by Elie A. Morrell, Shichidan
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 skill acquisition. 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 could be utilized for all throws. Unfortunately this is not the case and many instructors are not aware of this. A few examples 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 to name a few. So why is it that students are 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! This is an area sorely neglected by many 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. Whatever type of throwing drill an instructor has his or her students practice, the throw MUST always be completed! A second major requirement for throwing drills is they must be practiced with the two players in motion. When these two requirements are met, 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 being practiced, the complexity of the drill is increased substantially. New variables in the moving drill are now present which do not exist for the static Uchikomi case when the throw is not completed. 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 posture. One of the most important features of the drill is that no prescribed direction of movement should be a requirement of the drill. The coach may or may not ask for a particular throw to be attempted in the drill. Ultimately, the Uke must 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. This 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. This goal is CANNOT be attained by the practice of Uchikomi! The practice of Uchikomi will undoubtedly be a steadfast method of training used by most coaches for some time to come. This is somewhat unfortunate. Modern day thinking and method changes are up against traditional methods of practice which have been in use for over a century.In the case of judo, traditional practices will be very difficult to change indeed. 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. He 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:
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 virtually nil!