In the general population about 90% of people are right-handed and 10% left-handed. And this is usually reflected in the judo club as well. We have about 30 members in KL Judo and about three or four of them are left-handed. You will find this 90:10 ratio to be the case in most judo clubs.

In judo, there are two basic stances: Ai-Yotsu (same stance) and Kenka-Yotsu (opposite stance). Ai-Yotsu could refer to Right vs Right or Left vs Left, while Kenka-Yotsu would refer to either Right vs Left or Left vs Right.

Those are the two basic stances. Yet, when we are taught techniques, most of the time we are taught them from a square stance (a situation where tori and uke stand directly in front of each other with no indication of preference to the right or to the left).

Kenka-Yotsu: This is by far the most common stance in both randori and competition.

This very rarely happens in randori or competition. In competition, it is usually Kenka-Yotsu. Just watch a sampling of judo matches in any IJF World Tour event and you will see most fights have players gripping up in a Right vs Left or Left vs Right situation. In other words, Kenka-Yotsu.

Now, why is that? If 90% of the world's population is right-handed, logically 90% of the matches should end up in an Ai-Yotsu situation of Right vs Right. Yet, that actually very rarely happens.

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, some players, by design, fight left-handed even though they are not naturally left-handed. In Japan, there is a disproportionate number of players who fight left-handed. That's not because there are more left-handed people in Japanese society. It's because many coaches there actually encourage their players to go lefty in order to have an advantage. If I'm not mistaken, that's what happened with the great World and Olympic Champion Yasuhiro Yamashita when he was in high school.

Why is being a southpaw an advantage in judo? Actually, it's an advantage in most sports where one player goes up against another mano a mano, whether it's judo, boxing, badminton etc.

The reason is that precisely because most players are naturally right-handed, most players are not used to fighting lefties. In contrast, most lefties fight righties all the time (since most people are righties). So, in a Kenka-Yotsu situation, the righty is in unfamiliar territory while the lefty is perfectly comfortable.

It's worth pointing out that it is not just righties who feel uncomfortable fighting lefties. Lefties themselves do not like fighting other lefties. Because there are so few lefties, this situation is something they are not used to. And they too find fighting lefties to be an awkward situation.

Being a lefty is advantageous. That's why although 90% of the population is right-handed, in competitive judo circles, you will find that percentage to be lower. Some coaches will encourage their players to fight left-handed and some players themselves will make the decision to go lefty even if their coaches didn't suggest it.

I'm not sure what the ratio is (I don't think any survey has ever been done on this topic) but in competitive circles, perhaps 70% of players are right-handed and 30% left-handed. In Japan, I would guess it's closer to 50:50 or maybe even 60:40 in favor of lefties.

If you look at the current crop of top male players from Japan, 11 out of 17 (or roughly 65%) of them are... yes, lefties!

Takato: Left
Nagayama: Right

Abe: Right
Maruyama: Left

Ono: Right
Hashimoto: Primarily Left
Ebinuma: Left

Nagase: Right
Fujiwara: Left

Mukai: Left
Nagasawa: Left
Murao: Left
Baker: Left

Wolf: Left
Iida: Right

Harasawa: Right
Kageura: Left

Still, that doesn't fully explain why an overwhelming majority of randoris and competition matches end up in a Kenka-Yotsu situation. I would say easily 95% of randoris are Kenka-Yotsu and perhaps 80% of competition matches are Kenka-Yotsu. Why is that?

It's because Ai-Yotsu feels very uncomfortable.

Whether it's Right vs Right or Left vs Left, it's incredibly awkward to fight that way, so much so that when two righties fight each other, one of them would inevitably end up going left, just to avoid the uncomfortable Ai-Yotsu situation.

Recently, I did an experiment with a bunch of high school judo players from Alice Smith Secondary School. I asked how many of them were naturally right-handed and as I recall, it was nearly all if them.

Then, without explaining the concept of Ai-Yotsu or Kenka-Yotsu, I asked them to grip fight. Not to randori but just to try to get their preferred grip. There were about 10 players so we had five pairs. In every single case, without exception, the gripping situation ended up being Kenka-Yotsu.

Logically, it should be Ai-Yotsu (Right vs Right) since all of them were right-handers. But it ended up being Kenka-Yotsu (Right vs Left) because one player gave up their right stance in order to avoid Ai-Yotsu, which they naturally found to be uncomfortable.

I've done this experiment many times before with many groups of players, and the results are always the same. The room would be full of right-handers but when you ask them to grip fight, almost every single pair end up in Kenka-Yotsu.

So, how come you sometimes do see Ai-Yotsu happening in competitions?

That happens when neither player is dominant enough to force the other player into adopting an unnatural stance. When you have two righties who are equally strong, and neither one is willing to adopt a left stance, you end up with Ai-Yotsu. This of course happens also when you have two equally strong lefties.

Most of the time though, one player will submit to the strong gripper and voluntarily take up a weaker stance. I think this is a mistake. In a future blog posting, I'll go into detail as why this is a bad idea and what options you have when you come up against a strong player who is trying to force you into an opposite stance.

To recap the salient points of this lesson:
a) While techniques are often taught in a square stance scenario, in randori and competition, it's usually Kenka-Yotsu (very common) or Ai-Yotsu (less common).
b) There is an advantage to being a lefty.
c) In randori and competitions, most match-ups end up in Kenka-Yotsu.

So, what can you look forward to in future lessons?
a) What do you do when your opponent is trying to force you to adopt an opposite stance?
b) The four rules of grip fighting
c) Overhand grip vs underhand grip in a traditional sleeve-lapel situation
d) The many types of unorthodox grips (i.e. non-sleeve-lapel) and the pros and cons of each of them
e) How to deal with a stiff arm
f) How to deal with someone who refuses to take a grip (constantly breaking grips)