Takedowns in Karate

Takedowns in Karate

Karate contains sweeps, throws and other types of takedown techniques within the movements of kata. Many of these are obvious to those who practice grappling arts, but some techniques are disguised within kata due to changes in how they have been performed by various instructors through the generations since the kata was developed.


In conjunction with joint locks (as discussed in Joint Locks in Karate), karate contains sweeps, throws and other types of takedown techniques within the movements of kata.  Many of these are obvious to those who practice grappling arts, but some techniques are disguised within kata due to changes in how they have been performed by various instructors through the generations since the kata was developed.  These methods of putting an attacker on the ground are invaluable for self defense and a key aspect of effective karate.  As with joint locks, there are so many that it would be difficult to discuss them all, so this article will use examples of four types of takedowns–sweeping, leg control, head control, and throwing.

Takedown Examples

Nami-Gaeshi – This technique, sometimes called “returning wave”, is the sweeping motion of the feet that can be found in Naihanchi Shodan.  This is the most obvious sweep that can be found in karate, but can be applied in more than one way–different styles will even perform this sweep differently in kata, with some sweeping to the knee, some in front of it, and some behind it.  All of these methods will work but function differently when applied to an attacker.  This can be used to simply sweep the foot out from under an attacker from several angles (ashi barrai/sasae tsuri komi ashi/ko-soto-gari/etc.), or it can be used to hook the leg and drive the attacker to the ground (kosoto-gake/osoto-gake/ko-uchi-gake/o-uchi-gake).

Harai-Uke – The “sweeping block” is performed differently in various kata and styles of karate, but its main purpose is trapping something–usually a kick. Many times this is taught as simply a catch-and-counter application, although the simple act of lifting the leg until the attacker loses their balance is often taught in conjunction with it.  An addition to this can actually be found in Passai Sho, however, when you perform the harai-uke and then follow by shifting your stance and performing soto-uke with the same arm.  If you do this with someone’s leg trapped by your arm, it will tend to have the effect of turning their leg over so that the knee points toward the ground. At this point you no longer need to lift the attacker’s leg and hope to off-balance them, because you can drag them back and press down on their leg, which is more difficult for them to defend against.  In addition, many variations of Passai Sho have you stepping into nekoashi-dachi (cat foot stance) when you perform the soto-uke, and the only reason to be in that stance is if you are going to use that foot for something–sweeping or propping, in this case.  Once you have turned your attacker around by turning their leg over, it is very simple to sweep their remaining foot because they cannot see you.

Gedan-Juji-Uke – A low cross block is often shown as a block to stop a kick, but anyone who has sparred full-contact knows that this is an unlikely application because of the force of a kick and strength of the shin compared to the strength of the forearms.  This technique seems more likely to be driving something down–in this case, your opponent’s head. The fact that the arms are crossed can indicate the use of juji-jime (cross choke), but it is not necessary for this application.  The key to putting your attacker on the ground using gedan-juji-uke is simple–grab the head, bend it forward by applying pressure from the back with your elbows on their shoulders to act as a fulcrum, then push down into the floor.

Mawashi Hikite Waza – Turning pulling hand techniques are a very wide category which can include everything from simple te-uke/te-gatana positions to the gyaku-zuki/chudan-uke (reverse punch/middle block) followed by a spin around to perform a gedan-uke (low block) near the end of Pinan Shodan.  In the case of te-uke/te-gatana positions, the throw is a large trip and is as simple as dragging your attacker’s head or head and arm across your body with your leg in front of them to prevent them from catching themselves.  Situations in kata where you turn and move your hands to a low position, however, can indicate throws where you lift the attacker off of the ground and throw them over your hip or shoulder in a manner similar to o-goshi (major hip throw) and ippon seoi nage (single shoulder throw).

Applying Takedowns in Karate

Just as in applying joint locks, takedowns are oftentimes best utilized in conjunction with strikes.  “Softening” and “distracting” blows can be used to disrupt your attacker before you apply the throw, but strikes can also be used at the same time as the throw.  For example, when wrapping someone’s head with your arm, you can simultaneously strike them with kote-uchi (forearm strike) to the back of the head.  Kicks can also be used in conjunction with sweeps to help take balance, or even to perform the actual sweep.

Completion of a Takedown

In sport martial arts like Judo, or even in competitive MMA, points are awarded when takedowns are performed–in Judo, fights can even be ended by a single throw.  This rule set is useful in sporting situations and throws certainly are damaging to an untrained opponent, but they may not necessarily end the fight–especially if you perform a throw in a self defense situation in the same way you would perform it in practice.  Many throws are very dangerous to the person being thrown, so for sporting purposes and for safe practice, they have to be performed very carefully and usually land your attacker flat on their back.  This can knock the wind out of someone and break ribs, but it may not end a fight, so you must be prepared to follow up with a quick, decisive strike.  It is possible, however, to complete a throw early by forcing your attacker into the ground at an odd angle so that they land on their head or shoulder, which would be much more likely to cause a fight-ending injury.

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By Noah LegelNoah Legel on Facebook Visit author's website

Noah Legel has been training in martial arts since 2006, and holds rank in Shorin-Ryu (Iikyu), Shuri-ryu (Sankyu), and Judo (Gokyu). In addition, he has training in Okinawan kobudo and Japanese Shinkage-Ryu Iaijutsu, and cross-trains with other martial artists whenever possible. He currently runs his own blog, Budo no Kaizen, and is a frequent contributor to the Okinawan Karate-do Institute and offers great insight from the Non-Black Belt perspective.

Comments (2)

  1. YES! This is what I am into! Karate has so much depth, breadth, and in-between that many are unwilling to see these techniques in kata. More than that When you study Funakoshi and many of the other Masters and where they come from you see that our Ryu’s blend, or come from the same home! It’s OK to share and balance each others Karate! Throws, Joint-Locks, and sweeping techniques are just as much Karate as is the lunge punch!

    Mr. Legel, you have done it again Sir. I appreciate the content as always!

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