by Elie A. Morrell, Shichidan


There exists today a very common misunderstanding regarding certain types of leg throwing techniques (Ashi Waza). Specifically, these include those techniques known as sweeping, reaping and hooking.

Let us examine the problem first hand. To begin with, some people claim that there is no difference between a sweep and a reap. This is the more common problem. Secondly, since hooking techniques are not common they are less understood than either the sweep or the reap.

In an effort to clear the air, the author will show that three distinct and different physical actions can be associated with the three types of techniques in question. One could argue semantics endlessly. However, if three distinct physical actions do exist, this cannot be disputed. I personally could care less about the nomenclature. However, for the sake of consistency and simplicity of understanding, we should adhere to the traditional titles given to these leg throws. Without regard to titles then, we shall proceed to describe three different physical actions and then examine them from a static and/or dynamic point of view in terms of optimum attack conditions.


In this action, the defender’s leg is swept out from under his body. However, the precise instant when the defender’s leg is moved by the attacker corresponds to that point in time when the defender has no weight on the leg. It matters not whether the defender has just begun to move the leg, is just about to put weight on it or for some reason has it momentarily off the mat with little or no motion. The established criterion is clear. That is, no weight on the leg!


In this action the defender’s leg is reaped or cut away from under the defender. The leg action of the attacker is more powerful than in Action No. 1 because this time the defender has weight on the attacked leg. It is irrelevant how much weight is on the attacked leg. The attacked leg is reaped away relative to the upper body of the defender.


In this action the defender’s leg is hooked or blocked while there is weight on it. In this action, however, the defender’s upper body is pushed over the blocked leg. The leg is not driven out relative to the upper body as in Action No. 2.


We have now described three types of actions which can be utilized against the defender’s leg. The differences in the three actions are not subtle, but very conspicuous indeed. There is no similarity to speak of in the three actions.

Having verified that three separate types of actions can in fact be made against a defender’s leg, then it appears that the semantics problem can easily be resolved. Action No. 1 can best be described as sweeping. Action No. 2 as reaping and Action No. 3 as hooking. In other words, the original definitions are as sound as ever and there truly does exist sweeping, reaping and hooking techniques. In Japanese terms these of course correspond to harai, gari and gake type actions, respectively. One could argue ad infinitum that Action No. 1 should be called Action No. 2 and vice versa, but that is not the issue. One only has to realize that the three actions are mutually independent of each other. With this realization the choice is then up to the individual, but conformance to the accepted norm is the path of least resistance.


A more significant issue for players and coaches is that of understanding clearly the dynamics and anatomical considerations associated with the three described actions or forms of leg techniques, if you will.

Looking at Action No. 1, the dynamic considerations are relatively simple. The defender’s leg could be likened to a pendulum with the hip as the center of rotation. If the defender’s leg is properly swept little resistance can be put up to avoid the attacking action. Bear in mind that we are talking about a properly executed technique by the attacker. Obviously, there are courses of action that the defender can take against a poor attack.

In terms of efficient sweeping of the leg, there are other requirements. The defender should be in a natural posture with minimal bending at the knee. In addition, the direction in which the leg is swept is important. This statement is made realizing that in general, the type of throw will dictate the direction in which the leg is swept. In terms of sweeping efficiency therefore, some throws are better than others. The most efficient sweeping direction is one where either the right of left leg is swept in the direction of movement toward the opposite leg. This is indicated in the following simple diagram.


This sweeping action will be more effective if the attacker keeps the attacking foot (sole) as close to the mat as possible. This sweeping direction does not induce any bending at the knee of the defender. Referring to the diagram, the least effective sweeping action is that in which the attacker sweeps the foot from the direct front to the direct rear. This is the worst condition because maximum bending of the defender’s knee occurs and is undesirable. Sweeping from the inside and diametrically opposed to that condition shown in the diagram is dangerous, impractical and therefore forbidden. Referring to the diagram once again, sweeping actions to the direct front while sweeping the heel are rare. Usually (and more correctly so) the action on the heel will be to the slanting front. It should be noted, however, that a sweep from direct rear to direct front is dynamically sounder because the tendency is then to bring the defender’s leg to the straight and locked position.

A moment’s reflection and the reader will realize that there is one sweeping throw which fits the included diagram. That throw is okuri ashi harai. Interestingly enough, this throw is the only sweeping leg throw in the nage no kata.

When reviewing Action No. 2, the throwing techniques are found to be limited in number. This number is subdivided into two basic groups. Those where the reaping is done essentially at the lower ankle area and those where the reaping action is done primarily in the knee area. Reaping actions will always result in the defender being thrown in a rearward direction. The following, diagram will clarify the directions for the reaping actions.



The sectors (I and III) covered by arcs AB and CD are approximate. The defender’s leg should not be attacked in areas covered by these sectors. It can be stated unequivocally that no attacks at the knee area can be made in either the direction of A or D. Only with experience and good judgement will the attacker sense the limits of the prohibited attack sectors. Any attack directly along the AD line could result in serious injury to the defender if the knee area is the point of attack. Safe attacks can be made anywhere in the sector II covered by the arc BC.

If the ankle area is attacked, it is possible from the safety standpoint to include sector I as an attack sector but it is not good in a practical sense. From our simplified sketch it is difficult to envision the reaping action behind the knee area. The previous comments associated with the sketch remain the same but an additional statement should be made regarding such throws as o soto gari and o uchi gari. In the execution of the reaping action, the attacker should attempt to pick up the defender’s leg in the initial stages of the reap. If the attacker delivers any force which tends to be below the horizontal, the defender’s leg will tend to stick to the floor and injury could also result to this leg.

The techniques in Action No. 3 can also be done from behind the knee and at the ankle area. If one refers to the schematic drawn for the Action No. 2 case and considers hooking at the ankle area, the same rationale will hold as in the case of reaping techniques. However, depending on individual preference, an ankle attack along the line AD from the outside ankle may be far more practical than the same attack for Action No. 2. Attacks at the knee can be viewed the same as in the case of Action No. 2 with one exception. For a hooking attack at the knee area the attacker need not be concerned with attempting to lift the leg of the defender. This is because the defender is being pushed over his leg and the problem of the defender’s leg being jammed on the floor is not evident in the hooking action.