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The O-Soto-Gari Judo Throw In Jujutsu & Karate


by Christopher Caile

Feudal Period Weapons Oriented Jujutsu

In feudal Japan Samurai were rarely without their swords. (3) Other classes too often carried a variety of short knives and other weapons. Therefore techniques of self-defense often centered on weapon attacks, and the defender also often had a weapon that could be utilized. It was only later in times of prolonged peace (Tokugawa period that preceded modern Japan and later) that jujutsu techniques evolved to focus on unarmed attacks, although defense against armed attacks was still taught. For more information on the evolution of jujutsu see the FightingArts series, "Jujutsu: The Evolving Art."

The following example, an adaptation of a Daito-Ryu aikijujutsu technique, illustrates a defense against a short sword attack.(4) Most often the long samurai sword (swords were usually worn in pairs, long and short, along with a knife) was removed when indoors. Likewise when warriors were together in camp, long swords were usually removed and stored. But, short swords and/or tanto (knives) were a potential threat.

Here we see the judo o-soto-gari technique in an earlier form against an armed assailant, and when a counter attack involved a weapon.

Here the defender raises his left arm to take the center line to intercept the attacker's arm. Distance is adjusted by the defender who either stands in place (not shown) or takes a small step forward to adjust the distance (shown).

The next series of photos are shown from the reverse side. In the second photo the defender slides his left leg at an angle (not a step but a drop of weight) while using his blocking hand to guide down the sword arm (not grabbing it until the end). The body is also turned at the same angle of the step so the left arm remains centered. At the same time the defender pulls a knife (tanto) and stabs the attacker (in an actual attack, the knife would be left sticking into the attacker-not shown). In modern practice an atemi strike is usually substituted, but the strike is a thrusting one used more for distraction and off-balancing (able to actually drive the recipient backward) than to create an injury (as in karate or other percussion arts).(5)

The combined movement is uniquely different from modern jujutsu in several respects. First the defender lets his weight (thus his center) fall into the technique of guiding the attacking arm down while simultaneously thrusting (with arm and body moving together) with the other arm -- a very powerful technique that has to be felt to be understood.

In the next photo the defender drives his hand up into the opponent's chin (another alternative in some situations for the palm stike is the brim of a helmet including the flat type helmet, or jingasa, used by lower samurai or the more sophisticated Kabuto helmets of higher ranked samurai) driving his body backward while simultaneously keeping the attacker's right arm extended. The defender then steps forward raising the right knee (shown here without partner). The throw is executed by thrusting the leg (heel first) downward and back, like a thrusting downward karate kick to the ankle which hits across the assailant's upper calf or back of the knee (which could also be used as a vital point attack to the calf or back of the knee). Because of the dangerous nature of this kick, modern judo prefers to use a sweeping motion of the leg to affect the throw.

In the techniques shown above we have seen three distinct stages in the evolution of the judo o-soto-gari throw. In judo the throw itself is central and it is set up with some combination of off-balancing, body maneuvering and strength. The goal is to throw or win a point in a competition.

In post feudal jujutsu systems similar throws are usually performed as part of a response to various unarmed attacks -- the throw being only one part of the response. Setting up for the throw involves unbalancing as in judo, but percussion and/or arm manipulation techniques are added. The goal usually to defend oneself. In addition the mechanics of the leg throw involves a thrusting kick-like leg maneuver rather than a sweep as found in modern judo.

In daito-ryu (as well as in other feudal age related jujutsu system techniques) the throw is also performed as part of a self-defense maneuver, but the attack is often by weapon and the goal of the defense is often to kill the assailant. Off balancing is performed (as in judo) but the body moves differently - weight or body dropping is substituted for muscle action (drawn from Samurai body movement patterns that are reflected in execution of sword and other weapon techniques). And like jujutsu the throw is executed with a kicking, rather than a sweeping motion

In Karate And Other Percussion Arts

It is unclear if karate prior to modern times developed its own o-soto-gari like throw or was influenced by judo on the mainland. In Gichen Funakoshi's 1935 book "Karatedo Kyohan," he demonstrates a take down (shown here) which very much looks like a o-soto-gari throw. The technique also involves stepping forward behind the left leg of an opponent, but instead of using the right leg to throw, the assailant is forced backward over the right leg (tripped), as the defender's right arm encircles the assailant's neck pushing the head backward and arching the body.

Although not discussed in Funakoshi's book, in the process of encircling the neck the right forearm can forcefully strike down and into the side of the opponent's neck to hit both the bundle of nerves leading from the neck down into the arm (known as the brachial plexus), as well as the carotid sinus (a small sack-like organ of tissue lying on the upward branch of the carotid artery which inflates with increasing blood pressure) which helps the body regulate blood pressure. This strike will momentarily stun or knock out the opponent.

Interestingly aikido employs a similar technique known as a kokyu-nage, or breath throw, which looks similar to the Funakoshi technique but so controls the head and body that the opponent falls backward without the need for either a throw (as in o-soto-gari) or trip (as demonstrated by Funakoshi above).

Today, however, the o-soto-gari type throw is often found in karate as part of a fighting or self-defense sequence that often includes various striking counterattacks (set-ups) or finishes (after the throw).

