Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Kharbarelli pick-up: how & why this throwing technique works.(Report

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The throwing technique that came to be known as the Kharbarelli Pick-up in the world of competitive judo is a good example of how different cultures and their unique grappling traditions have changed the look of this Olympic sport. This presentation of the Kharbarelli Pick-up illustrates and explains the theory, mechanics, and application of this unorthodox, effective and crowd-pleasing throwing technique. The author has an extensive background in sambo and judo and studied this technique for a number of years after seeing it used in international judo and sambo events. The Kharbarelli Pick-up, while considered "unorthodox" and not Japanese in origin, is effective because it exhibits the common elements of using an opponent's balance and movement in the same way a "traditional" judo throw does.


In the 1960s, there was an entertaining comedy that played in theaters across the country called "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming." It was about the cold war and what might happen if the Soviet Union invaded the United States. The cold war tensions, like the Soviet Union, are now part of history, but a real Soviet invasion did, in fact, take place in the world of international sports in the early 1960s. As with every Olympic sport, judo was changed forever by the Soviet athletes and their unique approach to the techniques and tactics of the sport invented by Prof. Jigoro Kano.

Among the many gifted athletes that the Soviets produced, one in particular stands out because of his unique and highly innovative throwing skills. That athlete is Shota Kharbarelli, who among other major international victories won the gold medal in the 78-kilogram category at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. It wasn't the fact that he won; it was how he won that made him famous.

Kharbarelli threw opponents with techniques that hadn't been seen before and did it consistently. It was no fluke that when this man launched an opponent into the air, it was done with calculated, well-trained skill. Anyone who wanted to be competitive in international judo realized that they had better start learning how to copy and how to defend against these unusual throws Kharbarelli and the other Soviets were doing. Judo purists dropped their jaws at the very fact that these pick-up throws even worked, but eventually, the International Judo Federation recognized the technique and even named the throw after the man that made it famous.

Shota Kharbarelli is a Georgian and is currently the Georgian national team coach for judo. His background (along with judo) is in sambo, the Soviet hybrid grappling sport/martial art, and the Georgian folk wrestling style Chidaoba. To better appreciate why and how the high-flying Kharbarelli Pick-up works, it might be best to look at the theory and application of the Soviet's unorthodox approach to gripping the jacket and controlling an opponent's posture and how it influenced sambo, and ultimately international judo.

Many of the top Soviet judo, sambo, and wrestling athletes came from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. One of the most popular forms of folk wrestling in Georgia is the sport of Chidaoba, where the wrestlers wear a belted jacket with no sleeves. This sport's emphasis is on throwing, and it is popular in its native Georgia. The fact that Chidaoba grapplers don't have sleeves to grab influenced how the Soviets developed their aggressive and innovative grips and grip fighting in their hybrid Sambo. Sambo's emphasis on grabbing the belt and the lapels, reaching over an opponent's back to grab the back of his jacket or belt and using these gripping skills to break an opponent's posture and balance are what makes throws like the Kharbarelli Pick-up work. Basically, the Kharbarelli Pick-up starts with how you grab your opponent and how you break his posture; it then proceeds with a particular method of controlling the opponent's body.

In an attempt to duplicate the effect of the Kharbarelli Pick-up, many judo people have tried to mimic every step of the throw. This approach only makes doing (and learning) the throw harder. You have to understand that the world saw this throw through the lens of the cameraman who so brilliantly caught the throw in action. It shows the throw performed during an international judo match and we should realize that the fundamental, underlying factors that make this throw work aren't explained by simply looking at the photo. When we examine the Kharbarelli Pick-up, it appears that Kharbarelli is attempting a Major Inner Reap (O Uchi Gari) throw and then reverses direction and lifts his opponent by the belt and throws him in a spectacular way. But again, how Kharbarelli grabbed his opponent started the whole thing in motion. I mention this because it would be very hard, if not impossible, to mimic the exact movements of any judo throw or physical skill based on how it appears in a still photograph, or even in a moving image. What I'm saying is that if you know the details of how this throw works, then you will be able to perform it using your own physical and mental skills, making it work for you.

The "why" of how this throw works comes from the sambo approach to skill learning. It's important to understand that sambo wrestlers don't really care about how pretty something looks; they are more interested in the fact that a technique will work in real situations with a consistent and high ratio of success. "Make your technique work for you" is a common phrase heard. This is certainly what Kharbarelli did with the throw that made him famous. Additionally, gripping and grip fighting are vital elements of success in sambo. Before you can successfully break your opponent's posture and his balance in an attempt to throw him, you must control him by how you grab him or his jacket or uniform. This particular throw, as with all throws, depends on your grip.

What Kharbarelli did to his Finnish opponent in the photo that made him famous was make an initial attack with what in judo is called Major Inner Reap from an over-the-shoulder belt grip on his opponent. I've always heard this over-the-shoulder belt grip used in sambo described as the "looping grip," so this is what I will call it. Possibly realizing that this initial attack was met with resistance by the Finn's defensive posture, Kharbarelli kept control with the grip and used a leg lift to throw his opponent with spectacular results.


