The technique of kotegaeshi (小手返)
This document is not an exhaustive description but should serve to clear up a few misconceptions.
The Meaning of Kaeshi
The verb “kaesu” does not mean “to twist”. It’s the transitive form of “kaeru”, to return. Kaeru doesn’t have a precise equivalent in English, but means something like “to return (home or to where the subject belongs)”. Thus, you would not use it to say goodbye to someone after they have been visiting your house by “please come back soon”, because in that context if you used “kaeru” to mean “come back” you would actually be saying “Please return home quickly” or “Please go home as soon as possible”. Not the intended meaning at all!
While kaeru describes the subject of the sentence “returning” themself, kaesu describes the subject “returning” the object. Thus, the concept of “kaeshi” is “putting back where it belongs”, or “returning”, not “twisting”. “Kaeshi-waza” means “reverse techniques”, that is, turning the tables on someone who is doing a technique on you. There’s an aiki-jo technique called “hidari nagare kaeshi uchi” which might be translated as “left flowing return strike”.
How to perform kotegaeshi
There are a wide variety of kotegaeshi techniques. One can emphasize creating a pain in the wrist, or controlling the body. One can also do large, expansive techniques (which are most appropriate off a tenkan blend) or shorter, straighter, somewhat more brutal variants.
All variants share the same hand position, which is (e.g.) your right thumb on the back of uke’s left hand, in the soft spot between the ring and pinkie finger bones, and your R fingers wrapping around the meaty part of uke’s L thumb. Your pinkie finger should be roughly on the crease where the wrist bends, and your index finger should hook the thumb (NOT go in between uke’s thumb and index finger, because it can be grabbed there).
You can practice this hand position on yourself, since you have L and R hands. This is the normal Aikido kotegaeshi wrist stretching exercise, which actually has a dual purpose. The hand being bent gets a good stretch; but also, the hand doing the bending is practicing doing the correct kotegaeshi hold. After many repetitions, this hold should should become very comfortable and natural, and deviations from it should feel “wrong”.
When getting a kotegaeshi hold on someone, your hand should be kept very soft and sticky-feeling, like bubble gum. A hard or tense hand will tend to “bounce off”.
A typical large tenkan kotegaeshi might start from a munetsuke (straight punch to the stomach) with uke’s L hand. Nage steps in with R foot, “toe to toe”, with a feeling of almost impaling oneself on uke’s fist. Then nage pivots the hips so as to face the same way as uke, simultaneously putting all weight on the R foot and stepping behind uke with the L foot. This is a very deep entry and pivot, more than 180 degrees. Nage’s R hand finds uke’s forearm and slides down the forearm to “catch” at the wrist, at which point is should be in perfect position to do the technique. (It’s important not to grab directly for the hand, which is much easier to miss than the forearm.) This “catch” also helps to overextend uke. Nage’s L hand sweeps out and around, and can be used to pat uke on the rump (if doing this feels like an awkward stretch, your tenkan is not deep enough).
Now nage wants to apply the technique, but if he just pulls uke’s hand into his center the rest of uke will also turn around and be in striking range; the situation becomes crowded and unworkable. Instead, nage now pivots on the L foot, stepping back and away from uke and (thus) creating a space into which uke can fall. As uke comes around, apply the kotegaeshi, using your center and keeping uke’s hand fairly low. (There’s a tendency to try to gain momentum by making a large circle with uke’s hand coming up and then down, but while it’s up there are nasty openings for counter-attacks.) Depending on how hard the technique is applied, and whether the wrist is torqued while doing so, you can generate a variety of different throws. Some of them leave uke no alternative but to leap over his own arm and take a medium-high break fall. More gentle versions allow uke to merely sit down.
Maintain control of uke’s hand throughout the fall, unless you are projecting them away from you. After they are grounded, you can pivot around (torquing the arm) which turns uke into position for a standing pin. You can convert this into a seated pin if you want.
A tenkan kotegaeshi, if done with a large spirit, can cover a lot of ground. It’s not unusual for me to move 2 or 3 meters while doing this. (Of course, I’m 202 cm tall, so your mileage may (literally!) vary.) In a very dynamic situation this might even reach 4 meters, or twice my height. A common beginner problem is simply not moving enough.
A typical “direct” style might step to the side instead, turning a little, and brushing uke’s arm with the R hand to get the correct hand position. Then nage will turn back (and step back) in front of uke, applying the technique by turning uke’s hand directly back onto the forearm and pulling it down and into their center. This more-or-less forces uke to stumble forward onto their knees. The feeling is a little bit like reeling in a kite, or dragging a hoe to to make a furrow for planting. Keep walking backwards until uke is completely stretched out, then convert to the pin as above.
Both of these, everything in between, and a few things off to the side, are all kotegaeshi. The salient characteristics, I believe, are:
- the hand positioning, and
- turning the hand back against the wrist (with or without torquing) in the direction it normally bends.
But these go together like waffles and maple syrup, so it’s hard to separate them. Hope this has been useful and helpful
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