By Jim Sheedy: Australia, January 2010
Kuzushi is more than merely unbalancing one’s opponent. Kawaishi (1955) in his text My method of judo asserts that Kuzushi is, “To bring about, maintain or amplify a disturbance of balance…”(p 21).
To some students Kuzushi can be a very esoteric concept and the principles need to be communicated to such students in a manner that they can readily grasp and apply (Visser, 1997; Ohlenkamp, 2003). The coach may, however, appreciate some augmented descriptions, in both Tachi-waza and Ne-waza, to clarify the concept of Kuzushi.
It is acknowledged that some students seem to find their own way of efficiently using Kuzushi, perhaps unknowingly or subconsciously, without the guidance of a coach. Never-the-less most judoka would appreciate a coach’s mentorship in this regard.
Dissecting the Concept of Kuzushi:
Kuzushi has been described and explained by Kawaishi (1955) as comprising of three interrelated components: to disrupt Uke’s balance; keep Uke off balance and to accentuate Uke’s state of unbalance. These components are described below and examples provided.
These three components of Kuzushi are equally relevant to Ne-waza as they are to Tachi-waza (Sheedy, 2009: 1). Kake often relates to the fulfilment of the application of these three principles of Kuzushi in Tachi-waza. Likewise in Ne-waza, Kuzushi may contribute significantly to the successful application of the technique attempted.
Tsukuri relates to the link between Kuzushi and Kake in Tachi-waza; to set up or construct a situation whereby to execute the Waza (Kodokan, 1955: 45). That is to create an attacking position while implementing Kuzushi. Some coaches teach eight (8) directions of unbalancing (eg unbalancing to the left front corner) to aid the learner in comprehending the concept of Kuzushi. Later the student may individualise and adapt these principles for their specific needs (Kudo, 1967: 16). The eight directions are multiplied many times or reduced to suit the specific requirements of Tori.
Application: Examples and Demonstrations:
Tori is taught to pull, push, lever, hook, sweep, lift, twist, turn, or otherwise initiate or contribute to Kuzushi. The endless permutations within judo create a communication challenge for coaches in this regard. How do we teach what seems such an abstract idea to beginners, or advanced students?
When watching a competition, or intense Randori, one can observe the application of techniques like Osoto-otoshi, or some variations of Osoto-gari. Tori clearly uses the three aspects of Kuzushi in the application of the Waza. Tori unbalances Uke in the entry. There may be considerable distance between the combatants at this point. Tori hops to improve the position and engages in the second stage of the Kuzushi, keeping Uke off balance. Kake completes the throw at the point where Uke cannot maintain balance or resistance any longer, the third aspect of Kushshi. This could be a clear demonstration of Kuzushi using a backward throw for students.
Using Osoto-gari as an example, Feldenkrais (1953: 22 and 33) explains the forces and result of Kuzushi clearly. The difficulty for coaches, as Feldenkrais suggests, is conveying this information to students in a meaningful and useable manner. The dynamic power comes from the body movements in conjunction with the hand, foot, head and body actions.
A beginner learning a technique like Harai-goshi (migi-no) may be instructed to pull up with the left hand while turning. The little finger of the left hand rising above the index finger side of the hand; the elbow lifts high as the head turns and the hips move into position. Tori’s right hand lapel grip abducts, pulling Uke onto the throw; the right arm, in contact with Tori’s side is placed in Uke’s armpit. Uke is loaded onto the hip and the throw is assisted with the guiding sweep of Tori’s right leg, toes pointed. Tori’s left foot pivoted in the turn with only the ball of the foot in contact with the mat. The foot action may be individualised to suit Tori; a deep entry with the left foot positioned between and behind Uke’s or possibly a position in between Uke’s and Tori’s feet. The hip action that aids the Kuzushi may be O-goshi (full hip turn, loading Uke onto the throw) or if desired Uki-goshi, where Tori floats through and collects Uke on the hip. The point being that Kuzushi, like most aspects of judo, accommodates the style, strategy and individualised movement patterns of Tori.
Throwing forward, or taking an opponent to the ground forward can also provide clear examples of the components of Kuzushi. A spinning take-down may suffice, a variation somewhere between Uki-waza and Yoko-otoshi. Rick Littlewood of New Zealand, is a notable exponent of this technique. Tori takes a double lapel grip of Uke’s right lapel, right hand uppermost, thumb out, the lower left hand with a thumb in grip. The power comes from Tori’s body and the skilful use of the backwards spinning action while lowering the centre of gravity. Initially Tori pulls with both hands in an upward and circular motion. Simultaneously Tori moves backwards away to the left of Uke. Tori has unbalanced Uke. To maintain the state of unbalance Tori continues to spin to Uke’s left in larger arcs and while lowering the body. Uke must move to remain standing and follow Tori’s actions. To complete the unbalancing (the third stage of Kuzushi) Tori moves to the ground placing the left leg in front of Uke’s right leg (similar to that of Uki-waza or Yoko-otoshi). Tori takes Uke to the ground with a continuous strong pull of both hands and completes the Waza by entry into a technique such as a variation of Kesa-gatame. This demonstration may provide a tangible example of the principles of Kuzushi the coach is trying to convey in Tachi-waza, especially the importance of the body movement.