Here as an assailant throws a right punch to the face, the defender steps back while simultaneously blocking the punch with a left upper block and countering with a right punch to the chin. Instead of withdrawing the punching arm (if the punch was successful) the defender reaches up to the inside of the assailant's neck and hooks it (here grabbing the collar) to pull the neck and trunk forward (while the left arm is controlled) into a right knee kick (pulling down while kneeing upward) to the midsection, or alternately the face. (6)

Without putting down the knee (the defender already having shifted to the left of the assailant), the right leg then sweeps the back of the attacker's right leg. At the same time the defender grabs the right shoulder of the assailant and uses the elbow to hit into the upper chest (not shown but the way the technique is practiced) or into the chin and neck forcing it backward (as shown) in often used in street situations. This drives the head and upper torso backward which arhes the body backward as the defender's left arm pulls the opponent's right arm (forcing the weight onto the right leg).

In this karate technique taken from Seido Juku karate (inherited by Mas Oyama's Kyokushin, Oyama having studied with Funakoshi in Tokyo) the finishing technique is not the throw. Here the defender controls the assailant by arching his left arm (elbow down) over his left knee so the defender cannot roll forward (the elbow can be easily broken) while pressing his right knee against the assailant's back so he cannot roll backward. This arches the attacker's body backward. This momentary controlling technique allows the defender to finish the technique with a downward sinking strike to a vital point on the side of the assailant's jaw, head, or neck.

There are countless applications of this same type of throw. Here another is shown known taken from Gogen Yamaguchi's book, "Goju Ryu: Karate Do Kyohan," the technique called, "Taoshi- waza 3." It is executed in free-fighting (kumite) application against a front kick. The photos illusrate the sequence very well. (7)

Karate, taekwondo, and many kung fu systems emphasize percussion or striking techniques. It is thus no surprise therefore, that blocking and strikes (versus grabs in jujutsu) are emphasized. Unlike jujutsu, where strikes are used to distract or momentarily stun, and diato-ryu where they are used to distract but to also off-balance, in the percussion arts like karate, the goal is a knock-out, or to injure. Thus, throwing is secondary, although used in many applications.


(3) Samurai, however, did not wear their swords everyplace. When inside or in military camp, their long swords were usually not worn. Likewise, when in the presense (inside) of the Shogun, the Emporor and many high officals, swords or other weapons were not permitted unless the Samurai was of a very high status which permitted the carrying of a short (not long) sword.

(4) This particular technique is adapted from Hakuhikai Daito-Ryu Aikijujtsu founded by Okayabashi Shogen Senesi. Daito-ryu is one of Japan's oldest martial traditions and was developed for use in military camps, castles and other environments for defense against a variety of weapon, as well as non-weapon, attacks. It is a living example of jujutsu as it was practiced in the feudal ages, when Samurai were engaged in constant battle. Today Daito-ryu is experiencing a popular revival in Japan and elsewhere, and there are now up to 50 diato-ryu groups in Japan and many more elsewhere. But unfortionatly there is also a great disparity in techniques and how they are executed.

Diato-ryu was founded by Shinra Saburo Minamoto during the Heian period (794-1156) and was perfected in times of warfare when methods of self-defense techniques were needed for military environments and for those times when Samurai were dressed in light armor or regular (non-armored) attire. The techniques were most fully systematized (some say modified) by Sokaku Takeda with sword and unarmed techniques practiced together. Daito-ryu has inspired many succeeding disciplines, including aikido founded by Morihei Usehiba (Takeda's student from 1911-1918), and many other jujutsu and aikijujutsu systems. Today Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu is often practiced with Itto-ryu Kenjutsu (sword techniques) that were practiced within the Aizu clan from which Takeda descended.,

(5) The strike used by karate, taekwondo, and most kung fu systems use muscles to create speed and impact (causing injury to the point attacked). In diato-ryu emphasis is on "bones and joints" and utilization of "non-twisting" (between hip and shoulders) to create a one line posture and movement (hitoemi) that combines weight dropping with the extension of the bones of the arm through the target. The effect of this type strike is not to cause local injury (although many report that its effect can be felt internally). Instead this type punch uproots and off-balances.

(6) If the punch had been blocked the defender could have continued the counter attack with a right elbow to the right side of the oppenent's head or neck which keeps the fist in front of the opponent. This allows an easy transition into the neck hook that follows.

(7) Reproduced here with the approval of Masters Publications which has reprinted the book in a translated (English) limited version.

Goju RyuK Karate Do Kyohan" by Gogen "The Cat" Yamaguchi now offered on our Collector's Corner of the e-store.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years and holds a 6th degree black belt in Seido Karate and has experience in judo, aikido, diato-ryu, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts. He is also a long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong. He is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. In Buffalo, NY, he founded the Qi gong Healing Institute and The Qi Medicine Association at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has also written on Qi gong and other health topics in a national magazine, the Holistic Health Journal and had been filmed for a prospective PBS presentation on Alternative Medicine. Recently he contributed a chapter on the subject to an award winning book on alternative medicine, "Resources Guide To Alternative Health."

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

O-soto-gari, judo, jujutsu, diato-ryu, karate, taekwondo, kung fu, self-defense

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