Avoid taking low probability shots.
Last week I attended the European Judo Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. What became one of the talking points of the event was the number of Hansoku Make decisions for leg grabs. In this post I want to discuss that and how you as a Judo athlete need to consider the techniques you use from more than a “does it work” perspective.
The “leg grab” rule has been in effect for at least a year, yet at the European Championships there seemed to be a rather high number of athletes disqualified because they grabbed below the belt. This article is not about whether or not leg grabs are something that should be allowed or not. This article is about how as an athlete you need to consider the rules of Judo and how it affects how you play the sport.
Leg grabs in Judo are now banned, doing it results in Hansku Make, disqualification. There are excepetions however; for example you can grab the lag as a continuation of a prior valid attack. For example if you were to do Ko Uchi Gari and as Uke started to fall backwards from that attack you were able to grab their ankle and drive; this would be ok.
Equally, if your opponent attacks you with say Harai Goshi, you are allowed to grab below the belt and use Te Guruma for example. The other exception is if your opponent crossgrips over your shoulder, you are then allowed to grab below the waist.
The problem is, that grabbing the leg is now a very dubious decision. Watching the fights in Istanbul and the videos of previous occurrences, what is clear is that it is very easy to get it wrong and get Hansoku Make. If you grab fractionally too soon, you are gone! It is similar in ways to the use of sutemi waza. If you use a sacrifice technique, especially as a counter, there is always a percentage chance that you are going to give away a score rather than earn one. To a lesser degree this is true of any action in a match, but these two situations are much more obvious than the risks of taking say a high collar grip over a mid lapel grip.
Outside of Judo I enjoy watching Basketball. I worked briefly for a Basketball team and now enjoy taking my son to watch the local TeamSolent basketball play. In Basketball they talk about taking high probability shots and low probability shots all the time. Specifically, a three point shot is generally a low probability shot whereas the lay-up is a high probability shot. A lay up has a higher probability of going in the hoop and it also has a high probability of drawing a foul from the opposition. So although it is a lower scoring shot, it is tactically better sometimes.
In Judo, a leg grab of any kind has a probability of scoring and of getting hansoku make. Different situations will give different probabilities for each result, but their is always a chance the referee wil give hansoku make if you grab below the waist. If the referees get every situation 100% right, there is always the possibility you grab early or at the wrong time. If you consider that referees are fallible and make mistakes, then the odds of getting Hansku Make changes… and probably not in your favour.
So as an athlete, you need to assess if using a leg grab is worth attempting, even if it feels like it could be a scoring opportunity. The same is true of sacrifice techniques. What is the chance that the referee(s) see something different to what you expect. What are the chances that your opponent can react and cause it to be their score. Especially with inexperienced referees a well timed shout can make all the difference. You might be trying tomoe nage, but if it does not work and your opponent shouts and reacts the right way, you could easily find you’ve given away the score.
With leg grabs, its even worse because we know the rule has been put in place to stop leg grabs. So we know referees are tasked with stopping leg grabs, so they are looking to penalise people who leg grab unless you correctly grab in one of the exception situations. But the referees are looking to stop what you are doing, that leg grab is the focus, not the crossgrip. They don’t want you to leg grab at all, so any leg grab will be a case of them wanting to penalise you first then assessing if you were in a situation where you could do it. Rather than them looking for specific situations where you can not leg grab. There is a psyhological difference; they are tasked with stamping out leg grabs, so they are looking at every leg grab.
My advice to athletes is this, and it applies to both sutemi waza and leg grabs: don’t do it!
It is quite simply a matter of the odds being against you. A leg grab has a low probability (generally) of scoring Ippon, but a high probability of getting you Hansoku Make’d out of the fight. Equally a sutemi waza counter to a throw has agood chance of backfiring whilst a low probability of scoring for you.
So why take the risk?? It is not worth it, there are plenty of other actions you could take that might win the fight without you risking a loss at the hands of the referee. So, remove leg grabs from your repertoire today, it is what the IJF wants you to do anyway.
As a coach, I am not going to waste time coaching players how to exploit the exceptions where they can still leg grab. Why rehearse an action that has such a low probability of working in your favour?? I cringe when I see Judo athletes drilling the various variations that are technically permitted leg grab situations. We would all be shocked if we saw a football coach drilling players in how to handle the ball with their arms in a way that might be missed by the referee, so why is it ok in Judo?
Don’t be that poor soul that grabs the leg then looks around in astonishment when they are disqualified, looking at their coach who just last week had them doing leg grabs from situation X, Y or Z. Be the person who maybe misses a scoring opportunity, but also can’t be disqualified for a leg grab. Stay in the fight and win it with valid techniques that the referees want to see!