Kaeshi Waza: Counter Throws Kempo Style

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

When I began training under Richard Stone, I noticed that he was a master thrower and sought to emulate his skill. I worked hard on mastering the many throws of Judo/Jujutsu, particularly the Hanegoshi that was Stone’s favorite technique. Over the years I’ve trained with some great Kempo and Jujutsu masters who were exceptional throwers. Through Rod Sacharnoski and Shian Toma I learned an important aspect of the Okinawan martial arts as well.

Gyakute, Torite, Toide, Tuite, Kakie

          Throwing has always been one of the most important aspects of martial arts training. Most styles of indigenous Japanese empty hand martial arts, major on throwing skills. What is just now being understood is that both Okinawan and Chinese arts of throwing exist as well. In Okinawa the throwing skills are taught as part of several Karate styles under such names as; Gyakute, Torite, Toide, Tuite, and Kakie.

          Knowing that you might have to deal with a throw makes it important to be able to counter such an attack. The most ancient art of Okinawa, known as Bushi Te, was practiced by the royalty and their royal guard. These Bushi of Okinawa had a very complete system of martial arts. They were skilled in blocking, punching, and kicking, in extremely efficient manners. The best of the Okinawan warriors were skilled enough with their kicks to deliver them head high with little effort, and had such powerful punches, that one strike could kill. There are many stories from Okinawan history of one single kick or punch delivering fatal results.

Police Force

          But the Okinawan warriors were also well skilled in grappling skills. As the royal guards and peacekeeping force, the Okinawan Bushi were less a standing army and more like a police force. Their first duty was to the king of Okinawa, insuring his and his family's safety. Their second duty was in maintaining peace on the island, by making sure no insurrections could get started, that there was peace among the populace, and in guarding the coast against pirates, known by the Japanese name of Wako.

          As with all police officers of all cultures, it was necessary to be able to deal with many levels of violence and with many degrees of response. In example, if a Bushi caught someone planning an assassination of the emperor, he may want to capture him alive in order to find out if there was a conspiracy and who else was involved. Okinawa, like all nations, had it segment of people disenchanted with their leaders, and at different times in its history there were bids from other sources to take control of the island. Up until the Satsuma control of the Tokugawa era, the ruler of Okinawa was expected to be able to uphold his position with great martial arts skills. Thus the emperor, his family, and all his personal guard, trained hard to maintain an extremely high level of skill.

          Bushi were expected to be able to break up minor confrontations between farmers or fishermen, without using lethal technique. This is where the grappling skills played an important part; it allowed the warrior the ability to take assailants down with non-lethal force. Joint locks, throws, and chokes were very important from this perspective, and the Okinawan Bushi were masters of these skills.


          It is known that from the twelfth century on until modern times there has been a great deal of influence on Okinawa from China. The first Shaolin influence came at least as early as the twelfth century, if not before, and then the thirty six families of the Chinese settlement brought martial arts skills with them in the fourteenth century, and then in the nineteenth century many Okinawans traveled to China to study the martial arts, bringing back certain skills merged with their indigenous art. Thus when a Bushi had to deal with a farmer, fisherman, or sailor, he never knew what level of martial art skill he might run into. The commoners of Okinawa were never the martial arts equals of the Okinawan Bushi. This is no longer true now in modern times since Bushi Te merged with Tode to form the modern systems of Karate. But the Okinawan warrior did have to exercise extreme caution in that a single unguarded moment did mean a powerful strike could get in, or a weapon brought to bare, or a grab attained that could lead to a damaging throw.


          For those last instances, the Okinawan warrior had the principle known as Sutemite, sacrifice skill. This refers to the ability to take a bad situation and make the best of it in such a way that the opponent is defeated. This skill is just as valuable today as it was in the time of the great Okinawan Bushi.

          It must be realized that a throw does an incredible amount of damage, especially on the modern street where there is so much concrete and metal. When people see martial artists practicing throws in a Dojo, they many times, see a person thrown, get up, and be thrown again, only to once again get back up, they therefore think that throws are gentle skills and not effective in fighting. But generally speaking a person thrown on the street will not know how to fall correctly. They will not spread out the impact by proper body position, so that no one part of the body hits with excessive force. They will not know how to keep their head protected from the fall. And on the streets, there are no mats. While it is possible to minimize damage done from a fall on the street, hitting concrete hurts. Hitting it wrong hurts or kills. Many people have died from simply falls, just from the fact that they did not know to tuck their head, so that it would not impact the ground.

