Thursday, June 9, 2011

Teaching Ashi-Barai

One of the simplest and yet most affective techniques in Judo is Ashi-Barai, or foot sweep. During the natural movement of randori, as both judo players are fighting for position and balance, a clean foot sweep can easily land an apponent on his back.

When I asked a sensei at the Kodokan for help practicing seoi-nage (shoulder-throw), his response was, “Why are you waisting time with seoi-nage. That is a technique for short people. You need to practice ashi-barai. Your legs are long; when you touch me with your foot I am scared!”
The sensei had good reason for his suggestion. Of the handful of tournaments I have competed in here in Japan, ashi-barai has one me the most matches. Furthermore, practicing ashi-barai has been a great way to develop a better sense for my aponents movement and weight placement. Before you can jump into a more complex technique, it is crutial to understand whether an aponent is leaning forward or back, whether his weight is on the right foot or the left. Hours of drilling foot sweeps have helped me develop this sense.

With this in mind, I wanted to write about some of the recent suggestions Kashiwazaki Sensei has made for teaching ashi-barai.

A foot sweep is as simple as it sounds; the idea is to sweep your foot at an aponent’s ancle at the moment they are stepping. The foot should be slightly tilted with only the little toe sweeping the floor. It is important to keep your leg straight with the hip projected slightly forward. The wider the stance you have when beginning a foot sweep, the stronger your sweep will be. Try standing with your feet two inches apart and then sweeping one leg across…. There isn’t much room. Now stand with your legs a little further than shoulder-width apart and sweep a leg. There is a lot more momentum.

One way to practice the motion of a foot sweep is to take turns with a partner, walking back and forth across the room and sweeping feet alternately, as in this
Ashi-barai practice

It is important to pull the apponent toward you to take his balance. Do not make the mistake of pulling yourself into your aponent, as this will knock you off balance instead.

After practicing this drill, Kashiwazaki Sensei asked us to do something very strange. “Write your names on the tatami with your big toe.” Surprisingly enough, this is much more challenging than it might sound. This is also a great way to help children develop balance while standing on one foot, an important part of foot sweeps.

Perhaps the most powerful counter to a foot sweep is also the most logical. Sweep your aponent’s foot at the moment they are trying to sweep yours! Kashiwazaki Sensei described this as drawing the letter D. Pull your foot back toward you (dodging the aponent’s sweep) and circle your foot around to push the aponent through. Watch this video for an example of a
Ashi-barai game
That helps practice sweeping and counter-sweeping while maintaining balance.

This is an easy technique, but the benefits of practicing foot sweeps are far-reaching. Balance is crutial for all aspects of Judo and it is important to practice pulling an aponent toward you for later, more complicated throws.

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