During a recent Judo tournament I noticed that one of my players was having problems because of a weak Power Hand. The obvious Coaching steps, to address this problem, would be to use drills to improve the player’s Power Hand control. Two questions arose during the planning of the drill training;
1) Is there an optimum position for the Power Hand for different types of throws?
2) What, if any, effect would a change of Power Hand placement have on the attacker’s throwing Direction and Tempo?
The answer to these questions depended on the theory that there is a an optimal gripping configuration in any given throwing situation. If an optimal grip exists for Osoto Gari or Seoinage what are the factors that make the grip optimal and do these same factors influence Power Hand Placement similarly in other throwing types?
Need for a pattern
I had raised several questions, concerning Power Hand Placement and the influence of Power Hand Position, with no simple way to find the answers. A survey of Power Hand placements by top level players was planned. In order for a hypothesis of optimal Power Hand placement to be supported either a consistency in Power Hand placement or a pattern of Power Hand placement would need to be evident. If there was insufficient evidence of a normative placement then Power Hand location must be concluded to be idiosyncratic to the individual player and the situation.
A simple survey method was planned. Photographs from international competitions as well as video tape of competition was used for this research project. Materials were carefully studied, data recorded and compiled into pie charts.
The research materials used were photographs as well as video tape of international competition. Approximately 1000 photographs and nine hours of video tape were reviewed. Photographs covered an historic range from the 1967 All Japan Championships to the 1980 Olympic competition. Video tapes were of the 1984 European Championships, the 1989 All Japan Championships and the 1989 World Championships. I recorded data from examples where;
a) the Power Hand placement was clearly discernible,
b) the direction of the throw could be determined and
c) a score was produced.
When viewing the photographs a score, from the attack, had to be apparent in the photograph or the photo’s caption indicated that a score was produced before the datum was recorded.
The decision to use only attacks that resulted in a score being recorded was based on the idea that; If the attack produced a score the Power Hand was probably in an effective position.
The level of scores, being awarded, were not taken into account simply because they are not reliable indicators of the effectiveness of an attack. The subjective evaluation of attack effectiveness, i.e. the level of awarded score, is too often subordinate to patriotism, sycophancy and aesthetics. These are conditions that have no place in the Coaching scheme. Coaching of American Judo needs to get away from the concept of scores and scoring and focus on Tactical Design. Players should be trained to Control and Intimidate the opponent not to please spectators and officials.
I needed, first, to define what I was looking for. I wanted to observe the placement of the Power Hand during a sucessful, i.e. scoring, attack. I define the Power Hand as;
The hand that transfers the Power of the throwing action and drives the opponent’s back toward the mat.
I also needed to decide, for purposes of easy reference, how to define the areas, on the defender’s body, where the Power Hand was being placed. Placement areas of the Power Hand were designated as:
High Front or Back–High Power Hand placement was considered as being in the area of the neck ranging to the upper shoulder.
Middle Front or Back–A Middle Range Power Hand was considered anything around the chest girdle and generally not below the sternum, in the front or lower than the scapula in the back.
Lower Front or Back–Power Hand Placement below the rib cage was considered low placement.
Description of Power Hand placement location areas were kept generalized in order to avoid a quagmire of minutia. Any successful attack is an unique event. It would serve no purpose to specify that World Champion X placed his Power Hand two inches below the clavicle, for Uchimata, while Olympic Champion Y used a Power Hand Placement one inch above the clavicle, for the same throw. A high grip is a high grip. If the opponent was thrown the Power Hand placement may be assumed to have been effective.
I was not looking for Power Hand placement in specific technical applications, i.e. Uchimata or Taiotoshi. I wanted to see where the Power Hand was most effective when throwing to the general areas, i.e. Front and Rear Corners.
A total of 411 data points, in four throwing categories, were collected. Generalized throw categories were employed in order to avoid confusion and aid in application to coaching. The throwing categories were:
Forward Corner throws, 187 recorded throws
Rear Corner throws, 105 recorded throws
Lateral throws; Driver type throws, 96 recorded throws
Body throws; Primarily Ura Nage variations, 23 recorded throws
Patterns of Power Hand Placement
In all throwing categories a norm of Power Hand placement was obvious and easy to establish. Throws to the Forward Corners and Body Throws show the most consistent Power Hand Placement.
71.12% of throws to the Front Corners were accomplished with a Power Hand Placement on our near the clavicle. 22.99% of the throws to the Front Corners had Power Hand Placements on the High Back area, against or near the neck, of the opponent. When we combine these two Power Placements for throws to the Front Corners we see that 94.11% of observed throws to the Forward Corners put throwing pressure, with the Power Hand, on or against the opponent’s neck.
Body throws, are the types of throw where the attacker tightly controls the opponent’s torso and turns both himself and the opponent to the mat. These throws are typically classified as Ura Nage, Kosoto Gake or Sukui Nage. I like to call these Wrap and Roll Throws because that is what the throwing action is, Wrap the Opponent in your Arms and Roll him to the mat.