          To counter a throw, we need to look at the Bushi Te skill of the Okinawan warrior, and see how the Sutemite can be used to our advantage. First of all we need to see what makes a throw work, and to realize that in being the partner to someone practicing throws is an important part of learning to counter. A throw is made up of three parts, Kuzushi, Tsukuri, and Kake. Kuzushi is the breaking of the person's balance, so that they are easy to throw. Tsukuri is positioning the body for the throw. This can take the form of turning your hips in, or repositioning your feet for a prop or reap, or turning your hips so that an opponent is floated by their own momentum. Kake is the actual act of throwing the person. Many times Kuzushi and Tsukuri happen simultaneously, but the important part is knowing that for a throw to work, they must happen.

          To block a throw, all you have to do is dissolve the Kuzushi, once your balance is back, you cannot be thrown. Then by 'feeling' the energy flow of the Tsukuri it is possible to break the throwers balance. At this point you may counter with a strike, a choke, or a throw. To many countering a throw with a throw is the highest level of skill. A skill the Okinawan Bushi possessed.


          But first let us go back to being a partner in throwing practice. Many times students want to be the one who throws. They think it is more fun and they are learning, when they are the ones actually doing the throw. After all, many students think, I am not learning anything being thrown; I am just the other guy’s dummy. Actually, a person who is being the Uke, receiver, of a throw is learning much more than the Tori, thrower. Each time your partner moves in to throw you, you feel the moment of Kuzushi, you feel the energy of the person's body moving into Tsukuri, the position to throw you, and you feel the moment of Kake, which is the point of no return, at this point it is best to ride with the throw, so that you can get the best landing possible. It will hurt less in class, and teach you how to sustain the least amount of damage if it does happen on the street.

          By feeling the Kuzushi and the Tsukuri, you are learning what happens to you when someone moves to throw you, and by knowing this, you are learning how to stop it. It is impossible for someone to develop good counter throws without having spent a lot of time as an Uke. To counter throws, you must be thrown a lot, for out of that experience comes knowledge and feeling, and in regard to counters, these are power.

          Now it is a simple matter, when the person moves to break your balance, maintain yours as you break theirs. Then as the person carried by their intent starts to position their body for the throw, simply follow the flow of the energy they are creating and use it to lead them and throw them to the ground. Countering a throw with a throw is as easy as 'falling off a log' or pushing them off, when you understand the ideas and concepts of Kuzushi, Tsukuri, and Kake, and know how to feel the energy and movement of the technique, which can only come through being an Uke for someone else practicing throws.


          The art of Bushi Te has its origin in the Minamoto Samurai who came to Okinawa in the twelfth century to escape the Taira and regain their strength. They brought with them the many skills of their martial arts, which included both Aikijujutsu and Ninjutsu. Sutemite, the sacrifice skill, was one they knew well, for they had made such a sacrifice to leave all that they knew to join their leader Tametomo in his plan to take revenge on the Taira. Sutemite teaches a person how to be on the point of being defeated and yet snatch victory from the edge of failure. This concept is seen in the ability to be on the verge of being thrown and yet to be able to turn the tables and throw the attacker.

            Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei preserves the concept of Sutemite in the Kaeshi Waza, counter throws, which show that no matter what situation a person is in, if they will simply open their eyes and see reality, they will find that the only defeat is when one gives up, the only failure is in not trying. In each of the divisions of the Kempo Bugei: Bukiho Kempo Kobujutsu, Nimpo Kempo Kobujutsu, Aikiho Kempo Jujutsu, Juho Kempo Jujutsu, Goho Kempo Karate, and Shuho Kempo Karatejutsu; there are counter throws. Each method of movement, from empty hand to weapon skills, all have the potential to execute throws, and each must be capable of being countered. For life, there is no such thing as a no-win scenario, for as soon as we admit that there is, we face it. Rather we must learn to Sutemite, take a bad situation and make the best of it. In each facet of life and combat, there is always some way to turn adversity into benefit. Thanks to the martial arts of the Minamoto and the Okinawan warriors that lesson has been passed down to us today, in the lesson of Kaeshi Waza, counter throws, and the principle of Sutemite, the skill of sacrifice.

All images and text on this site are the exclusive property of the Christian Martial Arts Association.
All rights reserved © 2010