A couple of weeks ago at judo, I managed to perform a technique called tai otoshi on two opponents during sparring. Tai otoshi translates roughly to “body drop”– in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful techniques in judo. If you get the preparation, timing, and speed right, it’s an incredible throw that takes very little physical effort. Of course, getting physical and “powering” a technique with raw strength and gritt helps almost all throw– but this is one that really works on it’s own compared to other types of throws.
It marked a milestone in my judoing. At this point, I’ve been doing judo for about 2 years I think, or perhaps I’m commencing my third year. I’ve lost track. When I first commenced judo, tai otoshi was one of those techniques that I really wanted to learn.
To be honest, my stand-up judo (tachi waza) still needs a lot of work– comparatively speaking, I have been learning ground-fighting (ne waza) at a much better pace. But still, the fact that I managed to pull off tai otoshi twice, successfully, in that sort of way where you just feel like it was effortless and you made your opponent fly, well, it’s something.
I consider the technique very similar in feeling to “slipping” in boxing and other striking arts. The concept of slipping is simple– when someone punches towards your head, don’t physically interrupt the opponent’s strike by putting your own hands in the way (blocking) or by redirecting it (parrying). Instead, keep your eyes on target, make a muscle memory reflex judgement, figure out the trajectory of the incoming attack and then move your head slightly out of the path of the oncoming fist.
The effect of a great slip is just amazing to watch. Watch a Muhammed Ali video; Maywweather; or Anderson Silva, and you’ll see that just by precise head movement, you can accomplish so much. While yes, there is a defensive purpose to slipping a punch, the real beauty is how it is potentially an ultra-high damage counter opportunity.
Slip a jab? Maybe not such a huge deal. But slip a big power-hand cross or hook? Doing it in itself uses the forward attacking momentum of an opponent against them– where an opponent is used to hitting a sandbag and feeling resistance, it leaves the opponent only hitting empty air.
Without contact, this causes damage in several ways–
- it’s much more physically exhausting to punch empty air than a resisting target (even an empty one) due to the lack of rebound to propel the re-chambering. “Whiffing” a punch causes ‘damage’ to stamina.
- Slipping, especially in succession (“the bob and weave”) is often a sign of superior technical ability. It is mentally damaging to be trying to hit an opponent, and keep missing.
- Position damage– all the forward momentum that you need to make a punch hurt doesn’t dissipate withoutu the anticipated resistance. A whiffed punch thus screws up body position and alignment, making it more difficult to make the next move.
- Counter damage. Because of the positional damage and forward momentum, a whiffed punch is very likely to lead to taking more damage from a counter. To put it crudely, it’d be not only like someone slamming a door in your face, but you also running into that slam.
The relationship between slipping a punch and tai otoshi has to do with the “soft” side of martial arts– the feeling of emptiness. In slipping punch, you offer emptiness as an interruption to the opponent’s force (and perhaps followed up with a compounded counter). In order to be in a position to offer that emptiness though, you need to train hard– you need to have your body so used to the motion that when the opportunity arises, your body is making that calculated risk to initaite. \
And it is a risk.
Tai otoshi is much the same. It’s about opportunity (or creating an opportunity), and requires finesse of meeting force with emptiness.