Judo was developed by the 19th-century martial artist Jigoro Kano, who borrowed many of its techniques and tenets from the Japanese art of Jiu Jitsu. Kano emphasized the efficient use of one’s physical and mental energy to overcome an opponent, and Judo was created with this principle in mind. And like any other martial art form, there’s a method to learning Judo.

Judo flips refer to movements that involve getting an opponent off balance and throwing them on the ground. Flips or throws are an effective way to overpower stronger opponents or to quickly conclude the fight and avoid harm to oneself.

While judo flipping techniques seem pretty straightforward, they require a thorough understanding of technique and balance to execute effectively. In this article, we’ll explore how to start learning judo flips and list the basic ones for beginners to learn.

First, Learn To Fall

As with most traditional martial art forms, safety is a crucial tenet, and you must learn to protect yourself adequately when sparring with a partner. This protection is necessary even in practice bouts to avoid excessive injury.

In Judo, the first thing most practitioners learn is Ukemi, or a set of techniques to break your fall during practice.

A significant portion of Judo involves grappling and tossing opponents, and when practicing with a partner, it’s natural that you allow them to try flipping you as well. So before you get into any throws or partner work, you must know how to fall safely.

Ukemi or break falls are the most fundamental aspect of any judo practice, and judo instructors will first teach you a set of falls to master before you can begin sparring. It’s impossible to move forward in your judo journey without first understanding falls, so spend some time learning them properly.

Only after understanding falls can you commit to learning flips or throws in your practice. As the founder Jigoro Kano put it, “If one hates to be thrown, one cannot expect to become a master of the art. One must learn to take falls and overcome the fear of being thrown. Then one will become unafraid of being attacked and be able to take the initiative in attack. Only by following this manner of training can one learn true Judo technique”.

There are four basic falls everyone should learn before learning throws.

  • A back break fall (Ushiro Ukemi). Involves rolling onto your back from a crouched or squatting position. For this maneuver, you get into a squat position with your arms extended in front of you and roll onto your upper back while elevating your head, so it doesn’t hit the ground.
  • A side break fall (Yoko Ukemi). Involves lifting one leg as if it’s being swept up by an opponent’s foot. Continue raising the leg while extending the corresponding arm out to the side while falling and rolling sideways.
  • The forward break fall (Mai Ukemi). This is a pretty advanced technique you should learn only after becoming familiar with Judo. This maneuver involves falling forward with your hands in front of you, so you land in your forearms to dissipate the impact.
  • The forward roll (Zenpo Kaiten). This one is slightly more dynamic than the other falls. This technique involves stepping forward, tucking one arm in, and pushing simultaneously with your legs while performing the roll.

Once you learn these basic falls, you will understand what the opponent goes through when being flipped, which will help you better develop your throwing techniques.

Join a Dojo

In today’s hyper-connected world, it can be easy to assume that we can learn anything by browsing a few tutorial videos. However, nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to developing martial art techniques.

Judo is typically practiced on tatami mats to cushion practitioners when they fall while sparring or performing specific techniques. Additionally, judo techniques are explicitly developed so the martial artist can perform them without undue stress on the body.

As such, it’s best to enroll in a nearby dojo for your first few classes, so you can get the hang of this fighting style without injuring yourself. An experienced instructor can guide you through the fundamentals in the safest way possible, so your body develops the strength and flexibility needed to perform more advanced techniques.

You also want to ensure that your instructor is an experienced or renowned judo practitioner so they can guide you in the right direction. You can avoid falling into bad habits, poor form, or sloppy technique by checking your practice early in the process.

join a dojo

Beginner Judo Flips

Now that you’re aware of the preparation required to start learning judo flips, you can start practicing the basic throw techniques in Judo. Keep in mind that it’s best to practice these techniques with a teacher or an experienced practitioner to minimize the risk of injury.

1. Osoto Gari

The Osoto Gari is one of the first flips created by Jigoro Kano and used at all levels of Judo, including beginners and Olympic athletes. The Osoto Gari is a pretty aggressive throw that can quickly take your opponent to the ground and works exceptionally well against taller and heavier opponents.

To perform the Osoto Gari, the tori (thrower) holds the upper body of the uke (receiver) and places his right leg behind the leg of the receiver. The tori then lifts their right leg off the mat and pushes back into the back of the receiver’s thigh while simultaneously leaning forward. This movement is called reaping and involves pushing an opponent’s leg off the ground in a swift motion to unbalance them.

If you don’t lift your leg and perform the throw quickly, your opponent can counter by keeping their leg pressed into the ground.

2. Ouchi Gari

An Ouchi Gari is also a pretty straightforward technique that seems complicated at first. However, with a bit of practice, you’re sure to get the hang of it. This technique involves an inner reap where your right leg moves between an opponent’s legs and comes up behind their right leg, reaping the leg and causing your opponent to fall to the floor.

