O Soto Gari: Not Exactly What It Seems

O soto gari

O soto gari, stick to the basics!

That’s something any sports coach would say. In martial arts this is just as important as in any other sport. Judo in particular requires you to have a strong understanding of its fundamentals before you can move on.

There’s no skipping allowed here.

As one of the original 40 throws, O soto gari is one of the most basic throws in Judo. Basic, but effective. If you’re like most of us, this is the one move you and your friends were fooling around with on the playground.

It’s easy to understand and easy to apply, yet difficult to master.

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What Exactly is O soto gari?

It translates to something along the lines of, ‘major outer reaping throw’. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but that’s actually an exact definition of the technique. Tori (person applying the throw) takes down uke (person being thrown) by ‘reaping’ one of uke’s legs with his own from the outside.

A picture is worth a thousand word, or in this case a gif.

o soto gari - 1

O soto gari : Tori takes down uke

You can see that this comes off as a very simple technique. This is the official way of executing o soto gari. There are many methods with small alterations here and there, but this is pretty much what it looks like.

There are however two ways to do this throw:

  • The taught method
  • The competitive method

The “Taught” Method

This is the way everyone starts out learning O soto gari. You could also call this the traditional method. It’s performed exactly like in the gif. Here are the steps for sweeping with your right leg.

1. Step 1

You start in a natural square stance, grip fighting with your opponent. Your right hand is placed on his collar and your left is firmly grip his right elbow.

2. Step 2

Next you step in with your left foot and use your arms to off-blalance uke at a slight angle. The angle should be a bit backwards and to the side. As you step in, leave just enough space for your hips to pass through.

3. Step 3

Use the space from step 2 to position your right leg behind uke’s. Then lift your right leg up, readying it for the sweep. The higher you lift your leg the more powerful your throw will be. Now pull your leg back and trip your opponent by clipping his right thigh with your right thigh.

4. After the Throw

Maintain control of his right arm throughout the technique. Uke should land flat on his back as you’re still clasping his arm. This makes O soto gari not only safe, but also a good technique to transition into pins and armbars. Also note that you as tori remain standing while using this technique.

The “Competitive” Method

If you’re brave you can also call this the practical method. This is the version of O soto gari that you actually see being used in competition. By competition I mean when blackbelts are going at it in the Olympics.

Osotogari-2

Osotogari-2

1. Step 1

Here we start out in the usual position. Your hands should be gripping in the exact same places as with the taught method (collar and right arm). We’re going to sweep with the right leg again.

2. Step 2

Instead of stepping in with your left foot, you take a long step with your right foot, and straight away place it behind uke’s right leg. As you’re doing this you’re upsetting your opponents balance the same way as previously mentioned. Emphasis should be put on pushing uke’s head and chest back with your right hand and forearm.

3. Step 3

Immediately start pulling your leg back. Forget about lifting it up. Push forward, placing all your weight on your opponent. This will push him down to the floor with you on top of him, in a powerful throwing motion. As you’re pushing forward make sure it’s at a 45 degree angle. This will make your O soto gari much harder to defend then trying to push directly into uke.

4. After the Throw

At the end you are both on the ground. Your opponent on his back (preferably in shock and awe of your skill) and you on your knees to his right side. If you’re mean you can decide to fall into your opponent. This way he doesn’t only get thrown to the ground, he gets all your weight driven into him as it’s happening. From this position you’re pretty much in side-mount.

What’s The Better O soto gari Method?

That’s an easy question to answer. The one that works.

The way we all learn O soto gari is not very practical. Specifically it’s very difficult to apply the throw against someone who is fighting back. Breaking the balance of a resisting opponents while keeping your body completely erect, and then raising your leg just to sweep it backwards is a hard thing.

It’s like you’re playing seesaw with the uke. Such an approach is not only difficult to apply but easy to counter.

That’s why you barley see it in competition. Somewhere along the line most Judokas naturally make adjustments to their technique. The end result is less of a sweep and more of a trip.

They are the same technique, one has just been battle hardened by vigorous competition.

Not to say that what we learn in the dojo isn’t useful. It’s a good way to start. Sort of like learning whole numbers. You start with positive numbers and eventually you learn negative numbers. The depth you gain from the knowledge of negative numbers opens you up to much deeper concepts in algebra.

The point is, to get to those deeper concepts you first have to go through the simple stuff.

Start with the ‘taught’ method and once you’ve got a good grasp on it make sure to learn the ‘competitive’ method as well. O soto gari being a basic throw, your goal should be to completely master it as soon as possible.

Countering  O soto gari

For good measure I should quickly mention at least one method of countering this technique. First of all, if it’s not executed properly you can actually counter the O soto gari by simply keeping a straight and strong back. There is no cure for bad technique (except good technique).

Osotogari - 3

Countering O soto gari

Otherwise an impressive counter is juji gatame. Stepping back as your opponent steps in leaves him vulnerable to this fantastic throw.

Wrapping It Up

It really is an effective technique. So effective in fact that I feel MMA professionals should make it a mainstay of their arsenal. So far the only fighters who I’ve seen use it are Akiyama (who’s a world class judoka), Jon Jones (who’s Jon Jones) and Khabib Nurmagomedov (a Judo blackbelt).

O soto gari - akiyama vs leben

An O soto gari - Akiyama vs Leben

O soto gari - Kahhib

O soto gari - Kahhib

Until the MMA guys get their act together we’ll have to depend on awesome Judokas like Shohei Ono to keep shining the way. In case you don’t know him, he’s Olympic champion. As always here is a highlight reel for your reference and enjoyment.

Robert Sterling
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Teaching, Friendly, Young, Passion. Always wanna go up & down. Hey, you gotta live, do you?  

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