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Grip Fighting with Shintaro Higashi

Grip Fighting with Shintaro Higashi

We’re really excited at Judo Fanatics to soon be bringing to you a tutorial with the excellent Judoka 6th Dan Shintaro Higashi. 

Shintaro has a really rich background and is incredibly well placed to teach us, having a degree in Psychology and an MA in Education. Shintaro was also an All-State wrestler as well as twice National Judo champion, three times World Cup medalist and attaining the 43rd place in the Worlds rankings.

As Shintaro notes grip fighting is central to any grappling art. In order to execute waza, or technique, on our opponent we must first be able to grip them, and stop them gripping us.


Shintaro and Peter start in a right vs right stance and the first thing to note is that Shintaro is counselling us to reach with the hand of our back leg, in this case the left hand, and not the hand of the lead leg, in this case the right hand. 

This can feel a bit counter intuitive because we have likely spent our entire life reaching for things we want with our dominant hand!

While you wait for Shintaro's work check out the rest of the collection! Click Learn More!


The danger of reaching with our lead hand however is that it leaves us wide open for attacks from our opponent. In this case as Shintaro reaches out with his lead hand Peter takes a sleeve grip and has an immediate and easy entry into Ippon Seoi Nage. We don’t want any of that.

To protect his right hand, or power hand, sleeve Shintaro comes out of the gate with an angled body position. Shintaro is angling his body so that his rear hand has less distance to travel to capture his opponents power hand sleeve. 

Shintaro may even, like a boxer working angles to find openings for his punches, move off his opponents center line and circle to his left in order to get easier and further control against his opponents lead hand sleeve.

The aim here for Shintaro is to control his opponents body through his gripping strategy.

As Shintaro is going for his opponents lead hand sleeve he’s looking to control the lead side of his opponents body. The lead side is his opponents power side, which they use to set up their own offensive game, so controlling this both shuts down our opponents offense and allows us to build the control to implement our own offensive game.

The second component of Shinatro angling his body when coming into kumi kata, or grip fighting, range is that while Shintaro wants control of his opponents power side he doesn’t want his opponent to gain control of his power side in return.

For this reason when Shintaro is angled away on his power side Shintaro’s sleeve and lapel is further away from his opponent, making his opponent over-extend or miss entirely if they go for a lapel grip. In addition to managing distance Shintaro will keep his hand high and close on his lapel so that when his opponents hand comes in to grip he can intercept and set up his own sleeve grip.

As Shintaro is also an All-State level wrestler he gives us a quick demonstration of how this same principle applies to wrestling. The stance in wrestling is much lower than in Judo, but we see the same principle applies where the lead hand covers the lead leg. At the same time the rear hand is posting against our opponent and searching to control their head for snap downs etc.

So, whether it’s a throw in Judo or our opponent shooting in for a take-down the principle of covering with the lead hand and attacking with our rear hand remains the same.

When we successfully take the sleeve grip our opponent will be very aware that they are now at a disadvantage if they don’t have any grips of their own. It’s tempting here to simply try and get another grip, but our opponent will be very active in defending these. 

For this reason Shintaro recommends attacking straight away off the single sleeve grip choosing from a range of different attacks - sode tsurikomi goshi, one-handed tai otoshi, arm drag to taking the back etc. - and during this exchange we can take a second deeper grip over the back and establish the set up for lots of big powerful judo

Now we know what we are trying to achieve it’s worthwhile looking at another grip fighting detail, which is where to grip and how.

There are mainly two points to grip the sleeve of the juodgi, and that is by the wrist, or by the elbow, and each plays a different role

Gripping the judogi by the wrist is used mainly to strip our opponents grip from our lapel and also to keep our opponents arm down and neutralised from being offensive against us. Gripping by the bicep or elbow is used mainly to get closer to our opponents body and set up our own throws. 

A common mistake Shintaro sees when gripping the sleeve of the judogi is leaving slack. There should be no slack. When we take the slack out of the judogi we have a direct and immediate control and impact on our opponent through our grip. If there is slack in our gripping then our impact becomes weaker. 

To make sure there’s no slack in our elbow grip Shintaro shows us that we want to end up underneath, but we want to start our gripping on top of the arm. A common mistake people make is just going straight to the bottom of the arm, and this makes it hard to remove the slack in the gi.

Starting his grip at the top of the arm Shintaro gathers the material in his hand and then rotates it around the bicep so there’s lots of tension down into the elbow joint through our grip. This tension gives us the control we need of the arm in order to throw. 

At Judo Fanatics we’ve filmed an entire Foundations video with Shintaro Higashi with many more game changing details like this.

As well as being a really high level Judoka and All-State wrestler is also a great educator so we’re really excited to be bringing this to you soon. Keep your eyes open for when that’s released! In the meantime check out the rest of our STELLAR collection!