Types of throws

Overview on the various ways to throw.

There are two broad classes of throws, body throws where there is torso to torso contact between the parties and some part of the defender is used as an axis or rotation for the throw and projections throws where the fact that we are two-legged is exploited by moving the attacker into a point of unbalance (called shikaku in Japanese). As a point of pedagogy, I like to start with the body throw (see descriptions below). This is because these may be practiced statically (not in motion) and people with absolutely no martial arts experience and who are just starting a first conditioning program can do this in an extremely safe way. They learn position, blending and all other aspects of throwing with excellent safety. Projection throws come next since these really must be done dynamically (I usually start with a sequence of sweeps). Remember that good throws are often quite easy to do if set up well and a beginner can get badly slammed until body sense for falling is developed. I want to avoid that and this is why I have laid it out as I have.

All of these are normally practiced with a variety of grapples and in a variety of directions. Once this becomes second nature, other options become available. These include small enhancements to the basic throws, to dramatically up the leverage. Other additions include adding locking techniques and falling. The goal for all of throwing is simply blending with the receiver and helping him do most of the work in finding the floor.

A little confusion of terms should be clarified. Throwing in Japanese is generally lumped under the heading of nage. Our two main principles from the kata are called nage, referring to projection throws and otoshi which refers to body throws. Sometimes it can be confusing to know if a person is talking only about throwing in a generic sense of it some specfic aspect of projection is being references. I try hard to keep these separate.

The naming of throws.

The naming of throws is a difficult matter. We want some compact way of doing it that is regular enough to get all of the variations, but should have the charming feature that if we leave most of it out, it is still understandable in context. One standard has been to use judo names everywhere, but a lot of times this misrepresents the throw, since the mechanics are sometimes not the same, or leaves blind spots where a couple of names collide and nobody is the wiser for using a name. What's more, judo names are taken from several different older jujutsu styles, so that while a kubi nage is indeed done be grappling the head, a sukui nage refers to the actual motion of the throw and not to throwing someone's shovel. A better way is to simply name the grapple and major action, so judo's o goshi is better named koshi nage, where as judo's harai goshi would be more descriptively called mae morote gari = forward reap, grappling the lapels. The corresponding name for judo's morote gari, which uses the hands to grab the legs and effect a throw (no, you aren't throwing his hands) is ushiro morote ashi gari. There is too much momentum to change how people refer to their throws, but it is helpful to think in the terms I've outlined.

Body throws (otoshi)

A body throw is a throw in which there is torso to torso contact of the parties and the opponent is set in motion using the bodyweight of the defender. At the simplest, this consists of grappling an opponent, moving his center of gravity over one foot, use your body weight to set him in motion and then displacing his body with yours while giving him an axis of rotation. If done right, the receiver feels initially as if somebody yanks his head towards the floor, then lifts him by the seat of the pants. A turning or twisting motion frequently follows this to cause the opponent to fall off of you. The most normal orientation is with tori's back to uke, although these work quite well from the side (uki goshi in judo) or even from the front (ushiro goshi in judo). These should be practiced exhaustively, since the initial positioning they require is pretty much the same for any other throwing. They are good practice for setting up other throws. In other words the time invested in them is time well spent.
The use of bodyweight is important, so that the largest person you can throw is therefore at least a couple of times your own bodyweight. Far too many people try to simply heave their opponent or try to slide under his center of gravity by spreading their legs widely. This cannot be condemned strongly enough since in the former case, anything but a highly cooperative partner defeats the throw and in the second, the weight of both people concentrates often on one of tori's legs, causing it to collapse. Either of these is a recipe for disaster. Use your legs together like a powerful spring.

Sacrifice throws(sutemi)

These are a subclass of otoshi throws, where tori goes to the floor either partially (such as dropping to one knee) or wholly and are a specific subset of otoshi. Many of these can be extremely powerful but this is not alone the reason to use them. One should only yield a standing position if there is no choice, so these are most useful when tori has already been knocked off base before or during a throw and in particular when trying to control a landing. Alternately, their great power can be an attractive way to throw a much larger person.

These are normally classified as advanced throws. This is not because they require some special trick to do, but tori must be fully committed and uke must have very good landing skills. There is often no way to water down such a throw and if both parties are not at a sufficient level, the result can be very bad. In practice, they are not much harder for the defender to do than ukemi.

Floor work is normally required after a throw of this sort, and while that can be a fun sport, it is also a very bad idea to grapple an opponent on the floor in a real life fight. You should plan on extracting yourself immediately after a throw. Generally there are 4 ways to fall, front, back, side and rolling, so the sacrifice throws are divided according to these. Again, these are done with respect to a grapple, and as not every fall in every direction is advisable, limiting safe options for these. The important features are that the receiver not land on the thrower, the thrower can perform a recognized safe ukemi and that the thrower lands above all, in an advantageous position.

Projection throws (aiki nage)

At a slightly greater distance are projection throws. Essentially, you get your opponent to stumble in some direction and with timing or an enhancement you throw. These come about either by design or by attempting to make a body throw and not quite being in position for it.

At a very high level, throwing may be done simply by virtue of excellent timing and positioning. This is very elegant and should be writ large as a goal. These are called air throws or kuki nage (some people refer to these as choshi nage which means literally "timing throws") in Japanese since they require no close physical contact or levering action. These are distinct from joint locking throws, since those do use leverage against the body. A classic example is the aiki jujutsu throw called irimi nage, where the entry is very similar to a judo throw like o soto gari but no reaping action is needed, since tori times the entry such that uke cannot recover his balance. A well-executed air throw is beautiful to watch and every bit as potent as a body throw, but these take many years of diligent practice to perfect. These are the reference standard to train against and everyone is helped by practicing them.

