How to practice throwing

This section is about practicing throws. What you should be thinking about and various other issues. One of the main things you must do to get good at throwing is throw. Nothing will replace practice.

Notes on safety

The training gap is the difference between what can be done reasonably on the street and in practice. Many systems introduce a very wide gap, e.g. they might practice missing while striking or perhaps always pull their punches. Our approach is to put a premium on controlling the opponent with techniques that may be done full bore. We use mats for safety equipment, but that's about it. We want to have techniques that completely control the receiver and allow us to do every throw as we would otherwise. Most people are actually extremely apprehensive about being thrown, even in a controlled environment. This is understandable and a large part of our training machinery is aimed at making throwing quite natural. We aim, as has been said many times before with replacing fear with boredom. Only when you may take your throwing for granted, as simply being part of the landscape, can you truly start to utilize it.

With this system throwing all becomes homogeneous. That is to say, a simple takedown is not really much harder to do than throwing uke in some very odd way, burying him a couple of inches deep in the mat. What sets off basic from advanced throws is not how are they are to do for the thrower, but how much work the receiver must do to land from them. Some of the nastiest throws so thoroughly compromise uke that there cannot be any effective resistance. As mentioned earlier, advanced throwing means advanced landing too. Advanced practitioners can be thrown in virtually any position and simply land like a cat. We usually give out throws piecemeal at the start of one's training. A couple of hip throws, a reap or two, a sweep, etc. These are so that the student has a good basis for more advanced throwing and feels completely comfortable with it. Of course, these are also the most likely throws to use in a real life encounter too. Students are discouraged from varying the throws much, at least while early in their training because we want to keep training as safe as possible.

Studies on injuries in throwing (serious injuries, such as broken legs and arms or paralyzing spinal injuries, not training contusions) has been done for judo. While judo lacks a good many of the throws in jujutsu, it is instructive to keep aware of the major reason for throwing injuries: resisting the throw. Of course in judo being a sport, a single good throw will win a match, so there is incentive built in to the rules to resist mightily. Usually it is uke who is injured by resisting, and the three main ways to get injured are (1) reaps or sweeps, since an enormous amount of torque can concentrate on the knees, (2) body throws from which uke is very stiff and rigid so that the throw cannot be completed: the landing is then incorrect (e.g. stiff-arming the ground rather than tapping or uke lands on his head or shoulder) (3) any throw that uke impedes, causing tori to loose balance land on him or her. When tori is injured, it is due most often to trying to force an uncooperative opponent over, violating the most basic principle of the art, yielding. In such instances where tori is fouled up, it is not uncommon for both participants to be injured. There are many, many great counters to bad throws, but a good throw -- which is defined as the one that actually launches you, regardless of form -- has only ukemi as its counter.



Falling, or ukemi is the most basic exercise that can be done to prepare for falling and throwing. Unlike many martial arts techniques where it is unlikely that you will use them more than a couple of times in your life (and it is sincerely hoped you never have to use them), falling can be required at almost any time. Since the Banana Peel of Fate may reach any of us in the guise of a patch of ice, and unexpected curb or a bike accident. What's more, falling cultivates an excellent sense of balance and it is known that the elderly usually fall in the following way: They detect that they are off-balance, then overcompensate attempting to right themselves thereby causing themselves to fall. In effect, by not knowing when they are at the point of no return for a fall, they over-react and throw themselves. One study showed the teaching the residents of a retirement home some basic falling caused the incidence of falling injuries to drop drastically in this group. The reason is that the inner ear gets trained as to what constitutes an actual versus a false fall.

Many students resist being thrown, thinking that they are being more practical in their training. "After all, if someone tried to throw me," they reason, "I would certainly thwart it." This is good for a sporting situation, but you are most likely to get thrown the same way as your opponent, viz., you are sure you have the kill shot, commit yourself to it totally, and something goes wrong. One of the first things you learn in a martial art is the grave consequences of over-commitment to an attack. Therefore, martial artists usually don't commit much until they are quite sure they have a clear advantage. Not so for untrained fighters. In a street situation the attacker will likely be coming at you with everything he has. Many martial artists simply get flattened because they do not expect a powerful attack. Dealing with momentum is the heart of ju.

