Kouchi Gari With Ugo LeGrand
Kouchi Gari (meaning Small Inner Reap in English) is a staple of the Judo takedowns, and is included in the original forty throws developed and employed by Judo founder Jigoro Kano. It belongs in the Dai Ikkyo (first group) of traditional throws of Kodokan Judo, and as such is amongst the first throws a Judoka will learn. Kouchi Gari is a great set up or stand alone throw and who better to demonstrate his unique way of executing Kouchi Gari than French Judo legend and Olympic 2012 medalist Ugo LeGrand?
The standard Kouchi Gari begins with the orthodox high sleeve and lapel grip found in traditional Judo. The kuzushi (breaking balance) begins with a pulling upwards and towards yourself on both the lapel and sleeve to bring our opponents weight onto the balls of their feet. After this our hands and feet work together to drive forwards into our opponent at the same time. The grip on the lapel hand pressures forwards into the inner shoulder and the whole forearm presses into their body. At the same time the sleeve grip is pressuring forwards, and the feet drive in to initiate the reap.
Upgrade your JUDO with French Combo Throws! Click Learn More!
A key detail here is that the direction of our feet must be in line with the direction of our throw. If the back foot is not in line with the throw but instead left so that our toes are pointing away from us and our heel is pointing in towards us this will leave us open to be countered as the foot is now not active in our drive and balance.
Ugo LeGrand shows us his own unique way of doing Kouchi Gari and a solo drill that will help with a key aspect in all ashi waza (foot sweeps), which is timing.
We begin the tutorial with Ugo taking the standard sleeve grip but instead of taking the lapel grip Ugo begins with his opponent taking a dominant lapel grip. Ugo then counters this grip by reaching underneath to the inside of their grip and spiralling up and over their shoulder to take a grip on their back. This gives us both a dominant back grip and has also now trapped the opponents arm by collapsing their elbow down and in towards their body.
The second thing taking the back grip gives us is often a reaction from our opponent. Our opponent will very likely be unnerved by such a dominant grip as a back grip and will move to sit their hips (center of gravity) away from us in a defensive posture. With this back grip Ugo advises us that we don’t want to over-extend and lean into our opponent as this takes us from a position of a dominant grip to an off balanced position where we are vulnerable to counters. Instead when we take the back grip we should sink our weight down in a kind of compact kiba dachi (horse riding stance) so that our center of gravity is lowered but our posture is still upright, we are balanced, and we can sink our weight down into our opponent through the back grip.
From this position Ugo now feints a forward throw using a rapid motion with his head, hip, knee, and sleeve grip in order to get his opponent to defensively step back with their lead foot. This backwards step by our opponent gives us what we want for a successful Kouch Gari, our opponents feet on the same horizontal balance line. From here we begin our active footwork for Kouchi Gari, with all our weight shifting to our backfoot, which we then hop across while the sweeping leg floats and then comes across to finish the sweep.
Here Ugo gives us a solo drill that we can repeat to get a key component of ashi waza (foot techniques) absolutely dialled in, and that’s timing. Ugo notes that often when people use Kouchi Gari the timing of the back foot moving and the sweeping foot coming in is flat and the rhythm monotonous. The drill that Ugo shows trains us to keep the sweeping foot floating so that the timing is more alive and dynamic in response to our opponent. It will take a few times of watching the video of Ugo doing this drill to pick up his timing but will pay off in your ashi waza game!
Another detail Ugo notes is that the sweeping foot stays floating just above the floor so you can still hear the outside of the foot move across the mat, and the foot is cupped upwards into a spoon-like shape so it can gain purchase on our opponents heel. This cupped foot comes directly behind the heel and sweeps in line with the direction our opponents toes are facing. We don’t try to lift our opponents foot as this makes it easier for them to escape or counter.
The hip contact as we drive through with our sweep here is very important. If we get imprecise with our posture and leave our hips floating behind us we are vulnerable to counter throws and are not capitalizing on our own momentum to secure the sweep. The hips drive forward with Kouchi Gari.
Following the sweep we maintain positive control of our opponent and blade our hips as we land. Our sweeping leg maintains control of the heel and we have our shin above our opponents leg so that we can pass the potential half-guard our opponent could employ, and move through to a strong kesa gatame (scarf hold).
If you want to learn more game changing details from French Judo legend and Judo Olympic medalist Ugo LeGrand then check out his full tutorial here!