Balance – The Secret Weapon Of Judo

When students begin their training in any style of self-defense, not just Judo, there are a number of common mistakes that they will encounter along the way. In the beginning the techniques are foreign and forced.

When first learning to take an opponent to the ground for example, few things can feel more awkward and rigid than your own body when you are struggling against the strength and persistence of your opponent.

The beginning student not only lacks technique, but even the most athletic individual will find himself surprisingly uncoordinated when it comes to adopting the movements of a new martial arts discipline. However, there are a number of tips that can allow even the most inexperienced practitioner to perform throws and take downs effectively.

This lesson is intended to offer a practical approach to techniques centered on manipulating the opponent’s balance. This lesson will also discuss common Judo mistakes, misconceptions, and helpful tips in order to cultivate a more realistic and adaptable approach to the art.

Learn To Let Go

Learn To Let Go

Learn what it feels like when a technique is getting away from you. Sometimes it is just as important to abandon a technique that isn’t going your way as it is to execute it well.

One of the best ways to get thrown or countered by your opponent is to chase after them with a failed technique. This usually happens when a student attempts a technique, like a wristlock or an arm bar, does not have the grip that they need, and will attempt the technique anyway.

The student then literally chases his opponent around the room for a grip that never comes, which makes his intentions painfully obvious. This is an easy habit to develop and a difficult one to break. Yes, in a fight or competition you will need to work for the technique the vast majority of the time, but do not sacrifice your balance or posture for it.

It simply is not worth it. This does not mean that persistence does not pay off, but the student must move out of the mindset of constantly trying out techniques and into the mindset of watching for opportunities to take advantage of.

The student must become receptive to those occasions in which a particular technique can really shine.By becoming proficient at the later you will rely more on strategy than the luck of the draw.

Test Your Opponent’s Balance

Test Your Opponent’s Balance

One opportunity that is always worth looking out for is the moment your opponent loses his balance. The goal of the judoka (practitioner of judo) is not to perform techniques but to attack the opponent’s balance.

In fact, a throw or takedown should not be attempted until the opponent’s balance has been broken. How can you tell when your opponent’s footing is unstable or when he has lost his balance? One simple way to test him is to firmly and abruptly shove or pull your opponent to one side. Unless he has a firm stance with the majority of his body mass distributed over the feet he will most certainly lift one of his feet off of the ground out of reflex.

Many throws in judo have been successfully executed by taking advantage of this minor shift in footing. That moment however, is fleeting so it is important that when attempting to tip over your adversary you are prepared to close the distance quickly. Once he has lost his footing he must be kept in motion along that angle of attack, smoothly and with as few steps as possible.

Not every fighter is created equal and some people are quite light on their feet. However, even if your opponent never seems to lose his balance he will make himself vulnerable by shifting his center of gravity. This shift often occurs when your opponent is attempting to cover distance quickly either when attempting a technique or when making a retreat.

The secret is to maintain better posture than your opponent. If he is grabbing on to you while hunched over, then you must close the distance and maintain a straighter posture. This will not only give you better footing but increase your leverage by allowing you a greater angle to bend your upper body. It is also much harder to pull an opponent towards you when he has assumed an erect or tall posture.

The more body mass you have available to lend to the technique the less strength you will need to execute that maneuver. Sure, physical strength can give you a considerable advantage when grappling with an opponent, but many students soon learn to rely on leverage and body placement as their muscles will eventually begin to fatigue.

Even if you have never learned any classical judo techniques you can still defend against a number of takedown attempts by correcting your posture in many instances.

Follow Their Weight

Follow Their Weight

There is a timeless lesson that applies here that has most certainly been quoted in many dojos around the world: when your opponent pulls, you must push and when your opponent pushes, you must pull.

One reason why this has often proved to be effective is that the push or pull of an opponent is a good indicator of where he is shifting his weight at that moment. Your opponent’s balance relies on how he shifts his weight.

Once you understand what a person uses to direct their body weight it is much easier to manipulate their balance. The weight of the head is what moves the upper body. You will always have an easier time pulling or pushing a person in the direction that their head is leaning.

The hips are another great weapon in your arsenal of balance warfare, but rather than attack the hips you should support the attacker’s hips with your own, borrowing them as a fulcrum for leverage.

This can be achieved by maintaining fluid contact with the hips while supporting your weight with the legs in a solid posture. A solid posture must travel with you. What is perhaps most important to note when following a “push when pulled” practice, or vice versa, is to blend the attack with your defense.

Do not allow gaps or disconnects between your opponent’s advance and your reaction to it. Condition yourself to think “one moment, one movement.”

Stay Connected

Stay Connected

Cats use their whiskers to feel around in the dark while the judoka uses his hands to feel where his opponent wants to go. Your hands should be out constantly feeling for your opponent’s grabs.

Your movements should match his movements so that you can predict all of the places he has left to go. As long as you stay with your opponent, and not simply wait to counter, your techniques will not have to rely purely on reaction time.

Though it is a good idea to train your speed and reaction time, do not rely on it. Paying attention to how your opponent moves, exercising strategy, and adopting an adaptive mindset is what will bring you consistent results.

Tie Everything Together

Tie Everything Together

Remember first and foremost that as your opponent approaches you should step off of his line of attack and stay with his movements. Try not to throw out random techniques but instead stay vigilant of any opportunity or kink in his armor that lends itself to your technique’s success.


Maintain a good posture and allow it to move with you. Finally, when the moment to act arrives respond in as fluid a manner as possible. If you incorporate these tools into your practice and maintain an adaptive mindset you should be able to reap the many benefits of this elegant art.

Jake Tyler
Hi all, I’m Jake Tyler, over the past decade I’ve been working strong on my personal fitness levels. From the age of 16, I have been a kickboxer, and I’ve built up an incredible passion for fitness & self-improvement. This experience has led me to a career in personal training and health & fitness.

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