The other side of the coin for practicing falling diligently is landing on hard surfaces. Many people get badly injured in street encounters because they do not know how to land. If you are tori and your partner always resists every throw, this does you no good and you will probably end up on the floor in a fight because you never have had to deal with too much momentum. If you as uke practice resisting when thrown, you will never develop good enough falling to land well on concrete, because you will not be positioning your head out of harm's way. Falling is all about timing and advanced falling is very much about timing your lower body to get into a position to do most of the work. You can stomp your feet for hours a day with no ill effect, but not bounce your head off the floor more than once or twice. Actually, one very senior jujutsu master flat out stated once that there is no throwing in application, in the sense that the untrained will resist and in doing so will end up landing on their head. This is why you should make every effort to practice your ukemi when you are being thrown.

Fit-ins (uchi komi)

The first step is to control position and grapple, being sure that power comes through the grapple at all times, so there are no "dead" spots. A fit-in is a way to practice this. It is done by bringing the receiver to the kake point, but not throwing. The receiver is then out back down and the fit-in is repeated. Fit-ins are especially useful as a conditioning aid and a good workout is for a smaller person to simply do several fit-ins on a larger one. These are not techniques, but drills and are to foster good body sense.

At the basic level, all throws are designed so that uke ends up in one of the characteristic positions for ukemi. This should be borne in mind during practice and will add to the safety all the way around. Students should not attempt to throw in an awkward position, but should check to see that uke is in the correct posture. Control is the key.

The basics

We start in what we refer to as standard position, meaning that the partners (no opponents at this point) are facing each other. The thrower then takes the grapple. It is important to enunciate that several things are going on at this point.

  1. The thrower must see if he can impart momentum through the grapple to effect an off-balance
  2. The thrower must see if he has the correct form, in particular, the structure to support the receiver
  3. The receiver must be able to practice the specific landing from the throw. Our rule of thumb is that you cannot learn a throw until you can receive it.
  4. Absolute control must be exercised, so that at any point the action may be stopped. Since the name of the game is controlling your opponent, that must always be part of your thinking.

At this point, the receiver should not in any way shape or form resist, but play the role of an ergonomically correct weight. This is especially crucial initially. When a person is learning how to throw, it is expected that their throws are lousy. It is easy to counter such a throw, but there will never be improvement if the thrower can't develop some body sense and flow for the technique. Also, many people who take up a martial art need to condition their bodies for the stresses. Therefore, static practice is extremely important at building body sense and the strength to control the throw no matter what. Part of practicing is to throw people of very different sizes and shapes to see how the technique needs to be modified or perhaps even to exclude a technique. For instance a small, light-boned woman probably won't have much luck doing a powerful hip throw on a 300 lb. man and it is better to understand this viscerally in the training hall rather than having to discover it the hard way elsewhere. If the receiver stops the throw, the thrower is under obligation to cease and desist with the assumption that something was amiss and query accordingly.

All throwing is really done dynamically, but few things are quite as terrifying as having a rank beginner launch you full bore and completely screw it up in the middle, leaving you to your own devices in midair. So, doing throws statically removes the need to blend motion and avoid an attack, but as long as we are aware of this and why we do it at this stage, is fine.

Before the thrower starts adding power, the receiver should be allowed to practice landing safely. This is done by having the thrower start the motion, then letting the receiver control the landing, simply having the thrower follow. The receiver should not be thrown until there is surety of a safe landing. This is teaching the receiver the correct counter to the actual throw. Now throwing can begin in earnest and many repetitions should be done.

Finally, in as much as possible, the thrower should see how to sap all power from the throw. For instance, for a head throw (kubi nage) this might consist of tori straightening the grappling arm to "catch" uke's shoulders. For a stomach throw (tomoe nage, in judo) this will consist of keeping the foot planted as long as possible. This is essential for practicing uchi komi at a higher level so that the thrower can get a feel for having real power in the initial phase of the throw, but not simply plant the receiver willy-nilly. This is also a safety issue in case someone is thrown and something goes wrong: a good partner should have enough control to help you if need be.

As for the conditioning aspects of static throwing, it is a great idea to spend some small amount of time at the beginning of class to do this as part of a warm-up. It is excellent at building stronger muscles and joints and has a practical payback in terms of technique, unlike simple weightlifting. Moreover, falling is excellent conditioning too. In taiso training for stamina, one particularly exhausting drill is to throw uke as powerfully as can be done safely, sapping all power from the throw, then deadlifting uke back to his feet for another throw. This builds power like nothing else and a conditioning program could easily be devised that simply uses basic throwing and falling.

