How to optimally position yourself in Judo

In our sport of throwing each other around, the secret ingredient is to be doing the optimal thing in the right place at the right time. It’s great to have Herculean strength but you’ll always find a stronger adversary in your travels.

Let’s place the fascinating aspects of feints, misdirection and other psychological trickery aside. Let’s also put the nimble footwork and complex pulling and pushing your arms can make. In fact, let’s put the complex movements aside. What are we left with?


You can be strong, you can be quick, but more importantly it’s about your uke being in the place you want them to be so that your throwing movements (and efforts) are minimal. It’s the essence of Judo (minimal effort, maximal efficiency) and it’s the end game, the end result of everything you work on in Judo.

For far too long I would spend my Judo sessions jumping in kame-kazi style winding up for my favourite throw of the day. Sometimes it worked, sometimes I’d get countered gloriously but more disappointingly: I wasn’t developing my Judo IQ. That intelligence you get when you figure out what your default uke’s movements are and what his responses are to the inputs you give him. For example, if I tug his right lapel does he resist or go with it? When I push his left shoulder does he circle to his right etc.

Tokui Waza

This is naturally connected to your tokui waza. With your favourite technique there are certain situations where it could be executed more traditionally, and other situations where perhaps a variation is needed (e.g. a hop). All throws can be made versatile, particularly since there’s no one way of doing each throw. Youtube is fantastic for pulling together ideas that might work for you – just look up uchi mata and you’ll get 1000s of results. Instagram is also a great resource, by just looking up a hashtag (e.g. #uchimata) you’ll get presented with results.

I say all this stuff, but I have to keep reminding myself of it. In the heat of battle my immaturity of the art gets the better of me and I forget!

Inside Space

Another point I wanted to add was something John Danaher once mentioned in his hundreds of insightful musings. He mentioned that “inside space” was paramount to all martial arts. The fighter who dominates the inside space has more advantages than the fighter who doesn’t. Travis Stevens also mentions it too, although he elaborates it further within the Judo context by talking about 3 pillars. He breaks it down to the advantages of 1) an inside lapel grip, 2) an inside arm grip and 3) an inside foot position. That ideally you should be aiming for all 3 pillars.

Tying this to my earlier point around uke positioning: whatever throw or technique you want to do, you want to move your uke in such a way that he ends up in your inside space as much as possible.

Hips and Knees

I couldn’t complete this post without a quick word around hip movement and knee placement. Hip movement because it’s paramount to have loose hip movement without stiffness – this applies equally in both the standing as well as the ground game. I say this since all the Judo and BJJ coaches I’ve had the honour of training with have said this repeatedly.

A personal point around knee placement.. I’ve spent too much time swivelling my knees for throws, loading up when my knee faces a very different direction from the foot. This has been a by-product of an imperfect and flat-footed style of movement – don’t do this!

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