The Entry to Kote-Gaeshi from Tsuki

Several months ago, I posted an article on kote-gaeshi mainly focusing on the effectiveness of the wrist turn. Through experimentation and training, we found that kote-gaeshi alone does not work on a resisting opponent. You are required to break the balance first and in that state of imbalance apply the kote-gaeshi. So kote-gaeshi does work, provided you break the balance. Now the next more difficult question is, so how do you do this against a good punch?

This is often easier said than done and is a major reason why we don’t see kote-gaeshi being used in a combat sports environment where they are dealing with trained fighters who can attack while staying in balance despite kote-gaeshi’s wide use in harder arts such as jujitsu or even karate.

One of the most common attacks in which we apply kote-gaeshi from is tsuki. Tsuki directly translated means thrust and is often likened to a punch. I do think there is a difference between a thrust and a real life punch. A punch does not stay extended long enough for you to redirect the forward momentum unless you are extremely skilled and have anticipated the punch. Herein lies the limitation of the traditional version of tsuki kote-gaeshi as commonly practiced in Aikido and which I have tested myself while messing around.

An interesting post from Dan Djurdjevic states the following:

“[Leading forward momentum] is only possible if you enter closely to your opponent and, essentially, meet him/her body to body. To redirect an oncoming force you need to work like a spinning top, moving into the centre – where the speed is slow enough to give you the opportunity of catching the momentum and “going with it”…

[A]ttempting to catch and continue/redirect the extremity of a limb (eg. a hand or foot) is, in my experience, practically impossible given the usual speed at which an attacking limb is travelling at the point of interception, the speed of typical human reaction and the fact that you are not entering into, and utilising, the centre of his/her “circle”.”

I am not entirely sure if this is 100% correct but it does illustrate a valid point. It definitely is not easy to do this what more in the heat of the moment. The only times where I could do this in a ‘sparring’ scenario were when the punches were pulled back a bit slower than it should be. There were times that I could capture it as it was extending which was also very effective but required a high degree of anticipation and may not be as practical in a situation where you don’t know which attack is coming next. More commonly, I made contact at the point of full extension at which point uke was already withdrawing his punch and to try to lead it outward would be resisting that momentum and be not only ineffective, but against Aikido principles.

Having trained in an MMA system for about 2 years, I have had the opportunity of experiencing a wide variety of skill levels of strikers. Some like to make quick strikes while others make heavy pushing punches. Ideally, the heavy pushing punches should have a quick pull back as well but it is very often for newer students who strike with these pushing punches to leave their punch out for a fraction of a second longer than they should. Against these punches, I can definitely see the classic kote-gaeshi turn working.

But what about a balanced normal strike that a regular Joe can pull off with a little bit of knowledge? I think Dan’s solution is simple and practical in that he’s using the reverse momentum of the pull back of the punch to effect a quick kote-gaeshi. His video does a good explanation of this:

This does not mean we abandon the classic style of irimi nage which still retains its usefulness in training proper leading and extension or against a slower but heavier punch but it is something we must be aware of when we think about Aikido in its self defense aspect.

Conversely, Roy Y. Suenaka Sensei who was a student of O’Sensei in this article advocates a more traditional approach in using atemi to off balance the opponent before utilizing the forward momentum to go into your traditional irimi nage. That article illustrates many very good points including the proper way to apply a kote-gaeshi lock but with due respect, I have my doubts on using atemi to enter into a traditional irimi nage. Think of it this way: when you get smacked in the face, what is your reaction? To withdraw/retreat or to cover up! Sensei Suenaka mentions utilizing the forward momentum to continue over extending uke but this assumes two things which may not be applicable in a self defense scenario:

  1. The punch has a large forward momentum which is still present after the application of atemi
  2. The hand is not being retracted when uke gets hit by atemi

I suppose there might be someone who attacks like that or someone who continues to charge forward despite being whacked (I know some people who do) but I would think that they fall in the minority of attacks and it would be difficult to rely on this on all types of straight punches.

Last but not least, Sensei Suenaka in that post has an excellent illustration on the proper kote-gaeshi application which we will definitely give it a good try over the next coming weeks!

Source: FightingArts.com

Incorrect Kote-Gaeshi Hand Position
(Photo A)

The attacker’s hand is forced unnaturally outwards. Lack of lead forces the defender to rely on strength and the pain of the outside lock to effect the throw.

Correct Kote-Gaeshi Hand Position
(Photo B)

The attacker’s hand is locked and bent backwards along the natural arc described by the fingers. With proper lead, this lock is always effective

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