Throwing in motion

The next phase is to start to move. Here we need only have the receiver step in the direction and offer a grapple. For instance, if both arms are up like a high tackle, a koshi nage will work. If one side leads so the arm is exposed, seoi nage is fine. Again it is the insistence on positioning and going for the slowest moving handle that is done here. Once all parties feel comfortable, this can be repeated, but instead of having the receiver grab, a punch may be substituted (haymaker, straight punch, upper cut, right cross). The basic directions here are forward and backwards for the receiver.

The next phase of this is to have each party take a couple of steps before executing the throw. It is important to concentrate on smoothness here, so that uke suddenly finds himself airborne rather than sensing that someone has ripped him off the floor.

Incorporating the eight directions

Once forward and backward motion of travel is comfortable, one should start moving into the 8 directions. This can be done in stages, starting with the 4 major directions and adding the 4 minor directions. Initially, one practices statically, with uke simply receiving the technique. Some of the angles of falling might be extremely awkward, to say the least, so every effort for safety must be made. Key point here is the uke must learn to turn in to the direction of the throw at all times (remember yielding is part of the art?) so that all falling is just about exactly like being thrown in a basic forward throw. Next, uke starts moving into the direction. This is sensitivity training and the idea is for tori to perceive a change in direction. The goal of this is to do it lots and develop body sense as to maintaining good contact with uke's center (through the grapple or directly by sticking with him). The two main principles are to follow to uke no matter where he is moving and to adhere to him through the grapple. Once you have grappled, practice never giving up the grapple for any reason. Cultivate a feeling for when uke is off-balance and when to drop your weight to set the throw in motion.

More advanced practice

Once the players feel comfortable, it is a good idea to simply have a concept driven practice. For instance, the throwing portion of class might consist of only using a reap, but off of many different grapples and throws. Simply doing a few sets of throwing in all directions will generate many throws and should make using the concept quite easy. This fulfills our goal of having a paradigm for practicing a vast number of throws without having to resort to some very clunky mental gyrations about what throw does what.
Free form practice can take place at this point, also called randori and it may be done in either a judo-like competitive way or a more traditional circle drill, in which the defender is put in a circle surrounded by several people who are numbered. The instructor holds up the number of fingers for next attacker. The defender must locate the attacker and deal with the attack. This develops immediacy amd reaction time. For developing responses to really powerful attacks, It is best to work one-on-one with nice thick mats.

Setups and follow-ups

Any failed throw should leave uke at the very least off-balance. At this point the defender should be able to use this and execute another throw or technique. There are many such pairs of throws, and the first is either called a setup for the second, or, the second is a follow-up for the first. An excellent strategy for a smaller person is to attempt a throw to capitalize well-practiced body dynamics, if it fails, then a follow-up (which may or may not be another throw) may be done.

Here is a typical example using a rear sweep (o soto gari) and the circle throw (kaiten nage). As uke attempts a punch, tori jams it with both arms on the punching side of uke's body and attempts o soto gari. Uke senses this and roots himself to the floor, resisting the backward motion. Here is the crucial point - when tori feels the resistance, he should immediately change direction, yielding to uke. All tori really needs to do is drop his arms and body weight and follow uke. This is an extremely good combination and embodies just what we need to practice in these: Some technique is resisted, so tori switches to another. If there is a weight commitment, a throw is in order. The feeling should always be of following uke's wishes, as it were.

Countering techniques.

Not surprisingly, we have counters to throws. These are quite street practical. Not that we seriously think that the average saloon warrior will attack you with some magnificent nage, but since a grapple will likely occur, followed by a shove or pull, these are close enough to "bad" throws to be countered as such. For instance, Bubba grabs your collars and pulls, then twists when he realizes he might get kneed in the groin. This is a really lousy morote nage and a sweep is easy to do or, if you are badly off-balance, tani otoshi is simple as well. There are many, many possible counters possible.

At the advanced level, concept driven practice with lots of combinations and counters should be the order of the day. While of course, you should practice counters against good throws, so you partner does not practice bad throwing, it is also quite illuminating to sometimes practice them against lousy ones too.