It is widely employed as a training technique, and yet there are many who question the value of Uchikomi. The common belief is that the value of Uchikomi is that it trains the ‘muscle memory’.
Muscle memory is a slight misnomer, but a useful description for the process where a repeated physical action is stored in long-term memory and so can be repeated without conscious thought. We are surrounded by personal examples; an often quoted example is the process of learning to ride a bicycle.
However, it is widely accepted amongst sport psychologists that practicing dynamic motor skills in part only does not aid the acquisition of those skills. In other words, it is not helpful to practise just part of a throw.
There are 4 stages of a throw: Kuzushi, Tsukri, Kake and Kime. Most judoka will be familiar with the term Kuzushi, usually translated as breaking of balance. Tsukri is the phase of the throw where you fit your body in place to execute the throw, Kake is the actual throw, and Kime is finishing off.
Kuzushi is, in fact, more than just breaking the balance of a static and cooperating Uke. Tori must get the correct grip, control Uke’s relative position, control Uke’s movement and break Uke’s balance. In static uchikomi, there is, by definition, no movement. The other problem is that the throw stops at the end of the Tsukri phase. So the danger is that you are training your ‘muscle memory’ not to throw! However, the 4 stages of a throw are not separate, rather they are linked seamlessly.
Many instructors aim to overcome these limitations by quickly moving from static uchikomi to practice on the move, and completing a set of drills with an actual throw, rather than stopping at the end of the Tsukri. Many coaches now believe that traditional uchikomi has many limitations, and prefer drills where the complete throw is practiced repetitively, preferably moving. Use of crash mats can make this less wearing for Uke.
Uchikomi has other limitations. There are many throws where it is simply impractical to use the practice. How do you do tani-otoshi uchikome? What about tomoe-nage, uki-otoshi or many more throws?
What can be used in place of uchikomi? The answer is drills involving a complete throw, and controlled randori. Controlled randori may seem like an oxymoron, as the term randori means free practice, so how can you have controlled and free practice? Yet often randori is seen as a mini contest. It is perfectly normal to impose limitations on the freedom of the practice so one player is nominated as Tori and the other Uke, and Uke’s degree of cooperation or resistance is varied according to Tori’s training needs.
It would be logical to move from teaching a throw’s kuzushi and tsukri while static, through static drills practicing the whole throw, to drills on the move, then onto controlled randori before employing the throw in randori and contest (shiai).
Certainly repetitive practice has a major part to play in skill acquisition. However, the repetitive drills should involve the complete throw and realistic movement.
One of the great advantages of judo over many other martial arts is that we can complete techniques without risk of serious harm to Uke. We should make use of that advantage in training.
Geof Gleeson Better Judo Available on Amazon
Geof Gleeson Anatomy of Judo Available on Amazon
Elie A. Morrell The Value of Uchikomi in the Development of Judo Skills www.judoinfo.com