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Martial Arts: Judo

The Value of Uchikomi in the Development of Judo Skills

By Elie A. Morrell, Hachidan

Not much has been written on the subject of Uchikomi with regard to its benefits or lack thereof. This is probably due to the fact that the majority of the judo community accepts the practice of Uchikomi as a beneficial adjunct to the development of the overall judo skill.

The common belief of the judo community is simply that the practice of Uchikomi (formerly called Butsukari) improves throwing skills. Only within the last several decades since sports psychologists clearly pointed out that judo being a dynamic motor skill, that to practice the skill(s) in part does not improve the skill. This simply means in order to improve throwing skills that throws must be completed in practice in an environment which resembles as close as possible the environment encountered in the performance of randori and shiai! The practice of Uchikomi involves the application of throws to the culmination point, or what is commonly known as kake. Instructors will typically have students perform the Uchikomi for a specified number of times prior to executing the total technique.

The term Uchikomi is derived from the Japanese verb Utsu which means ‘to beat against’. Many instructors mistakenly interpret the word Uchikomi to mean ‘fitting in’.

It is interesting to note based on my personal experience that most instructors will have their students practice forward throws which truly require a ‘fitting in’ in one form or another and RARELY, if ever practice Uchikomi in any other direction! It certainly is true that there are a few techniques that are compatible with Uchikomi in directions other than forward.

It would seem reasonable to conclude that the practice of Uchikomi should be utilized for all throws but unfortunately this is not the case and many instructors only have students practice a few forward throws. Where an attempt to apply Uchikomi would be awkward to impossible would include throws such as Okuri Ashi Barai, Yoko Otoshi, Tomoe Nage, Tani Otoshi, Uki Otoshi, Uki Waza, Yoko Wakare, Sumi Otoshi and Yoko Gake. Why are judoka not told what the limitations are of Uchikomi regarding the techniques where it is applicable aside from the fact that it has no value as a tool for the development of judo skills! I believe it is because it does not appear anywhere in literature on judo.

If you as a judo instructor accept the fact that the practice of Uchikomi has no value for skill development then alternatives must be utilized. What then are these alternatives? The answer is DRILLS and they are sorely neglected as a training tool by many judo instructors. As important as drills are they do not take the place of Randori and Shiai. Randori is the major building block of judo. However, Randori and Shiai must be supplemented with properly designed drills. It is the consensus of Kodokan high ranking instructors and teachers that priority in training should be given to Randori. Controlled Randori is in itself a form of drill.

Rigidly designed drills are necessary to replace the archaic form of Uchikomi now practiced in the majority of dojos. Throwing drills must be practiced with the players in motion. With motion and the completion of the throw the essence of Uchikomi vanishes. Simply stated, the drill could not be labeled as a moving Uchikomi.

With the introduction of movement and the completion of the throw, drills are more complex. New variables in the moving drill are now present which do not exist for the static Uchikomi. The significant new variables include tempo (how fast the players are moving), the position of Uke’s feet at the point of kake, timing and Uke’s posture. One of the most important features of the drill is that movement should be random. At some point the coach will allow Tori to complete the throw.

If the Uke is allowed to try to avoid being thrown in these drills, then in effect the players have reached the level of randori. Randori should only be the ultimate goal of the drill. The first level of the drill should have the Uke be totally passive and not restrict tori in any way when a throw is attempted. After substantial practice of the first level, the Uke could then proceed to offer varying degrees of resistance to the throwing attempt by the Tori until the randori level is reached.

The goal of the coach in utilizing the preceding approach is to have the students reach a level of judo expertise that is comparable to the environment encountered in randori and in particular the shiai. The randori or shiai goal cannot be attained by the practice of Uchikomi!

The practice of Uchikomi will undoubtedly remain a steadfast method of training. Modern day thinking and method changes are up against traditional methods of practice. Traditional practices would be very difficult to change. Fortunately there are some individuals involved in judo today with an open mind who have abandoned the use of Uchikomi in their teaching syllabus. As time goes by we surely can expect the number of these individuals to increase in number. I have not made use of the practice of Uchikomi for nearly forty years.

In the late 1960’s I was fortunate to purchase a judo text written by G.R.Gleeson entitled ‘Judo for the West’. This is a book that I have read over and over again. The material in this book helped to significantly change my learning and teaching outlook on the sport of judo. This book should be highly recommended reading for all judo coaches. G.R.Gleeson makes the point that practitioners of judo cannot be content to rest on their traditions and dogmas. Gleeson states that the learning of judo must be derived from the throws themselves and not from artificially devised practices such as Uchikomi.

Gleeson is critical of the practice of Uchikomi in three main areas and are briefly discussed as follows:

1. Fixed routines: These are unchanging patterns of movement.
Habitual movement patterns result from the practice of Uchikomi.
However, judo is the practice of a skill and therefore habit and skill are not synonymous. Gleeson further maintains that no common patterns exist between the static repetition of a throw and the dynamic performance of a throw where the players are in motion.

2. How the completion of a skill movement affects the improvement of the skill: Rarely in Uchikomi practice is the throw completed. Therefore, the player never really knows if he/she is doing it correctly and is not able to test the effectiveness of the throw in question. If the throw is completed, feedback from the instructor must be given. With no movement of the players, non-completion of the throw and no resistance by the Uke, it is Gleeson’s opinion that negative feedback results from the practice of Uchikomi. The conclusion reached here is that not only will Uchikomi not help to improve the throwing skill, but will actually impede any skill improvement.

3. Rhythmic pattern differences in static and dynamic movement: Non movement of the Uke and the in and out moves of the Tori result in a regular beat rhythm of the players. How then can transference be expected to take place? That is, the required environment of randori and shiai. Transference is non existent! The movement patterns associated with randori and competition are extremely complex and contain endless variations of movement by both of the players.

G.R.Glesson goes so far to say that the practice of Uchikomi may help to increase stamina and strength but its value as a method to improve throwing skill is insignificant!

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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).


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