An introduction to Kumi Kata (grip fighting) for novice Judo athletes.

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Kumi Kata is one of the most important elements of modern Judo, establishing a good grip and negating your opponents grip can be what wins or loses you a match. In this article we shall not teach try to teach you how to grip, rather help you understand the importance of developing your grip fighting skills.

The most important single thing I could say in relation to gripping is to have a plan. You need to know what grip works for you and how to achieve that grip when facing a variety of situations. To develop this plan and do the practice required, you will need to consult with your coaches.

You will need a target grip and methods to obtain and defend that grip. You also need to have throws that match your grip. The general advice to a Judo athlete is that you will have one grip, not many. You will not be throwing from “any grip” as some might like.

If you watch someone like Jimmy Pedro (especially in his “Grip Like A World Champion” DVD) you will soon notice that he has a definite plan of attack with his gripping. Watch the video here and you will see the pattern. He is looking to secure his opponent Rhadi Ferguson’s sleeve with his right hand. He is then looking to take a grip with his left hand over the right shoulder of his opponent.

You will notice that Jimmy does take initial “stabs” at Rhadi’s lapel, but the first grip he takes and holds is the right hand sleeve grip. Of course Jimmy is fighting left handed, so that affects his grip pattern, as do the throws he uses. You will also notice that Jimmy is an “outside” fighter, he keeps “wide” and grips around his opponent.

This second video shows Toshihiko Koga of Japan in action. His gripping is substantially different to that of Jimmy Pedro’s. Koga is right handed and is looking to secure his left hand under his opponent’s armpit or low on the jacket lapel. His grips does vary considerably, but what is constant is his desire to control his opponents’ right shoulder for his seoi nage attacks.

Koga is also an “inside” fighter, he is rotating directly in front of his opponents is a small tight turn. It is very different to Pedro’s outside more linear attacking style. Koga would be unable to execute the turn required from Jimmy’s grip and equally Jimmy could not execute his attacks from Koga’s grip.

This is important as you too need to attack from your grip.

Defining a gripping strategy for you is well beyond what is achievable in a single blog post, or even from a series of posts. However, for the novice Judo athlete, I do have a gripping pattern framework that is a good starting point. The explanation following the method describes some of the reasoning behind this grip pattern and should hopefully give an indication of the thought you need to give to your pattern of gripping.

To obtain a standard Sleeve and Lapel grip, so as to execute many/most traditional techniques.


  1. Grip opponent’s right lapel very low, towards the belt with your right hand.
  2. Grip opponent’s right lapel above your right hand with your left hand.
  3. Grip opponent’s right lapel above your left hand with your right hand at height/position that you are aiming for as your most comfortable/effective for your throws.
  4. Bend your right arm and pull your opponent towards you.
  5. Grip opponent’s right sleeve with your left hand.

This grip pattern is designed for a right handed Judo athlete, seeking to throw with a forward throw such as Seoi Nage or Uchi Mata. This is more in line with the traditional Japanese style of fighting than eastern European styles.

By gripping low (1.), the Judo athlete is able to obtain a initial grip more easily than if going directly for the desired grip with that hand. It is used solely to provide a starting point to “climb” the grip to the desired height.

In this pattern, the athlete is focused on having a strong lapel grip. The sleeve grip is secondary to this athlete’s pattern.

Once you have a basic pattern such as the example above, you can develop methods/tricks/tools to secure the grip or to defend the grip. In the first example video with Jimmy and Rhadi, Jimmy shows a very effective method of removing Rhadi’s grip on Jimmy’s left hand sleeve. This tool is important as it shows that Jimmy is aiming to position his left hand over the shoulder. It is clear that this is a common situation that Jimmy found himself in and that he developed a effective technique to establish his grip. You too will need to find these common situations and the solutions to them.

Again, the purpose of this article is not to teach you how to grip but rather to encourage you to work with your coaches to develop your kumi kata in a similar way as you will your throwing and ne waza techniques.

Please email me ( any questions.


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Comments (5)

TrisFebruary 6th, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Great article. Perhaps worth mentioning that in the Pedro video, his opponent is also left handed, which influences why he is targetting Rhadi’s sleeve, as he is attempting to neutralise Rhadi’s ‘power hand’.

lanceWFebruary 6th, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Good call, “power hand” a George Weers fan I see. 🙂
Absolutely right Tris. The situations created by a kenka yotsu position position would definately have an effect on how your kumi kata patterns work.
More than I can type in an intro post however. 🙂

Andy LeeFebruary 8th, 2009 at 2:52 am

The “Grips” book in the Masterclass series, by Neil Adams, looks like another good resource, though I admit I’ve only skimmed it.

Carl Taj Prempeh-Dyer V11June 10th, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Similar Kumi Kata: This was shown to me 40 years ago by my brother inlaw Pedro Thornhill (not related to Jimmy Pedro) I have always combine my Judo skills with my Karate. I would commit hours practising that all-to-do grip. The gripping is so important. I have always state when in close the Man with grab that can grip will run the show. I dictate my fights I wont allow tree to grow in front of me. Now the Karate world is playing catch-up.


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