There’s a good reason that there are weight classes in most martial arts. They are designed to ensure that when you compete, you’re working with someone of roughly the same build as you and thus, you’re both going to be about even (at least physically when you fight).
However, this isn’t always how things turn out and a shorter guy can find himself facing a much taller, thinner opponent with a huge reach advantage. There are specific techniques (especially some throws) to counter that advantage and get back into the fight.
So what are the best Judo throws for short guys? The best judo throws for short guys are the pick-ups, the Uchi-mata (with a twist), the drop Seoi-Nage and the Tomoe-Nage.
Let’s have a good look at each of these, but before that, let’s explore why height is even an issue in Judo!
Why Is There A Height Advantage In Judo?
In most sports and, in particular, in martial arts there can be a real advantage to being taller. If you are a runner, for example, longer legs mean longer strides and thus less effort to travel more distance. If you are a boxer then longer arms mean you can hit your opponent and stay out of the way of their punches more easily. The list could go on with far-reaching kicks, higher jumps, etc.!
However, in judo things are not so simple -while tall judokas have certain advantages such as the ability to use sweeps at a distance, to pull off ashi waza techniques, and some throws can be much more powerful when someone uses their height to deliver momentum.
Short judokas can also have a substantial advantage. They can do hip throws and pickups far more easily than their taller opponents and because they have a lower center of gravity, they can often maneuver into a throw more easily. There’s also a decided advantage in groundwork for shorter players.
The Change In Judo Rules In 2013
In fact, being shorter in judo used to come with such a huge advantage that a shorter opponent could use leg grabs consistently to bear their opponent to the mat and then get stuck in with groundwork. One Mongolian fighter used this technique all the way to a world championship gold medal!
However, the rules were changed temporarily in 2010 to disallow this technique and when it became clear that this change was beneficial to the sport, the ban became permanent in 2013.
Short players still have many advantages over tall players but the ability to use leg grabs is no longer one of them. Read the details on this ban in this article: “Why are leg grabs banned in Judo?” (Links open a new tab.)
The Best Judo Throws For Short Guys
It’s best to keep in mind during pick-ups that the game here is judo and not wrestling. That means you’re going to get to your opponent’s leg and then look to throw upward and then out, you want a higher arc than you would use in wrestling.
Morote-Gari (Double Leg Take Downs)
This is a quite literal pick up and that means the low center of gravity in a shorter judo player is going to be a huge advantage. The attacking player is basically performing a feint before dropping below their opponent’s center of balance and then lifting them up and dropping them on their back.
You can see the Morote-Gari performed at the link below including a very classic clip, indeed:
Ankle Picks (Not Allowed In Competition)
If they ever allow leg grabs back into competitive judo, then ankle picks such as Kibisu-Gaeshi are an incredibly easy tool to gain an advantage over a taller opponent.
In this video you can see how brutally effective they were back in 2012 before they were banned from the sport.
There are 15 te-waza techniques in total and while we’re not going to teach them all in this article, we are going to point out that they can all be very effective when a smaller person is trying to throw a larger person.
You can use any or all of the following techniques:
- Ippon Seoinage (One Arm Shoulder Throw)
- Kata Gurama (Shoulder Wheel)
- Kibisu Gaeshi (Heel Reverse)
- Kuchiki Taoshi (Dead Tree Drop)
- Morote Gari (Double Leg Reap)
- Morote Seoinage (Two Hand Shoulder Throw)
- Obi Otoshi (Belt Drop)
- Obi Tori Gaeshi (Belt Grab Reversal)
- Seoi Otoshi (Shoulder Drop)
- Sukuinage (Scoop Throw)
- Sumi Otoshi (Corner Drop)
- Tai Otoshi (Body Drop)
- Uchimata Sukashi (Inner Thigh Throw Slip)
- Uki Otoshi (Floating Drop)
- Yama Arashi (Mountain Storm)
Below, there is a great video demonstrating many of these techniques. You wouldn’t expect to be able to use all of these unless you had achieved at least a black belt standard in judo. Most judoka are going to have a smaller repertoire to call upon in competition:
The Hopping Uchi Mata
The Uchi Mata isn’t quite the right move for a shorter guy unless you go for the hopping approach when you are on the attack. The objective is simple: force your opponent to go forwards and leave themselves off balance. It’s best done when the opponent has already adopted a defensive posture that leaves them with the arms and legs wide open and the upper body arched forward.
Hop in, until you are on one leg, with a foot on the floor facing the same way as your opponent’s. Then slide the other leg between their legs and stretch your legs apart. Lean forward and pull the opponent through you and onto your thigh. Bounce them up and then turn and roll to throw them.
Teimoc Johnston-Ono demonstrates the Hopping Uchi Mata in this excellent clip from YouTube:
The Drop Seoi-Nage
This is probably a shorter player’s key throw. The objective here is to get up speed and not power. Power is often the main component of a judo throw but not this time.
This is your process for getting a Drop Seoi-Nage fast enough that your height is going to be a huge advantage to you:
- You need to have control of the end of your opponent’s sleeve. If you don’t get this right, then the rest of the move is going to be sloppy at best and a disaster at worst.
- Get your hips underneath the other judoka. Maintain your contact with your opponent and start to control with just one knee angling down – this will really help you keep control of the whole throw.
- Now, it’s time to be fast. You want to explode upward as fast as you can at this point, if you get it right, you’re going to rip their feet out from under them and then they are in the air. Keep your head up while you do this or you lose power from the throw.
- Stay in contact and make sure that you land with your back on the other player’s chest.
This throw requires a lot of single leg strength and you might want to make single leg training a part of your regular regime if you want to rely on the Drop Seoi-Nage to make your life easier in a judo match.
You can see a great demonstration of this technique in the video below:
Tomoe-Nage (The Circle Throw)
This is the perfect throw for a smaller fighter taking on a larger fighter who is relying on their strength to give them all the advantage that they need. It requires you to take a back fall and lay face up, so that you can then hurl your opponent over your head.
- Thrust your left foot onto the floor far behind your opponent’s legs.
- Step straight up to them and fall backwards with your buttocks landing just behind your left heel
- Clench the toes on your right foot, angle your knee, place the sole of the right foot gently against the other player’s midriff
- Then fall straight backwards, at the same time, straighten your right knee and pull the opponent over you with your hands in an arcing roll and drop them when they clear your head
We’ve got a super highlight reel of this throw being used over and over again successfully in different competitions:
So the best throws for short guys in judo are the ones that use the lower center of gravity as an advantage. They allow a fantastic opportunity to come up below a taller opponent to send them off balance or to roll them over that center of balance. The best Judo throws for short guys are the pick-ups, the Uchi-mata (with a twist), the drop Seoi-Nage and the Tomoe-Nage.
In many sports, being shorter than your opponent is a distinct disadvantage but in judo it can be a serious advantage, instead!