction on my part to an opponent’s mistake.

So why would anyone want to ‘groove’ a technique that doesn’t work? Or ‘groove’ a mistake? Yet this is exactly what happens at most dojo’s on a nightly basis. Let’s visualize for a moment… I’m watching two Judoka doing uchikomi for a right-sided Ippon Seoinage. Tori first throws his right foot back, then swings it forward and plants it (turning, to face the other way), then brings his left foot around and plants it… of course, the appropriate kuzushi and hand movements are employed… but I’d like to ask you… if you saw someone swinging their leg backwards, prior to swinging it in for a throw, what do you suppose your response would be?

Let’s imagine it. You’re in randori or shiai, and your opponent has just lifted his right foot, and swung it back… what do you do? Well, if you’re like me, and like to throw left or right, you’d immediately note that your opponent is standing on only one leg… and you’d attack it. You could do a left-sided Osoto Gari, a left-sided Tai Otoshi, a right-sided Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi, a left-sided Ko Uchi Gake… and the list goes on.

Considering that in many throws, the Kuzushi involves getting Uke to support his weight on only one leg - is there any reason why you should hand this self kuzushi over to your opponent on a silver platter? Yet this is exactly what many Judoka are grooving in their uchikomi practice.

What does this swinging back of the leg do for Tori? Quite simple, it adds speed and momentum to the throw. And this makes you feel as if you are performing a better throw in Uchikomi than the actual case turns out to be. But should you actually do this in randori or shiai, particularly against someone that has the skill to take advantage of it, you’ll regret training this way.

Speed is certainly important in Judo - the power of a given throw is dependent on two factors - mass and momentum.  If you happen to be a heavyweight, your throw is going to be powerful even if you do it at half the speed of a lightweight.  But short of gaining weight, your most effective way to increase the power of your throws is to perform them faster.  Sometimes, this means getting more space between you, so that you have some room to develop momentum and speed coming in.  But doing so by swinging your leg back is no better than hanging a sign on your chest - Beware - I’m about to attempt a throw!  Why alert your opponent?