Ashi No Waza

There are numerous ways by which you can employ the legs to gain a tactical advantage over an opponent. In this article we will cover some you should strive to master. You may have encountered these skills previously, but we cover them here to ensure that everyone is familiar with these methods prior to moving on to more advanced studies where such skills are essential.

Whenever your leg is in contact with any portion of an opponent’s anatomy you have the opportunity to use your legs, often in quite subtle ways, to manipulate your opponent to gain an advantage. Many of the skills we discuss below assume that you and your opponent are both standing, but also consider how you might employ many of these same skills against someone who is kneeling or who has fallen.

A leg provides a very large and powerful surface that, while in transition, can move nearly any portion of an opponent’s anatomy for your benefit. You should come to appreciate that whenever any portion of your opponent’s anatomy is touching any part of your leg you have some opportunity to manipulate and potentially control your opponent. This means it is beneficial to both know how to move the legs to perform these manipulations and how to be cognizant of any contact between your opponent and one or both of your legs.

Twist Legs to Collapse Your Opponent

If you place your leg behind another person’s leg such that the two legs are in direct contact with one another, then pivoting and rotating your leg will force a pivot and rotation into the leg of the other person. This will usually cause a significant amount of destabilization of the other person and may result in a collapse of his or her leg.

It turns out this is not the only way in which rotating your legs can affect the structure of another person. Place the calf of either one of your legs to the outside of the calf of the other person’s leg and then rotate your leg so it presses into the other leg. This will destabilize the other person’s structure. You can place your leg to the inside of the other person’s leg and cause a similar destabilization by rotating your leg in the opposite direction. You can use either your front or back leg for this purpose, though there will be a different feel and result from the use of one leg versus the other.

A direct linear movement can collapse another person’s leg, but it is usually more beneficial to add a twisting or rotating component when moving your leg. This causes the other person’s leg to move such that it is difficult to maintain structural stability. This usually causes the other person’s leg to move in two or more directions in rapid sequence, resulting in rapid destabilization. You will find that a similar movement will work whether your leg is inside, outside, in front of, or behind the other person’s leg. The only thing that will be different is how you must move your leg to achieve a desirable result.

Spend some time with your Uke to experiment with this skill. You will notice that sometimes you need only press your shin or calf into Uke’s lower leg to produce an intended outcome. At other times you may need to insert your knee into some portion of Uke’s leg to make that leg behave as desired. Practicing this skill repeatedly will make it much easier to manipulate opponents when necessary.

When working with various people notice how often your leg naturally ends up in a position where it is in direct contact with your training partner’s leg. It happens quite frequently. Try to notice when it happens and appreciate the type of movement you would need to employ to take advantage of this contact. With practice you will be able to move your leg immediately upon contact, even though you did not intend for such contact occur. The contact may be by happenstance, but your subsequent movement should be both instantaneous and purposeful.

Press Knees Forward

It should come as no surprise to you that pushing a person’s knee forward causes the opponent to suffer a great deal of structural instability. Now let’s consider different ways in which this condition can be established. Here is a simple list of things you will want to practice until they have become nearly instinctive.

  • Use Muchimi Te to pull the opponent’s upper torso forward. This is best done if the opponent already has forward momentum. The Muchimi Te simply extends the opponent’s movement beyond the point where they had intended to stop. This forces him or her to bend the front leg (and perhaps the back leg as well) to compensate for the sudden unexpected shift in their structure.
  • If the opponent is standing with his or her feet parallel to one another, and the person’s knees and hips both have a crease then you can apply downward pressure above the shoulder to further crease these two joints. Once this additional creasing has begun you can change the direction of your pressure to force the opponent’s knees to move further forward of his or her hips. This results in severe instability and is likely to result in Nage
  • Of course one of the most fundamental ways to accomplish this task is to employ Yoko Geri to the back of the opponent’s knee. This will press the knee forward quite abruptly. You might also press downward into the top of the opponent’s calf muscle in a similar manner to accomplish the same thing. This usually has the added benefit for pressing the opponent’s knee toward the floor rather than simply forward. Which you use depends on your goals and aspirations.
  • If you stand behind the opponent then pulling the opponent’s shoulders back and toward you will press his or her knees forward, provided he or she is firmly rooted on both legs.
  • If you are kneeling then you may trap and root the opponent’s foot with one hand and use your opposite hand to pull or push the opponent’s knee or calf in the forward direction. If you do not root the opponent’s foot then he or she is likely to shift weight onto the opposite leg and bend the knee you are attempting to manipulate. This will make your manipulation ineffective and leave you in a vulnerable position.
  • Employing Kakou Doujime Geri can force the opponent’s knee forward if you are on (or are moving toward) the ground.

