By Joshua Hagen
Growing up, no one was a bigger fan of Koga than me. His standing seoi nage was so sensational to see in video, and I always dreamed I would get to see him compete live. At the mention of his name, vivid memories of his incredible ippons come rushing in like tsunami. From that amazing lift he got when throwing Oren Smadga in the 1995 World Championships to the absolutely ridiculous sodes at the same event on Alexdru Ciupe, his judo is just incredible.
So I was obviously crushed when he withdrew from the 1993 World Championships, as not only were they held in my home country of Canada, but because I, as a 10 year old boy, was the flag bearer for Uzbekistan in the opening ceremonies.
In my teenage years and to this day, my favourite judo throw is uchi mata. From athletes like Kosei Inoue to Vitaly Makarov, to name two of my personal favourites, anyone who has watched any amount of judo can instantly think of a couple of absolutely spectacular examples of the throw. I really don’t believe there is any throw more beautiful than the perfectly executed uchi mata.
Uchi mata and seoi nage are in many people's minds the giants of judo. Many of us choose one of the two throws as the pillar of our personal "judo style". We faithfully practise them and lean on them heavily in competition. The data on our two favourite throws, however, indicates that we should perhaps be leaning elsewhere.
As sports fans, we have favourite athletes, a favourite team, a country that we cheer for. Similarly, as judo fans, we are heavily influenced by our personal preferences in assessing the effectiveness of a technique. We have favourites due to our own real or perceived successes with a technique, recency bias, or nostalgia.
To get real, objective answers we need lots of data points. From the data collected from the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games as well as the 2014, 2015, and 2017 World Judo Championships, I was able to find some interesting trends concerning the success rates of the various techniques used at the highest international level.
The only technique in the top 5 in terms of popularity of usage where the tori (person attacking) does not turn their back to their opponent is O UCHI GARI. The average success rate of all attacks is 15%, and 3.8% of all attacks are for ippon. What is especially interesting is that o uchi gari is the only throw that approaches the average success rate of all the techniques (the 15% already referred to), as well as the percentage of the scores being ippon (3.8%). O Uchi came in at 14.7% and 3.2%. If you look at the graph below, you will see how it compares to the other 4 most used techniques, and also how it compares to o soto gari.
As we can see, o soto gari crushes the top 5 most used throws. It ranks well above the average technique at a success rate of 22%, and produces almost double the average ippon rate at 6%. It is in the top 10 for most used techniques, but based on its success, I am surprised it doesn't rank higher.
O soto gari has been a staple of my coaching my entire career as I believe it is so important when athletes of the same side (right vs right or left vs left) compete. The technique is always close at hand due to the positioning of our opponent's lead leg. As well, the feint or actual attempt of an o soto is so indispensable in causing a reaction that makes our opponent square up, thus giving us an opportunity for many more attacks.
O uchi, on the other hand, is a technique that I've never used a great deal. It's not particularly exciting to me, and it was never my best technique when I competed. It falls in a funny category of techniques that I clearly am going to teach, but not necessarily really focus on, and if none of my athletes take a particular liking to it, it gets pushed aside. This is something I wish to rectify. At minimum, if none of my athletes master this technique, based on its usage, we should at least become more proficient in defending and countering it.
I believe this information could be very valuable to high performance judoka with athletes currently competing internationally, or on the verge of competing at international u21 events and above. It will probably have little to no impact on how I teach my children or senior recreational classes, however, which I believe is very important to differentiate.
I have attached a video of Masashi Ebinuma as he has some of the best o uchi gari currently in the world. Enjoy!
*To be clear the top 5 most used throws in judo are Uchi Mata, Ippon Seoi Nage, Eri Seoi Nage and Sode Tsuri Komi Goshi, O soto gari is number 10 for usage rate
*Data source: Thierry Loison
*Recency bias: In academic circles, it's called the recency bias, and it can trick us into making decisions we might not make otherwise. The recency bias is pretty simple. Because it's easier, we're inclined to use our recent experience as the baseline for what will happen in the future.
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