Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kote gaeshi: how to counter it


Given that I've just analysed the application of kote gaeshi (wrist out turn throw/projection/lock) I thought I'd discuss methods of countering it. But before I do that I thought I'd first clarify what kote gaeshi is (in other words, the purpose of this technique).

Lock or throw/projection?

Kote gaeshi is, first and foremost, a wrist lock. If it is performed quickly it can act as a wrist break - particularly if, as I previously mentioned, you put your whole body weight behind the technique and harness your attacker's momentum. When a small joint bears such weight and momentum, the result can be devastating.

The reason kote gaeshi is regarded as a throw or projection is not because it necessarily results in your attacker falling. Indeed, when I apply kote gaeshi to an untrained person, I've noticed that 9 times out of 10 the person will just stand there crying out in pain as the lock is applied. In those cirumstances I have to be careful, as the person will take no action to relieve the stress on the wrist.

A trained student will however "go with the flow" - usually by falling. This immediately takes the strain off the wrist joint. It is this tendency that leads people to call kote gaeshi a "throw" or "projection". When faced with a choice of severely strained or snapped wrist on one hand, or being thrown on the other, I would choose the latter each time.1

But this raises the question - how should one fall when kote gaeshi is applied? There are 3 options:

Option #1: escaping kote gaeshi with a forward flip

I've noticed that when kote gaeshi is applied to a person, the natural tendency is for the person's opposite shoulder to roll in towards the wrist.

One can capitalise on this natural tendency and throw the shoulder in even further - leading to a forward flip. This is the option preferred by arts like Daito ryu jujutsu and aikido. The forward flip deals directly with the pressure on the wrist as the twist is undone - and is undone very sharply.

The problem with this approach is that while it works well enough on a padded dojo floor, flipping oneself in the street is an entirely different matter. Surfaces like concrete or bitumen are hard and unforgiving - especially when they are studded with loose blue metal gravel (as I once experienced). I would have thought a forward flip should be very much an option of "last resort".

It is important to note that I am not disparaging the skill of aikidoka and jujutsu practitioners in doing the forward flip: I can see how such falling practise is very useful. Clearly there are instances where you might need to resort to flipping yourself - and developing a good breakfall can make the difference between bruises or broken bones.

But in the end, I think there are safer ways of "falling into" kote gaeshi.

Option #2: escaping kote gaeshi by falling backward

While it is not one's first instinct, it is possible to learn to throw the opposite shoulder back when kote gaeshi is applied. This will result in a backward (rather than forward) fall. In my dojo this is preferred to option #1.

The beauty of this type of falling is that it permits you to collapse into a backward roll. Such a roll takes the "edge" off impacting on hard ground. It also permits you to continue rolling back onto your feet. As with option #1, the roll "undoes" the kote gaeshi wrist twist, but in this case it does so without risking a heavy impact on a hard surface.

Option #3: escaping kote gaeshi falling into a counter lock

However falling onto the ground is by no means the only way of countering a kote gaeshi. If you catch your attacker's lock at the right time, you can instead fall into a counter lock. One such counter lock is demonstrated in the adjacent gif.

You will note from this gif and the video below (which details this method of countering kote gaeshi) that you should fall into the lock in much the same way as with option #1 - ie. by rolling your opposite shoulder in. As I discussed earlier, this is arguably the natural reaction to a kote gaeshi. However, instead of doing a forward flip, you grasp his supporting arm (not the main attacking one) and apply your own lock (waki gatame).

In effecting the waki gatame, you do a forward roll onto your back and undo the kote gaeshi. But instead of rolling on the floor, in this case you are rolling with your back against your opponent.

A video in which I demonstrate how to apply a counter lock to a kote gaeshi


The kote gaeshi comprises a wrist twist. Accordingly, counters to the kote gaeshi involve "undoing" that twist (assuming you can't avoid the twist in the first place).

"Undoing" a kote gaeshi can be achieved by untwisting the body - either in a forward flip/roll or a backward roll.

And if you're going to be rolling, you might as well apply your own lock as you do so!

For a 2015 addendum to this article, go here.


1. It is worth noting that your only chance in appling kote gaeshi as a projection lies in using your opponent's momentum against him/her. This most frequently means utilising your opponent's retracting/withdrawing momentum - as I discuss in my article: Kote gaeshi: how to apply it against resistant partners".

Copyright © 2010 Dejan Djurdjevic