(1) Trevor has the looping grip on Bryan. You can see that in this case (as Kharbarelli did), Trevor is grabbing the belt and breaking Bryan's posture by using his elbow to push down on Brian. The use of the elbow is important in gripping and controlling the opponent's movement. Trevor can literally "steer" and control Bryan's body using the pressure of his elbow. Trevor is using his left hand to grab at Bryan's sleeve near the triceps. Trevor is making every effort to pull Bryan close to him as he starts to attack Bryan with the Major Inner Reap. Trevor's stance is important as well. His right foot is leading and is placed immediately inside Bryan's left foot. This initial stance will help close the space between Trevor's body and Bryan's body quickly when Trevor starts his throwing attack.

(2) Trevor has started his attack by driving his body (leading with his right hip and foot) and using his right leg to hook inside Bryan's left leg as shown. At this point, Trevor has used his left hand to grab Bryan's right pant leg about mid-thigh. Trevor has strong control with his right hand on Brian's belt and back. An important point in this throw is that Trevor has made sure that Bryan's right shoulder is touching Trevor's right armpit. Trevor feels Bryan's right shoulder under his arm and this tells Trevor that he is in close and tight enough to Bryan to effectively hook his leg or start his leg lift. Trevor can continue to drive into Bryan and throw him with a Major Inner Reap, but in this case, Bryan has offered enough resistance and has lowered his posture by squatting in an attempt to stop the throw.

(3) Trevor senses Bryan's resistance and quickly steps in between Bryan's legs with his left leg as shown. As he does this, Trevor turns his right hip slightly to his left and uses his right upper leg to lift Bryan off the mat. As Trevor does this, he lowers his body a bit by bending his left (supporting) leg as shown in the photo. Trevor's right leg is bent and he's using it in the same way he would as if he were using his leg to assist him when lifting a heavy object. Trevor is using his right hand to pull up and is using his right elbow to steer Bryan by driving his elbow backward (into the direction he will throw Bryan) over his right side. Also, notice that Trevor is making good use of his left hand grabbing Bryans' right pant leg. Trevor is using his left hand to lift up on Bryan's right pant leg and this helps in the application of the throw.

(4) Trevor is now throwing Bryan and you can see how he is using his right leg to lift Bryan's body. Trevor is using his right hand to pull on Bryan's belt as he throws Bryan over his left shoulder. Trevor's right elbow is actually pointing in the direction Bryan will fall. Trevor is driving his right elbow in that direction and this steers Bryan into the direction Trevor wants him to go. It's important to point out that this throw is extremely explosive and you must make a full commitment. Trevor has successfully closed all body space between him and Bryan and both bodies will be locked together as Trevor throws Bryan to the mat.

(5) In this photo, Trevor's left foot is still on the mat. If some cases (and as Kharbarelli did to his Finnish opponent), Trevor may explode so hard into the throw, he launches his own body off the mat as well. However, you can see how Bryan is completely in the air with Trevor controlling him. Bryan is being thrown over his left shoulder and over Trevor's right hip and toward his right backside. Trevor will continue to turn to his right backside as he throws Bryan.

(6) Because of the total commitment that Trevor has put into the attack, he will whip over his right backside as he throws Bryan over Bryan's left shoulder and land on him. This total commitment to the throwing action is necessary for the throw to work. Once your body is in motion, you must follow through completely to get the result you want and that is to slam your opponent on the mat.

Many people in the judo community have labeled this "power judo" because of the unorthodox grip and posture control that takes place as well as the very obvious fact that the thrower is picking his opponent up and off the mat and slamming him hard back down onto it. However, if you study this technique, you will find that it is a technically sound skill that exemplifies all the mechanics of any throw (whether that throw comes from a judo tradition or a sambo tradition). With any technique, especially throws, it is important for the performer to be physically fit and strong enough to make it work on a skilled, resisting, and fit opponent. No athlete, at any level of competition but especially at the elite levels, will be successful unless he's fit enough to make his skills work for him against a resisting opponent.

This throw is indicative of how judo has become a truly international sport. After its introduction to the world stage and its inclusion into the Olympic games, it was inevitable the Kodokan Judo that Prof. Kano founded would become a performance and result-based competitive activity. In the same way every athletic event has changed through the years, judo has moved from its roots at the Kodokan to be part of a larger world. The Kharbarelli Pick-up is the result of aggressive gripping, control of your opponent's posture, and quick, explosive movement with a total commitment to throw your opponent; all the hallmarks of the fast-paced, aggressive sport judo has become. To many in the world of judo, this isn't a pretty technique to watch, but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


Source Citation
Scott, Steve. "The Kharbarelli pick-up: how & why this throwing technique works." Journal of Asian Martial Arts 17.2 (2008): 26+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Jan. 2010. .

Gale Document Number:A187624802

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