Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 1_My Championship Judo
Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 1, from the book “My Championship Judo”

In the second half of the 1950s, Anton Geesink made a commitment to improving his judo technique by training in Japan for 3-month periods. One of the techniques he learned in Japan was Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi, which literally means blocking, propping, lifting and pulling. Geesink called it the Lifting Leg Block, and it became yet another weapon in the Dutchman’s arsenal.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, that is the technique Geesink used to handily defeat Ted Boronovskis of Australia in the semi-finals of the open weight competition.

Here is how Geesink explained this technique in his 1966 judo manual, My Championship Judo.

From Shizen-Tai I firmly advance my right foot to my opponent’s left leg and place this foot against the inside of his left foot almost as if I am trying to lift his leg. My opponent’s natural reflex will then be to raise that leg. My first aim has been attained: he has shifted his full weight on to one leg (his right) and on that leg I am now going to concentrate my attack. (in the picture) you can see how I have moved in; my body strongly inclined to the right, my right foot on the inside of his left foot; he has instinctively lifted his left foot (Picture 1).

Pressing my body tightly against his, I now raise my left arm towards me, thus pulling him forward, and – as with any other throw – place the elbow of my right arm against his left side. At the same time I put my left sole against the outside of his right ankle, my leg being practically straight. Thus his full weight is shifted towards his toes and he is, therefore completely off balance. By pulling my body still a little further to the left and by continuing to prop his right foot with my stretched left leg, I can easily bring him to the ground (Picture 2).

By developing the techniques of Okuri-Ashi-Harai, Uchi Mata, and Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi, Geesink became a well-rounded judoka. This development in technique, combined with his strength, led to a thunderclap heard throughout the judo world in 1961. Geesink became the first non-Japanese in any weight class to win the world championships. He did so in the open weight class by defeating some of the strongest Japanese judoka: Akio Kaminaga, Hitoshi Koga, and Koji Sone. And yet Geesink felt he still needed to evolve. See part 4 for why and how he developed his Ne-Waza capability.

Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 2_My Championship Judo
Picture 2
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Uchi Mata 1_My Championship Judo
Uchi Mata 1, from the book, “My Championship Judo”

In part one, we learned that Anton Geesink started his journey as a championship judoka by mastering leg work that resulted in swift victories. But in 1952, he realized that his opponents were preparing for Okuri-Ashi-Harai or De-Ashi-Harai legwork techniques. Opponents learned to keep their legs spread further apart so that Geesink would have greater difficulty planting his left foot over their right foot to start the process.

But when the legs are spread apart, the judoka is, according to Geesink, more vulnerable to a quick over-the-thigh throw, or the Uchi-Mata technique. In his 1966 book, My Championship Judo, Geesink explains the footwork required to throw his opponent, “wind-mill” like, to the mat.

From Shizen-Tai I again more in obliquely with my right foot, my right hand high on my opponent’s left lapel, my left hand on his right sleeve at elbow level. Turning backwards to the left I next draw my left foot to the right, in such a manner that the back of my body is against the front of my opponent. Meanwhile, I have with my left hand pulled him well towards me and against me, and slipped my right arm under his left arm-pit, as with Tsuri-Komi-Goshi (picture 1).

With a slight give in my knees, I now – from a supple, strong position – perform my Uchi-Mata. No sooner have I adjusted my left leg, than I swing my right leg forward and upward in order to make again – by speed and impetus – a sweeping “wind-mill” of it. In doing so, I stand somewhat springily on my left forefoot, my knee slightly bent. My opponent has now completely lost his balance because I have pulled him with me as I bend obliquely forward. My sweeping “wind-mill” straight back between his legs, and the movement of my trunk, which simultaneously bends forward – nose pointing to the ground – bring my opponent to the ground with an enormous sweep (picture 2).

Uchi Mata 2_My Championship Judo
Uchi Mata 2
Paul Maruyama and Roy 2
Olympian Paul Maruyama with me!

Paul Maruyama has three wishes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics:

  1. For the USA to do the best overall at the 2020 Games
  2. For Japan to dominate in judo in Tokyo in 2020
  3. For the 1964 US judo team to reunite and visit Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics

I had the great pleasure of seeing Maruyama, member of the US Judo squad in 1964, in his visit to Tokyo recently. A second-generation Japanese-American, he is introducing his family from America to Japan. He is also catching up with people who helped him research his book about his father, his father’s friends, and their part in one of the greatest humanitarian acts in Asia – the repatriation of over a million Japanese abandoned in China after the end of the Pacific War. See my post about his book, Escape from Manchuria.

Escape from Manchuria coverMaruyama is a retired Air Force officer in the American military. Even though he was born in Japan in 1941, Paul had American citizenship due to the nationality of his Japanese-American mother. As an American, and a member of the 1964 US Olympic team, he naturally wants America to do well in the Olympic competition. But judo is a Japanese sport, and he believes the 2020 Games will be an opportunity for Japanese judo to shine again.

“Japan is not as dominant as they used to be,” Maruyama told me. “If they are dominant again, I think judo can become technique-oriented again, not wrestling-oriented. When I watch judo today, it’s hard for me to figure out what is superior technique and what isn’t.”

“Many try to win by wrestling the guy down. But the throw is the main thing. You want the guy to stand up straight, to commit, and to pick his opponent up and slam him down on his back. But it’s difficult to do that. You have to commit. If you don’t commit and follow through effectively, you expose your back to the opponent and open yourself up to attack. My dream would be that Japan shows the world again what judo really is, throwing for ip-pon – tai-otoshi, uchi-mata, seoi-nage.”

But finally, Maruyama wants to bring the band back together again, those Americans who came to the Tokyo Olympics to compete in the Games inaugural judo competition. While judoka, George Harris (heavyweight), has passed away, Maruyama (lightweight), bronze-medalist Jim Bregman (middleweight), and former 2-term US Senator from Colorado, Ben Nighthorse Campbell (open) intend to be in Tokyo for the 2020 Games. And their hope is to bring over their coach, Yosh Uchida, who recently turned 96.

Celebrating the 100th birthday of America’s most celebrated judo coach in the land of judo during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo – Maruyama thinks about that and smiles.

64_judo_olympics_2
Left to right, George Harris (heavyweight), Jim Bregman (middleweight), Yosh Uchida (coach), Paul Maruyama (lightweight), and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (open weight division).  Bregman won bronze in his division. Campbell was a member of the US House of Representative and the US Senate. Uchida, Maruyama and Campbell have also been conferred the Imperial Decoration (kunsho) in Japan for their separate contributions in the promoting US-Japan relationship.