The increasingly popular Wrap and Rolls have an incredibly consistent Power Hand Placement with 91.3% of the Power Hands reaching across the opponent’s Lower Back. Some incidents of Body Throws had the Power Hand encircling the Near Leg from the Rear. This is, ostensibly, still a Low Back or Low Rear Power Hand placement.
The remaining 8.7% of the Body Throws observed had a Frontal Power Hand Placement. Power Hand Placement from the front for a Body throw was, generally, an effort to encircle the opponents waist or lower torso. Clearly the message is that;
The attacker must completely control the opponent’s hips before a successful body throw is possible.
Throwing attacks to the opponent’s Rear Corners, Osoto Gari, Kouchi Gari, etc., showed a slightly more diverse Power Hand Placement pattern. In throws to Rear Corners, 33.33% of the Power Hand Placement was in the Mid-Front area of the opponent’s torso. Generally, the Power Hand was placed against the pectoral region.
The majority of throws to the rear Corners, 66.62%, were performed with the attacker’s Power Hand placed in the defender’s High Back area. As a rule the Power Hand Placement, for these throws, tended to be toward the defender’s shoulder or the outer top corner of the scapula.
This evidence indicates that, for throwing to the opponent’s Rear Corners, your Power Hand should direct pressure against the outer top edge of the opponents torso.
Lateral throws, Driver type throws that push the defender over the side of his foot, showed the widest range of Power Hand Placement. 57.29% of the Power Hand Placements in Lateral Throws were in the Lower Back region. The Lower Back Power Hand Placement for Lateral Throws was distinctly different from the Lower Back Power Hand Placement for Body Throws. For Body Throws the attacker, generally, attempts to encircle the opponent’s waist. Back Grips, for Lateral Throws, tended to be placed with the Power Hand toward the center of the opponent’s back.
The Factor of Effort
The diversity of the Power Hand placement for Lateral Throwing actions posed a problem. All other throwing types showed a definitive preference for Power Hand Placement. Lateral throws, on the other hand, showed a tolerance for nearly any Power Hand Placement. Clearly, there was a factor, in the Lateral Throwing actions, that was not being recognized. Careful scrutiny of video taped, high level, Judo action revealed the mysterious factor.
I realized that Throwing Direction is not the only influential factor on Power Hand Placement. Power Hand Placement is also influenced by the Rate of Travel, of the players, and the amount of Effort that the attacker must put forth to execute his attack.
Throwing Effort is a relative concept. Obviously players always attack as quickly and as strongly as possible. However, there is an obvious difference in the amount of physical effort that must be put forth to throw with different types of throws. Ura Nage requires a strong physicla effort to lift and throw the opponent while Deashi Barai is little more than a shoulder twitch and a flick of the foot. This difference, in required Physical Effort, is the factor that is being discussed here.
As the demand for Physical Effort raises the need for control over the rotation of the opponent’s hips increases. In other words, the stronger your throwing efforts have to be the harder you have to work to control the defender’s Hip Region. This study has shown that, as Physical Effort of the throwing attack increases there is a proportional shift of the Power Hand Placement toward the opponent’s hip region.
The conclusion is very simple! The stronger your throwing action has to be the closer your Power Hand needs to be placed to the defender’s Hip Region. Conversely, the lower the Physical Effort, of the attack, the closer the Power Hand is Placed to the defender’s Head.
Application of this Information
The initial purpose of this study was to determine the effect of changing a player’s Power Hand Placement on his throwing efforts. This evidence clearly indicates that throwing ability can be improved by the optimal placement of the Power Hand. This study has also shown that prior to changing Power Hand Placement the factors of the defender’s Tempo, Physical Effort needed to execute the attack and the Direction of Travel must be taken into consideration.
When using this information, to develop drills and other Coaching tools, you will need to take into consideration all factors that influence Power Hand Placement. Players will also need to learn to look to the opponent’s Posture and Counter Gripping Efforts for clues when deciding which attacks to use and the Power Hand Placement to make those attacks work.
The strong evidence produced by this study suggests that there is an optimal Power Hand Placement that changes with each throwing type. This study has also shown that the Tactical Variable of Power Hand placement is influenced by a relationship with other Tactical Variables of Tempo, Direction and Posture.
It is not enough to allow our players to experiment and learn by trail and error. This approach to learning to compete is simply too time consuming and serves no purpose. The coaching tools, such as this study, are few and far between but the lack of knowledge must not be used as an excuse to shirk the responsibilities of coaching. If the tools are available you should use them to your best advantage. If the coaching tools are not there, invent some of your own. If you accept the responsibility to build American Judo, through coaching, you must also accept the responsibility of creativity in your coaching efforts. Learn to use what knowledge is out there and invent what is not but never, never be satisfied to simply stick with the old training ideas just because no one else has lead the way for you.
The how, when and where of the application of this information will require study and creativity.