The secrets of the knee wheel
Originating from the battle fields of the Japanese samurai, Hiza Guruma can be one of the most effective attacks within the Gokyo No Waza of Kodokan Judo. When attacked by a sword strike on the battle field, the samurai warrior would step into the attackers space blocking the opponents strike at the arm with his own. Using the attackers momentum, the samurai would rotate and block the attackers knee with their foot. As the attacker would fall to the ground onto their back, the samurai warrior would secure his attacker’s sword arm and chest with his knees, draw his blade and defeat his attacker.
In the sport of judo, Hiza-Guruma has developed into a very effective and powerful Ashi-Waza technique. If performed correctly, the technique can result in a straight Ippon to finish the fight or at least be used as a combination to set up your opponent for a second attack. Tactically in competition, the technique can be very beneficial as it can turn defence on the back foot, into an attack on the front foot within a second. If performed incorrectly, the technique can be ineffective and can leave you liable to counter attack. If performed correctly however, Hiza-Guruma can be an extremely effective weapon in your arsenal.
Fundamentals of the technique
The technique is fundamentally simple in principle (which is why it is often taught to beginner students) however it can be difficult to master. The technique relies on utilising your opponents momentum whilst generating rotational torque like a wheel to off-balance and throw. Performed traditionally from a sleeve lapel grip, like the samurai warrior it begins with a step past the outside of your opponents foot bending at the knee (similar to the step of O-Soto-Gari). The advancing step prevents the opponent from advancing further forward with equal stability placing their weight on the backwards leg and creating space for your opponent to move in addition to lowering your centre of gravity (making you more stable). Once the foot makes contact with the ground, your weight should shift to the stepping leg as your body slightly turns to the side, lengthening your arm holding the lapel. As the space is created and you are on a slight angle in relation to your opponent, you generate force by pulling hard on the lapel, of-balancing and rotating your opponent due to the angle. This provides a significant amount of torque of the throw, but not all of it as some would believe.
Phase 2: Hip extension to increase force acceleration
Like a turning a wheel, as you pull on one side (lapel), equally the other side should be driven upwards. This force is provided by two key elements which are often overlooked however, if performed correctly will significantly increase the power, acceleration and rotational torque of your technique. As many experienced players know, one of these forces derives from driving your opponents sleeve grip backwards and upwards further rotating and off-balancing your opponent. Often in competition (particularly at high level) or if the opponent has good core stability strength, this may not be as effective. The second, from my coaching/physio perspective is the biggest secret of Hiza-Guruma. The drive of torque rotation through the extension of the stepping leg’s hip. Often when the technique is performed, tori does not extend through the hip of the stepping leg and as a result loses rotational force application on one side of the throw. Lacking strength and relative power, ‘to get more pull’ tori leans backwards extending out of necessity at the lumbar spine (lower back). Although feeling stronger as the Erector Spinae (large back muscle) is being used, tori compromises their centre of balance and stability resulting in a backwards counter attack.
Often with throws and the movement of judoka, we focus and examine the global body movement rather than focusing on a particular section, in this case; the pelvis. Instead of leaning backwards compromising balance, tori must keep their centre of gravity low and back straight (good posture), driving through the standing leg hip rotating the pelvis of the opponent. By doing this tori can deliver up to 40% more rotational torque significantly accelerating the rotation speed of the throw. If you feel that you cannot/do not have enough room at your hip to extend, you must bend your stepping knee more.
Phase 3: The prop and finish
If done correctly, the opponents centre of gravity will be well outside his base of support and they will be experiencing a significant amount of rotational force; so much so they cannot resist. Due to these forces, the opponent is forced to step forward with their leg in order to gain balance. The final phase of the technique includes the prop with your foot blocking this stabilising step slightly below the knee. As the throw happens at such speed, placements is never 100% accurate although it can make a difference as it is this axis point that the opponent will rotate over (If the prop is performed lower nearer the ankle, it is a different throw. Once propped, tori must rotate their head in the direction of the throw which will continue the full rotation of their shoulders and trunk. As the opponent is being thrown, tori should maintain a close chest distance so that the opponent cannot turn out of the throw.
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