Reversing a position in Ne-waza can serve as an example of Kuzushi in ground work; such as in a situation where Tori is supine under Uke (face to face) and wishes to reverse the position, to come up top of Uke and apply a Waza. Tori has both feet in position, left foot on Uke’s right knee, right foot hooking the left knee from inside (see Sheedy, 2009: 44 for further details). Tori captures Uke’s right arm encircling it from above and takes a lapel grip thumb out. Tori controls Ukes left elbow from underneath just above the elbow, in the crook of Tori’s own elbow. The stage is set for the Kuzushi. Tori creates a small serge of force on Uke, pulling in and crushing the entangled arms. It is likely that Uke reacts by pulling away from the perceived danger. Tori capitalises on this reaction, movement and self unbalancing by Uke. Tori synchronises the Kuzushi with Uke’s reaction, pushing Uke’s right knee and scooping Uke’s left knee. At the same time rotating Uke to the right with the force on the captured right arm and leverage on the left, encircled, elbow. Most of the force obviously comes from the rotation of Tori’s body. Once unbalanced, Tori maintains Uke’s state of unbalance by the rotation of the entwined bodies to Uke’s right and onto Tori’s left side. The Kuzushi is completed by Tori taking a position on top of Uke while applying a variation of Kesa-gatame maintaining the initial grips acquired at the start of the manoeuvre.
Another example of the use of Kuzushi in Ne-waza can be where both Uke and Tori are on all fours facing each other. Tori encircles Uke’s right arm from above taking a grip of Uke’s left lapel, thumb out. Tori takes a grip of Uke’s left sleeve near the wrist (see Kashiwazaki, 1985: 49). Uke expects Tori to attempt to overturn to the left and takes defensive actions such as extending the left leg, bracing the left arm and lowering the centre of gravity. Tori has anticipated this and creates a small serge of force against Uke to elicit a reaction. At the same time as Uke resists Tori, pushing against the serge, Tori retreats and pulls. Tori moves the left leg backwards in a circular movement and pulls Uke as Uke pushes Tori. Tori pulls with the right hand collar grip and pushes with the grip on Uke’s left wrist. Hence the initial unbalancing of Uke is maintained through the movement whereby Uke is rolled to the right. Tori keeps tight close contact during the Kuzushi. The completion of the movement, with Kuzushi, enables Tori to apply a variation of Kesa-gatame maintaining the initial grips acquired.
The coach needs to assist students to develop, or enhance, their understanding of the fundamental skills of Kuzushi. Kuzushi may be interpreted by some novice students as only pulling or pushing an opponent off balance. However, body movements are also instrumental in the application of Kuzushi and sometimes are where the main force comes from.
Kuzushi is a fundamental aspect of both Ne-waza and Tachi-waza. However, it tends to only be emphasised in Tachi-waza by some coaches. Explaining and demonstrating Kuzushi is an important role for the judo coach. Providing this information to students in a pragmatic fashion may enhance the enjoyment and comprehension for all concerned.
Those involved in sports science research, in a discipline such as biomechanics, may be able to add further to the knowledge of, and help demystify Kuzushi in judo. For example, by examining the question; “At what point does Uke’s centre of gravity leave their body as a result of Kuzushi and how can Tori use this information to maximise the efficiency of the Waza being applied”?
Feldenkrais, M. (1952). Higher judo: Ground work. Frederick Warne & Co.: London.
Kashiwazaki, K. (1985). Fighting Judo. Pelham: London.
Kawaishi, M. (1955). My method of judo. Foulsham: London.
Kodokan (1955). Illustrated Kodokan judo. Kodansha: Tokyo.
Kudo, K. (1967). Judo in action: Throwing techniques. Japan Publications: Tokyo.
Ohlenkamp, N. (2003). The study of Kuzushi. Judo Information Site: judoinfo.com.
Sheedy, J. (2009). Elements of judo: A guide for coaches. J & K Sheedy: Mudgee, Australia.
Visser, W. (1997). The role of unbalancing in judo class. Judo Information Site: judoinfo.com.