Most judo clubs practice uchikomi. In an ideal world, it looks like this.

Uchikomi is repetition training for judo throws. The person practicing a throw goes through all motions of the throw up until the point where the person being thrown would lose their balance. It serves as a warm up, a method of teaching and correcting technique, and a conditioning exercise. Unsurprisingly, it also allows judoka to start decades-long fights on the internet about its utility. Evidence does not usually play a part in these fights.

To start with, nobody seems capable of translating it from the Japanese. Brief internet research shows that it can mean “to beat against”, “to go in”, “invasion” and, most memorably, “hitting with nothing less than the totality of one’s being”.  

Please do not hit anyone with the totality of your being; it sounds metaphysically disgusting. Instead, it might be better to accept that uchikomi is a word that doesn’t really need to be translated. Repetition training will do.  

Intuitively, the benefits of uchikomi seem obvious. The trainee can practice without the distraction of someone else trying their very best to stop them. You can isolate individual elements of the throw to practice technique while in motion. Moving against slight resistance will help with conditioning in a way that is specific to judo techniques. Finally, your partner can provide good feedback on form. These are all good things. Here, learn from Koga.

On the other hand, it also sets up habitual movement patterns. This can have the effect of cementing bad habits and mechanically inefficient methods, particularly where the trainee does not receive the feedback of actually throwing somebody.

More importantly, uchikomi is nothing like a judo match; the chance of transferring a skill from uchikomi to a match may not be high. Unfortunately, designing a study where someone is able to compare judo skills with and without having learned uchikomi appears to be almost impossible, so we are unlikely to get any evidence about the efficacy of uchikomi for skills practice any time soon.

Thankfully, there is one aspect of uchikomi that can be measured: conditioning benefits. Even more thankfully, Emerson Franchini is willing to do study after study after study to do so.

Roughly summarised, two sessions of high intensity interval training per week, using uchikomi, resulted in increased upper and lower body power production test results. The authors suggest that the interaction of judo training and the high-intensity uchikomi additional training resulted in an optimal combination to improve upper-body high-intensity intermittent performance. They also note that high intensity interval training adaptations are mostly muscle specific.

Put another way, it’s not clear if uchikomi is good for technique. It’s not clear if uchikomi helps performance in a match. But if you want to get fit for judo, then consider some uchikomi.  

Here are some ideas.

Image credit: Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games