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Kote-gaeshi (literally: “wrist-return”) is the basic wristlock that is common to many marital arts, and it is one of the hallmarks of aikidō. The basic premise is that the defender grabs the opponent’s wrist and rotates it outside, to the end of its range of motion. Further rotation rotates the elbow and shoulder, locking them as well. Since this is a rotational lock, the opponent cannot straighten or bend their arm to alleviate the pressure. Resisting this technique can cause the opponent to break their wrist, damage their elbow ligaments, and/or dislocate their shoulder. Yielding to the technique alleviates the pressure by causing the opponent to spiral around their wrist to “unwind” it -- and in the process, throwing themselves to the ground, and landing a side breakfall. This is an ideal setup for a shovel pin, arm bar, or stomp kick.

Be advised that this takedown may not work on opponents with a freakishly strong grip, such as plumbers or guitarists -- and there is no way to tell if you’ve encountered such a person until this technique fails. Fortunately, a misguided wristlock attempt will still severely disrupt your opponent’s balance, setting up opportunities to incapacitate your opponent with a series of kicks.

Like all takedowns, kote-gaeshi is a three-step process.

  1. Kuzushi (destroying the balance): Kote-gaeshi is a “towards throw;” it works best when the opponent’s energy is moving towards you. As such, wristlocks are appropriate when the opponent is charging at you, pushing you, or is stunned and doubled-over following a strike to the abdomen or groin.

    Grab the opponent’s same-side hand. (If you accidently grab with the opposite-side hand, continue with nikkyō.) Your thumb is on the back of their hand, co-linear with the opponent’s middle finger. You fingers wrap around the base of your opponent’s thumb.

    [Photo of setup.]

    Grabbing a moving hand is difficult, so instead place your hand on the opponent’s forearm, and slide it down to the opponent’s wrist. The hand’s flanged shape automatically stops the slide once you’ve entered the correct position. The opposite side hand can offer additional support, wrapping its fingers around your opponent’s shutō, with your thumb co-linear with the opponent’s middle finger. (Thus forming a “hand-sandwich.”)

    Pull the opponent’s wrist down to waist level, and use your opposite-side hand to press against the opponent’s fingers, making the opponent point at themselves. This causes them to lurch forward, compromising their balance. If your wrist is above navel-level, or not alligned to your centerline, then your oppoent is setup to counter with a countered with a kote-gaeshi wristlock of their own.

  2. Tsukuri (Positioning): Pull the opponent’s hand to your center. Imagine their hand is glued or welded to the knot of your belt, so that you and your opponent are one continuous piece. By aligning the wrist against you, along your centerline, and to your axis or rotation, you can impart additional torque to the opponent’s wrist with maximum efficiency.

  3. Nage (Throwing): Step your same side foot back and turn away from the opponent. Alternately, step your opposite-side foot towards the opponent, and pivot away with tenkan. At the same time, use your opposite-side hand to push the opponent’s fingers towards a point behind the opponent and between their legs, “where their tail is not”.

[Video of Kote-gaeshi, fast and slow, from several angles.]