Friday, November 29, 2019

Ukigatame is a better way of doing things

Our first positional control or hold in judo, ukigatame, is more than just a hold and it is more than just a near-universal transition between tachiwaza and newaza.  Ukigatame is not just a tactic in which you crush uke with your knee on his belly or chest (or neck or back) - ukigatame is an example of a better way of doing all ground controls.
What I mean is this - a common way of doing groundwork for beginners, especially physically powerful and mentally competitive beginners - is to get the other guy in a hold and use your size and power to lock and crush him into immobility.  Problems with lock&crush groundwork include -
  • it is exhausting for tori
  • it is abusive toward uke
  • it makes standard escape actions (like bridge & roll) easier for uke to do
  • it makes transitions harder for tori to do
  • it makes submissions like chokes and armbars harder to get to
But ukigatame shows us a different way of doing all our groundwork - a way that dissolves all of these issues associated with lock&crush newaza.

Ukigatame means "floating hold," and the name suggests hovering over uke close enough to suppress his movement but remaining loose and floaty enough to shift and move over an uncontrolled uke.  Sort of like smothering uke with a heavy bag of shifting sand instead of crushing him with an iron bar.
When I teach ukigatame it is not a specific position that I tell students to get into.  Rather I tell them that as uke takes a fall, move to stand beside (preferably behind) uke and put a knee and two hands somewhere on uke's body.  After just a little bit of nagekomi (throwing practice), tori finds that this is a great, balanced position to finish throws in, that it smothers uke's motion a little bit and provides tori an instant to get his bearings and decide how (and whether) to proceed to groundwork.
As uke moves under tori, often the knee will slip off of uke's belly and will be replaced by a little more weight on tori's hands, or by tori's hip or butt, or by a body-surfing munegatame.  Tori only holds ukigatame until uke shows an opportunity for a better holding position or submission technique.
You could put a knee on uke's belly, take nice grips on uke's belt and lapel, and use your weight and power to crush the ooze out of both ends of him - but that would be missing the point of ukigatame.  You can control uke more effectively with a floating feeling that is more in-line with judo's ideals.

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Patrick Parker
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