Tokui Waza

Know your best techniques, and funnel your opponent into them.

Judo has the concept of a “tokui waza,” or “favored technique.” The Judo Kodokan officially has 67 throws, and while most experienced Judoka know all of those throws, they often only use two or three of them. As you advance deeper into Jiu-Jitsu, you’ll likely encounter a similar phenomenon where you get most of your results from a small set of techniques.

With techniques, it often feels like more should be better. But it’s not. As Bruce Lee once said:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

—Bruce Lee

That’s not to say you shouldn’t learn other techniques. You definitely need to know them, if for no other reason so that you can handle when they’re used against you. But you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it if you’re not great at all areas of Jiu-Jitsu. It’s not about being great at everything; it’s about being great at YOUR thing…and forcing your opponent to play that game.

It’s worth noting that a tokui waza doesn’t have to be a submission. A favored position, pin, or pass can also be a tokui waza. You’ll likely have a few: a tokui waza sweep, a tokui waza pass, a tokui waza submission, and so on.

Using your tokui waza:

Let’s discuss how you can optimize your Jiu-Jitsu gameplan around your tokui waza. You need to be able to answer these two questions:

  1. What are the things I’m really good at?
  2. How can I lead my opponent to that place?

First, let’s talk about finding what you’re good at.

Recall the principle of asymmetric warfare: we want to fight our opponents where we are strongest and they are weakest. We need to identify the techniques with which we have the most success. Look for examples of the 80/20 Rule: are there any techniques that account for the vast majority of successes? And who are we catching with those techniques? We need to identify our techniques that are most successful against high-quality opponents. There’s a difference between being able to hit a sweep on a blue belt versus on a black belt.

Second, we need to figure out ways to ensure that no matter where the fight goes, we have a path to our tokui waza.

Once you’ve identified your best weapons, we need to build paths that lead us to situations where we can use those weapons – a process called funneling. The goal of funneling is to ensure that no matter what happens in a match, we can steer the fight back to our favored techniques.

Example of a tokui waza strategy:

Let’s say you really like the leg drag pass, and for the purpose of passing techniques, you consider this to be your tokui waza. If you’re on top in your opponent’s guard, you’re in a passing position and may be able to use the leg drag. That’s great! But…what if you’re on the bottom? Having a great leg drag doesn’t do you any good if you’re not in a position to use it. That’s where funneling comes in.

If the leg drag pass is your tokui waza, you might build this funnel from the bottom to get to that pass:

  1. Play seated guard
  2. Enter instep/shin-to-shin guard
  3. Transition to single leg X guard
  4. Force uke’s leg to flare so you can sweep them
  5. Pass uke’s leg to the cross side and come up for a leg drag.

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