Kote gaeshi is a fundamental technique that is taught to all aikidoka. Despite this there are numerous issues that arise with it’s correct execution. This is because as well as being fundamental, it’s also difficult. This post is going to examine one of the biggest problems with correctly applying Kote Gaeshi. Where the nage’s hands go in relation to the uke’s wrist.
It is quite common to for a nage to place their fingers on the uke’s wrist when applying kote gaeshi. This is a mistake that occurs at all levels of aikido and no matter how many times it happens, it will always be wrong.
It’s possible to break down kote gaeshi, or any aikido technique, into different stages. For our purposes, we’ll assume that nage has taken uke’s hand with a standard kote gaeshi grip.
At this point we need to stop and ask a very simple question,, “Do they actually have a kote gaeshi grip?”
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of aikidoka the answer to that question is, “No.” People generally point out that it must be, because it still looks and works like kote gaeshi. See how their mighty uke falls over. The problem is that in most instances the uke doesn’t have to fall over. What really happens is that they take a dive for no reason.
A Simple Test
It is possible to determine if a nage’s technique will work the moment they take hold of the uke’s hand. Yes, that early in the technique.
The thing to look for here is whether or not the kote gaeshi would actually work if uke wasn’t expecting it. This is easy to determine by looking at nage’s fingers. If the fingers are on the uke’s wrist the technique will fail. It’s that simple.
Why It Fails
To understand why the technique will fail we have to consider how kote gaeshi actually works. There are several forces and directions at play but the most important one to consider is a stretching of the soft tissues over the back of the wrist. This could be considered the primary function of the technique. The correct grip is with the nage’s thumb between the knuckles of the uke’s little and ring fingers. The fingers of nage’s hand wrap around the uke’s thumb.
It is this last part. The placement of the fingers around the base of the thumb that causes so much error. There is a tendency to let the fingers slip down so that they cover the wrist. Ignoring the fact this also pulls the thumb out of position let’s examine what that means for the technique. As stated a large part of kote gaeshi is reliant on the stretch in the soft tissues over the back of the wrist. To apply that stretch the wrist needs to compress inwards with the palm towards the arm.
If nage’s fingers are on the wrist they will block the technique when applying compression. The nage’s own fingers will limit the range of motion in the uke’s wrist and prevent their own technique. The wrist is designed to move in the direction of kote gaeshi, but only to a point.
However, our fingers are not compressible. If they are on the wrist then our fingers form a brace before the maximum wrist flexion is reached. The end result is that uke should just stand there while nage needs to resort to strength. Neither of these things should happen with a properly executed technique.
This is a remarkably simple technical flaw to resolve. It requires nothing more than nage shaping the hand so that the fingers point straight forwards but the thumb and little finger are flexed down.
With the hand in this shape at the point of contact, which should be above the elbow, when nage slides the hand down the arm a set of brakes have been created. The little finger will catch at the base of uke’s hand where it flares into the wrist. The thumb will come to rest between the correct knuckles and all that remains is to wrap the fingers around the base of uke’s thumb.
The flaw described here is extremely common but the solution is extremely simple. Notably though, the solution begins before the point of contact with uke and itself reveals another flaw with kote gaeshi. The initial contact point should be just above the elbow. There are very good reasons for this but that’s a different blog post.
A great many aikidoka have developed a bad habit of blocking their own kote gaeshi. There is a tendency to let the fingers cover the wrist which prevents compression and full application of the lock.
The simplest solution to this is to adjust the hand shape when making contact with uke and let it settle naturally when sliding down the arm.
If this happens then nage has a better chance of placing their fingers in the correct position. This allows unsupported movement in the wrist and it is possible to achieve the maximum range of motion. When that occurs the technique will come on fully and uke will drop.
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