To simplify things, we will continue to refer to the right leg in all techniques, but keep in mind that any of these flips can be performed with either leg.

Here’s a breakdown of how the Ouchi Gari can be performed.

  1. Grab the opponent in the traditional hold, with one arm on the collar and one on their sleeve.
  2. Take a step forward with your right foot, placing it between yourself and the opponent, somewhere between their legs.
  3. When you’re in this position, place your left foot behind your right with the heel slightly off the ground. This position is crucial as you must push your heel into the ground when driving into the opponent.
  4. Now you want to perform an inner reap with your right leg. This movement involves sweeping your right leg in a circle between your opponent’s feet and coming up behind their right leg.
  5. Once you’re here, drive your left heel into the floor, moving forward and hooking your opponent’s leg from behind with your right leg and using the momentum to throw them to the floor.

A variation of this is the Ko Uchi Gari, which is similar, except this time your leg reaps the opposite leg of your opponent. The correct technique will depend on your situation and the kind of opponent you’re fighting.

3. O Goshi

O Goshi is one of the first hip throws most judo practitioners learn and probably one of the more classy ways to finish a judo match. Fortunately, it’s also a pretty basic maneuver, and you only need a few sessions with a willing partner to figure it out.

o goshi

The O Goshi requires that your opponent be thrown off balance in a forward motion instead of the side. Here’s a quick breakdown of the o Goshi maneuver.

  1. Start by holding your opponent in the traditional judo grip. You want to place one hand on the sleeve and one on the middle of their back, firmly grabbing the fabric of their gi.
  2. Now step forward with your right leg and turn it, so your foot is facing the same way as your opponent’s foot. Repeat the same with your left foot, so both feet are now inside the opponent’s feet.
  3. Now lean forward a bit, so your opponent’s heels come off the ground. This transition can be easily accomplished if you’ve already placed both feet inside your opponent’s.
  4. Push your hips under your opponent’s upper thigh and lean forward by straightening your legs. At this point, your opponent should be off the ground and on top of you.
  5. Finally, angle your head and shoulder toward the mat and toss the opponent over you and to the ground.

4. Seoi Nage

The Seoi Nage is a technique you can learn during your first judo lesson (provided you’ve understood ukemi first). It’s ideal for people paired against taller opponents as the height difference quickly works to your advantage.

The Seoi Nage begins by holding the uki (receiver) in the traditional judo pose, with arms on the sleeve and collar. The tori (thrower) steps into the space between him and the uki and turns the arms upwards to break the opponent’s balance.

Once here, the tori must place his elbow upwards and inside the armpit of the receiver, further raising them off the ground and throwing them off balance. Once you’re in this position, lean forward to get the receiver on top of you and throw them over your head.

Here’s a YouTube video with a quick explanation of how to perform a Seoi Nage:

Once you’ve learned the Seoi Nage and can safely perform this technique on an opponent, consider learning the Ippon Seoi Nage, which is similar to this maneuver but with a slight variation.

5. De Ashi Harai

The De Ashi Harai is a straightforward technique any beginner can learn, and it’s often taught in most dojos within the first week of judo practice. However, this maneuver is tricky to pull off during randori (sparring) because it requires quick reflexes and a basic understanding of your opponent’s fighting style.

This technique involves pulling an opponent forward to throw them off balance while simultaneously sweeping your right leg to the side of their right leg to drop them to the ground.

 Here’s a quick YouTube video on how the De Ashi Harai looks in motion.

The technique used for this maneuver will differ slightly depending on the opponent’s movement patterns and which way their momentum is directed.

6. Hiza Guruma

The Hiza Guruma is a relatively simple maneuver and is referred to as the knee wheel in English. In the Hiza Guruma, you knock an opponent off balance by restricting their forward movement by using your foot to block their knee.

This movement starts with the traditional judo hold, after which you step forward and into your opponent’s space with your right foot. As you step in, pull your opponent toward you with your arms while extending your left foot and placing it on their knee.

As you block their forward momentum with your foot, your opponent will tilt off balance and be forced to take a fall. By stopping their knee from bending and absorbing the impact, you can quickly take them to the floor.

However, as with some other techniques, the Hiza Guruma is challenging to execute in an actual bout, and you will have to wait for the right opportunity.

hiza guruma

Final Thoughts

Anyone can learn basic judo techniques with the proper instruction and a regular practice routine. As mentioned in this article, remember to fall before you begin learning any judo flips, as falling will cultivate the proper mindset required to learn and master Judo properly.

Once you have the fundamentals, find a practice partner and drill your techniques slowly and with precision until they become second nature.