Joint locks in throws (kansetsu waza)

Joint locking techniques are widely used to throw and to assist throwing and are usually a special case of projection throws. These should fold up the receiver into an unstable position so that his center of gravity is outside his body, when a slight downward pressure will effect the takedown. The tactical advantage with using joint locks is that this is the furthest you may be from the receiver and still throw which is offset by having much more overhead to setup. They do have another advantage that they often attack where the receiver is weakest, such as the wrist and these are often preferred by smaller more nimble people. A large misconception is that one actually throws using a joint lock. No. The lock controls the person and guides them as you use either projection, dropping or both. You cannot throw anyone with a joint lock if you haven't mastered the types of throwing.

Joint locks rely on shearing applied in a small area as other types of leverage, most notably, tori using his arm as a wheel and axle. This is, however, style specific and many other styles simply use locks to inhibit motion in the limb (properly called joint binds to differentiate them from a full lock), then sling the receiver, relying on a direction change to effect the throw. This is mechanically sound if pursued zealously, but practically can require a pretty large clear area to execute. Such slinging is also pretty easy for uke to stumble out of, whether by chance or choice.

Using joint binds do not fully realize the potential for a joint lock in restricting motion. A joint bind is often quite easy to foil and can leave the applier in a bad defensive position. Therefore, many systems that misname them as locks deem them to be ineffective at best or simply wishful thinking. This is why some people claim that joint locks have no effect and indeed, such systems describe what they themselves do accurately. Solid locking techniques, however, can be the mainstay of an effective system. Aiki jujutsu is quite famous for its locking techniques and practitioners from other styles often end up studying the system just to learn these.

Incidentally, a good training strategy for helping your partner do aerial falls is to put on the lock and do a hip throw. This gives your partner something to lean on and can slow down the descent. After this has been mastered, your partner should attempt to minimize contact with the hip and then the hip should be removed.


By an enhancement we mean some other action either to augment or change the leverage on the receiver for a throw. Many of these can be added quite easily and may be used to vastly increase the power of the throw or to offset poor position or distance or to move a much larger opponent. We refer to these as enhancements because they are additions to good throwing dynamics. It is not the case that these alone can throw the person usually. We are trying to counter the idea that these are specific throws in an of themselves. Commonly people see a reap or a sweep and assume that the leg is all that matters and find that the technique does not work. Kicking the person repeatedly in the leg might eventually get them down on the ground but not as a throw. In point of fact, just getting in the habit of setting up a good throw and clipping a leg (or whatever is handy) is the way to use these, since you only need worry about the same sorts of motions for any throw, which tremendously simplifies throwing rather than have dozens of special cases.

These may be added to any type of throw, body, projection or joint locking. Some are good closer or further away, but often this is quite situational and the actual enhancement is dependent upon many factors.

Legs (ashi waza)

Oriental martial arts, like karate trumpet the use of hands and feet. This is not quite so, since the normal sequence is to use hands and then the feet or vice versa. Jujutsu uses the feet and hands simultaneously. This takes some practice, but the big payoff is that most people, including many other martial artists, find this mix to be overwhelming -- they cannot process so much happening at once. Ideally, you should be attacking uke's legs continuously. All leg techniques (ashi waza) require that uke be off-balanced in an appropriate way. These are not simply kicks to the leg, since leg kicks are normally not too effective in throwing someone -- although they can be fairly good at disabling someone, which is why you should not simply be kicking your partner's leg. Our goal is to derange the opponent's posture, which is an awful lot easier to do than breaking his leg. All of these are simply applications of basic limb manipulations.

Helping hand

One may also do limb manipulations with the hands and in particular against the legs. One could view joint locks as enhancers to various throws, as head turns. Uses against the legs, such as scoop or reap, or any other handy body part, such as the head are all valid. This may done for most any throw. One may add this along with leg techniques. For instance capturing one leg with a hand while reaping the other leg is common and very useful. This is also useful when throwing at funny angles, e.g., when throwing a springing technique across the receiver's body, one can spring against one leg and scoop the other, making a throw with impressive height and power. Another possibility is to start a footsweep which knocks the receiver off-balance, then move closer to execute a kao dori (face grab) to finish the takedown. Finally, another common strategy is to use hands as a follow-up to a failed leg technique, since often the receiver will step raising the knee high to avoid the technique, putting it in easy reach for a manipulation. Some people, especially taller ones, use sweeps and reaps almost exclusively to enable them to hoist a leg high enough to grab, then do some throw.

Which one of these do I use?

In actuality, throws rarely if ever rely on a single type of leverage or action. By separating the concepts and being able to practice them directly, you will develop a good feeling for when to apply them. Many throwing sports require that for scoring, only an identified throw is valid, which makes throwing much harder in general, since having half a dozen juxtaposed leveraging techniques leaves too much room for interpretation. This raises the skill level dramatically as is desired in such events and appropriately enough encourages stamina and strength training as a basis for the event. A good many systems that teach throwing actually got it from a martial sport (most usually judo) and this thinking persists. Learn the components well, then concentrate on getting your opponent down however it feels natural and easy for you to do so.