Throwing Principles: The Following Foot, or How Big is Your Butt?

"How big is your butt?"

Anybody who has come to at least 2 classes has heard me ask this question.  The ladies in the class really appreciate it.  But it's because, as we are doing some drill that involves positioning yourself for a throw, I often instruct folks that you want to target having one foot under each butt cheek.  This helps you check that your feet are lined up right and are about at the right distance apart from each other.  But then I'll see someone damned near doing the splits try to load someone with Ogoshi...  Not impossible, to be sure, but not what you want to train for.  So, "How big is your butt?" reminds them to put their feet under those cheeks!

This brings me to my point:  Why are they so frequently standing so wide?  Because when they set in for their throw, they only took one step when they should have taken two! 

But let me back up again... First, the case on why you want your feet somewhat close together:

  • Your lifting ability comes primarily from the straigtening of your legs.
  • By widening your feet you reduce the max height of your lift.  That is, the wider your feet, the lower your hips.  In fact, I think the reason that people like their wide feet is because it makes it "easier" to get lower.
  • By widening your feet, you greatly reduce the upward force that you can generate.  If you were to draw a line between the ball of your foot and your hip socket, that is the direction that your leg is applying force.  With normal feet, you have two parallel lines pointing up (and forward).  With wide feet, you have perpindicular lines that have much less "up" to them (and the crossing shows that they cancel out each other's power).
  • You are more mobile from a normal stance (which I am defining as "feet are less than shoulder-width apart").  Test it out: it is easier to move (and therefore generate power) in just about any direction from a normal stance.
  • A wide stance is much easier to sweep. A normal stance is harder.  But don't go too narrow;  I can't think of a situation where you would want your feet touching each other.
  • There are probably other advantages.  (I'm hoping that you are convinced already, because I realize this last one may not push many folks over the line).
Ok.  So now that you are all geeked to put your feet closer together (but not too close), let's look a  mechanism for that.  We call it "Tsugi Ashi" - "the following foot."  In normal walking, you put one foot in front of the other.  In Tsugi Ashi, after you step forward with the first foot, the second one slides forward to close the distance, but doesn't pass the first foot (and usually will stay slightly behind the lead foot).  Kind of like how they teach you to walk down the isle at a wedding - but slide your feet, if that helps.  We use it a lot in Judo... I've never actually done a study, but I would guess that the vast majority of body movement in shiai is done with some form of Tsugi Ashi.

Most people end up with wide feet for their throw because they are just taking one giant step in their set-in.  How many times have you seen this:
  1. Noob has a waist grip on his opponent, and he's standing on their left side, facing their right side (perpindicular).  
  2. He wants to throw Ogoshi, so Noob steps with his right foot to the opponents right side.  
  3. His feet are maybe double shoulder-width apart, and he tries to throw. 
  4. And fails. 
  5. And he probably got swept before he got to the "try to throw" part anyhoo. 
What he should have done is:
  1. Starting from the same position...
  2. He steps with his left foot to his opponent's right side (I'll do another post on why I like that better).
  3. His feet are, for an instant, maybe double shoulder-width, but he immediately slides his right foot to be in line with his left foot (probably still facing perpendicularish).
  4. He throws.
  5. His opponent lands on the mat.  And explodes, due to the awesomeness just applied to him.
Now, there are other ways to get butt-cheek feet other than Tsugi Ashi.  My guess is that the top folks will "hop" both of their feet into place more than we mere mortals.  But it is easier to learn with Tsugi Ashi.  And not every throw requires butt-cheek feet.  But most do.

By the way, a quick disclaimer:  If I haven't said these already, these "principles" aren't in any particular order, and aren't necessarily gospel, either (as another FYI - nothing I say/write is gospel... in fact, I make most stuff up on the spot, so always question me).



kodokanjudo said...

Hey,my new answer to when a student asks: "Sensei, what is the secret to learning judo?" "Use your butt properly"!:)

Patrick Parker said...

I like this a lot. Did you ever get to any of the sessions where I taught crack-of-the-butt judo?

One point I don't think you mentioned is that when you spread your feetvwider than hip width, you dramatically reduce your ability to twist your hips... a motion important in hip throws

Chad Morrison said...

@Kodokan: Absolutely - the butt is the key! =:>

@Pat: Excellent point. Both the twist and the lateral shifts...