Whether you are an architect, chemist, electrician, or chef, the core foundational principles you learn in the beginning level courses will remain with you throughout your professional life. This is also true in judo. We must continue to observe, review, adjust, and correct regularly so that students learn these fundamentals in a way that will last their lifetime in judo and, hopefully, they will pass them on to other judokas in the future.

Learning to Play an Opposite Side Opponent

In most sports, the majority of athletes are right-handed. In judo, especially in the US where the pool size is small, there are schools/clubs that either don’t have any left-handed students or, if they do, the students don’t match the size or skill level needed to learn effectively. This puts most right-handed players at a distinct disadvantage when competing against a lefty, while lefties often have an advantage.

Important Steps When Teaching How to Play an Opposite Side Player

For the purposes of this explanation, I will speak from a right-handed perspective, but the same principles apply to left-handed players.

  1. Right Hand PlacementYour right hand must be on the inside and on your opponent's left shoulder with pressure. The left-handed player will try to move your hand to the middle of his chest so he can easily turn his body. Be aware of this tactic and adjust accordingly. Ensure your student is grabbing the Gi properly.
  2. Avoid Engaging When at a Disadvantage - Always grab with your right hand first. Left-handed players, who have practiced against mostly right-handed players, will want your left sleeve first, putting you at a disadvantage. Keep your left hand out of reach and place your right hand in the proper position to control the left shoulder. Once secured, go for the sleeve!
  3. Getting the Sleeve - Once your right hand is in the correct position, immediately bring your left hand to your opponent’s right lapel and pull it towards you. The left-handed opponent will grab your sleeve; then, you let go of the lapel and grab your opponent’s sleeve, positioning yourself to engage offensively.
  4. Right Leg PositionYour right leg must be outside your opponent's left leg. If your right foot is in front of your opponent's left foot, you will be vulnerable to ashi waza and easily pulled back when making an attack. Being aware of your position relative to your opponent is difficult to learn and requires regular observation and correction.
  5. Use Your Feet - Attack your opponent’s left foot often with ashi waza, faking a switch, or any other technique that forces your opponent to keep his left foot back and his hips open for a good attack.
  6. Maintaining Space - Once you get your grip and have the advantage, you must stay close to your opponent. This will be difficult because you will feel vulnerable. If you are not in the correct position with your right foot outside your opponent’s left foot, you will be easily thrown backwards. However, if you are in the correct position—with your right hand on your opponent’s left shoulder, left hand on the sleeve, and right foot outside your opponent’s left foot, with proper posture—all your techniques will be available for execution.

This is the beginning level of teaching the key factors in learning to fight an opposite-side player. You can practice by having one player adopt the opposite stance and go through the steps. While playing with your opposite side is difficult, regular practice will improve your students’ proficiency, preparing them for this scenario in competition.


Remember that our mission as coaches and teachers is to remain faithful to our culture and to enhance the skills of our athletes. While winning tournaments and aiming for national rankings may be desired for the athletes, their parents, and sometimes the coaches themselves, the primary goal in development is continual learning and improvement. Winning becomes meaningless if we fail to advance our knowledge and abilities. The most effective approach to achieve this is by fostering a culture in your dojo that values effort over mere success. Your students compete eight to twelve times a year, but they will spend over one hundred sessions in your dojo. Thus, you have the opportunity to shape the culture and guide the athletes. This must be a daily endeavor.

Remember, every student is unique and will progress differently; some may advance faster than others. This is normal, so never become discouraged and always utilize positive reinforcement to motivate your students. I always conclude my classes on a high note. Regardless of the class's intensity, your students should leave feeling positive.

My next Coaches Call will be on Sunday, June 23rd @ 12:00pm EST. I hope to see you there!

Technique Development will be the topic of the call but as always, I will be open to questions and other topics as well. We will be adding video examples on how to develop a technique and what the end product should look like.

The topics in my letters will be demonstrated in my dojo during the coaches' call in the near future.

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