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Self-Defense Tip #32 — Stand-up grappling drills for striking skills — Forward foot sweep

If done right drills for grappling skills can improve your striking skills. There are moments during one’s steps when one is unable to attack or even to defend effectively. These “dead spots” are when well-timed throws and leg sweeps are done but strikes can be done then too. The vulnerability is the same—whether for throws, or punches, orkicks, or whatever.

Drills for two Judo (grappling) techniques—De-ashi-barai (Forward foot sweep) and Ouchi-gari (Large inner reap)—fairly easily teach awareness of the opponent’s shifts of balance and of dead spots in his technique.

For these drills to be effective you need to understand these two techniques. The key is to use a minimum of force—be so gentle that the partner’s (and eventually the opponent’s) movements are extended practically imperceptibly for him until he is off-balanced enough for the throw to be irresistible.

I will start with De-ashi-barai even though the Ouchi-gari seems a more usable move for mixed martial arts and self-defense. There are two reasons I start with De-ashi-barai rather than with Ouchi-gari:

1. The fall is easier—on the side, not on the back—and the thrower can help with the breakfall rather than falling on the “fall guy”; and

2. De-ashi-barai demands timing and sensitivity that are hard to compensate with raw force. Unlike in Ouchi-gari, poor timing and poor form of movement in De-ashi-barai is hard to mask with excessive force. Well-coached judoka are taught De-ashi-barai first so to learn relying on timing, right form of movement, and on outmaneuvering the opponent before proceeding to to learn other throws.

Practice of De-ashi-barai develops awareness of opponent’s footwork and balance shifts. The easiest to learn form of De-ashi-barai is the one with the sweep done as the partner steps back. This is also the most usable form of this sweep.

De-ashi-barai and its drills. Description for the right-sided sweep:

1. Stand face to face with your partner. Hold his right sleeve outside and below his elbow with your left hand. Hold his left lapel at chest level with your right hand. Both your arms are slightly bent. Your partner has the same grip on you.

2. Step forward with your right foot, pressing with your right arm on his chest while simultaneously pulling down gently his right sleeve with your left arm. (You pull down by making your left arm “heavy”—not by straining.) As the result of these actions your partner steps back with his left foot and his right side and right foot are closer to you. (Your “heavy” left arm slows down his right leg so it lags behind as he retreats leading with his left foot.)

3. When your partner’s weight transfers on to his left foot, his right foot is unloaded as it is about to be moved backward toward his left foot. This is when you sweep it with the sole of your left foot. You time your sweep by paying attention to his left step—not to his right step. The action of the sweeping leg is a direct movement—no arc—from where your left foot stood, directly forward to the outside surface of his right foot and then continue forward across his centerline, even toward his other foot. This action is similar to that in Harai-tsurikomi-ashi (Lift-pull foot sweep). If you cannot complete the sweep because your foot catches his right foot too soon, before it is unloaded enough to be swept easily, and his foot gets “stuck,” then fix this by a better-timed or faster (or both) push of your right arm. If you push right he will retreat more and farther so the sweep will be easier.

4. To complete the throw your arms move as if turning a large steering wheel counterclockwise—left hand down and in toward your centerline and right hand up and in toward your centerline.

This form of De-ashi-barai is shown on the video Judo Kodokan Nage Waza. It is shown two times among other forms of De-ashi-barai and once or twice together with Okuri-ashi-barai (Assisting foot sweep) when showing the difference between De-ashi-barai and Okuri-ashi-barai.

The drill for developing the sense where are your partner’s feet and which one is about to be unloaded is just a repetition of the described moves without completing the throw. It looks like a dance—you step forward with your right foot, he steps back with his left foot, and as his right foot is unloaded you sweep it and then roles are reversed—he steps forward, you step back, and he sweeps.

Do this drill first as a simple back and forth “dance,” then let your partner take more than one step before you sweep. Eventually move freely about the mat to create the opportunity for making him step back—which you can use to sweep his foot.

A more advanced form of De-ashi-barai is sweeping your partner’s foot when he advances. The foot to pay attention to is not the foot you will sweep but the other one—so for the right-side De-ashi-barai you will again observe his left foot to know when to sweep his right foot.

I will describe Ouchi-gari drills in the next tip.

Self-defense tip from Thomas Kurz, co-author of Basic Instincts of Self-Defense and author of Science of Sports Training, Stretching Scientifically, and Flexibility Express.

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