Kata Guruma: Badly Treated & Abandoned

Kata Guruma Fiesta de la cultura japonesa

Judo can be dumb. Or rather people can be dumb, Judo is awesome. There is no better technique to display this fact than kata guruma. This is one of the original 40 throws of Judo as determined by Jigorō Kanō.

Let’s get into this ‘controversial’ technique and see what makes it tick.

What Is It

Kata Guruma is known in English as the shoulder wheel. Some western martial arts may refer to it as the fireman’s carry, which isn’t a complete definition since it’s a throw. In its simplest form you pick your opponent up on your shoulders and throw him to the ground. If you’re young enough, the first thing that will come to your mind is the WWE. More specifically John Cena. YOU CAN’T SEE ME! That move he does is actually an exaggerated Kata Guruma. But the technique is so much more than that. Don’t think because you see it in professional wrestling it doesn’t cause any damage. While wrestling is scripted and controlled, Judo is designed to finish an opponent in the most efficient way.

Executing The Technique

Remember that most movements in Judo use momentum. No matter how physically impressive it looks, there must be a (relatively) easy way to execute it. Easy, in the sense of, you don’t need to be a power-lifter to apply it.

1. Step 1

Apply kuzushi and destabilize your opponent. Do this by pulling uke towards you in a downward motion. One of your hands grips the collar and the other an elbow. The idea is to stretch uke out enough for him to momentarily lose balance. Uke will naturally take a single step forward to make adjustments. This will widen his stance a little, giving you a window of opportunity to execute your technique.

2. Step 2

At the same time you’re pulling Uke into position, the hand that was grabbing the collar should be placed between his legs. Don’t stop pulling with your other hand. In combination, this will create enough momentum to pull tori onto your shoulders.

Take note that you don’t need to stand completely upright. In fact, straightening out your back will take away some of the momentum you’ve build up. This will make Kata Guruma more of a power technique than you expect.

3. Step 3

Once Uke is on your shoulders you have to quickly decide what you’re going to do. This sounds ridicules but the special thing about kata guruma is that you can end the throw in several ways. You can throw uke in front of you by leaning forward. You can throw him to your side, which looks spectacular. Or you can throw him behind you, falling backwards to the floor with him and pinning him in position.

This is great because it makes the technique difficult to counter once your opponent is on your back. When your opponent counters the throw to the side, you can simple throw him in another direction.

4. After the Throw

As always make sure to maintain your grip on uke’s elbow. When uke is flat on the ground you should still have control of his arm. If need be you can follow up with a pin or armbar.

When throwing uke backwards your shoulders should be pinning him to the ground. Don’t exaggerate this motion too much. It can lead to your opponent reversing your position by rolling with the momentum.

Other Things to Mention

A variation of Kata Guruma that is a bit easier to apply is falling to your knee as you’re pulling uke onto your shoulders. This motion is not as powerful but leverages momentum better. If you ever see Kata Guruma in competition, it’s likely to be this variation.

It’s not easy to apply this technique against a knowledgeable opponent. The stiff arming tends to get in the way. Try using it in combination with other techniques or faints to get the surprise attack.

In fact, you should know that the International Judo Federation (hence the title of this article) banned Kata Guruma. Technically it’s not completely banned, but it might as well be. The updated rules make leg grabs illegal. Kata guruma requires you to grab the leg of your opponent to execute it with ease.

So one dumb rule has effectively killed a beautiful part of Judo. You can still try to do the technique by holding onto the lapel of your opponent, but the motion is not as intuitive. The problem is that sports keeps martial arts alive. Whatever direction the sport takes will be mirrored in the way the art is taught. I wouldn’t be surprised if some dojos have stopped practicing kata guruma because of this.

Hopefully the IJF will come to its sense sooner rather than later.

If you search through YouTube you’ll find they rarely apply this technique properly, or by itself in competition (specifically in the past few years). You could refer to this application as a different technique… or not. Either way it looks messy.

Countering Kata Guruma

Attempting a kata guruma leaves you in the perfect position to be countered by sumi gaeshi. Granted that your opponent actually needs to think of this in a split second, but it’s a quite effective and simple counter.

Sumi Gaeshi counters Kara Guruma

Sumi Gaeshi counters Kara Guruma

Wrapping It Up

This is a great technique. The politics that it is currently experiencing is unfortunate but shouldn’t keep you from adding it to your repertoire. Internalizing the motions will make you a better Judoka and give you more options for self-defense. Here we have a compilation of modern kata guruma’s… See what I meant by messy.

On the other hand, here is a compilation of the real thing. Notice how grabbing the leg is essential for this technique.

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