Foot Hooking

Placing your foot adjacent to an opponent’s foot will often enable you to subsequently pull an opponent’s foot toward you. This is an integral part of some of the Nage you have explored in the past, but the technique has other uses. Let’s explore some of the ways in which this effective skill can be employed.

If you have placed your foot such that your instep is adjacent to the instep of your opponent (e.g. the inside of your right foot is placed against the inside of the opponent’s foot) then you can cause the opponent to be rooted on his or her opposite leg and briskly pull the opponent’s leg in the opposite direction. This is quite disruptive of the opponent’s structure and, if done in the extreme, can tear upper leg muscles quite severely.

If you are on the ear side of the opponent then you might place your leading instep against the back of the opponent’s nearest heel. This placement can now be utilized in the following ways:

  • Rooting the opponent on his or her opposite leg and then pulling the opponent’s nearest leg forward to generate structure instability in the opponent.
  • Prevent the opponent from moving his or her nearest leg backward as you press his or her torso back. This entraps the opponent’s leg and anchors it in its current location when you wish to prevent the opponent from stepping backward.
  • Move to the ear side of the opponent and place your rear foot directly on top of the opponent’s nearest leg. Rooting the opponent on his or her opposite leg will enable you to crease the opponent’s nearest leg by pressing his or her lower leg back using your instep.
  • Hooking your foot around your opponent’s foot can aid in many of the leg twist methods we discussed earlier. You will find that this increases your leverage and makes many of these leg twist techniques more effective.

Rooting Applications

You can use many of the skills we have already discussed to root your opponent. In this case the purpose of the leg manipulation is not to create instability in the opponent (necessarily), but rather to generate a specific structural state or condition instead.

Stepping on an opponent’s foot almost instantly roots the opponent’s foot (and possibly yours, in an indirect manner, as well). The opponent may attempt to move the foot and upon finding it will not move easily, shifts his or her structure to root on that leg thinking that some other part of his or her anatomy may now need to be employed to free the trapped foot. So in some cases you may have two subtle rooting events that occur in rapid succession.

Some leg twist applications will cause the opponent to twist away from you, which will likely root them on their opposite leg. This can be useful if you wish to subsequently move the nearest leg or somehow press or move the opponent over or around his or her rooted leg.

Other leg twist applications will cause the opponent to root on the leg you are manipulating. Generally speaking manipulative actions that cause the opponent to rotate inward will root them on the manipulated leg. You now have the benefit of both rooting the opponent on the nearest leg and his or her structural support being shifted onto this now bent and distorted leg. Further manipulation, Nage, or Atemi can be easily employed if required by the situation.

If you use Yoko Geri to press down into the calf of one of the opponent’s legs this will likely immediately root them on this now collapsing leg. This is a straight forward and common Nage method since the rooting action occurs in the direction of a collapsing structural support.

Experiment with each of the various methods described above to see how each roots the opponent. You will find many differences in how rooting occurs. It is quite beneficial to appreciate these differences. But look for commonalities as well. You should be able to classify rooting actions based upon how a leg manipulation impacts the manipulated leg, how the shoulders or upper torso are affected, and how the opponent’s leg is initially oriented or structured. Have fun!

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