In 1991, Koga introduces a brand new throw

Koga and his brand new throw.

Although he had yet to become an Olympic champion (that would still be a year away), by 1991, Toshihiko Koga was already the world’s most famous judoka.

Koga stunning performance at the 1989 Belgrade World Championships had everyone talking about his unique throwing abilities. Although he was primarily known for his dynamic standing ippon-seoi-nage, in Belgrade, he also threw with kouchi-makikomi, one-handed sode, one-handed morote-seoi and a wide-split seoi-nage.

At the 1991 Barcelona World Championships, many people expected Koga to throw with his trademark ippon-seoi-nage or one of the other techniques he had used in Belgrade. But two years is a long time in judo and during that time, he had secretly developed a brand-new technique that the world had never seen before.

He would introduce this technique in his very first match, against Laurent Pellet (SUI), where he scored ippon with it. At first glance it looked like some variation of his one-handed morote-seoi-nage except this time it was throw to the left. But a careful analysis of the technique showed that it was actually a form of sode-tsurikomi-goshi done from a cross grip.

Koga’s right hand would hold onto his opponent’s right lapel while his left hand would take hold of his opponents right upper sleeve (near the triceps). To do the throw, he would pivot so that he ended up throwing to the left, something he normally did not do (most of Koga’s throws are to the right).

The technique stunned everyone. No one had even seen anything like it. In his color commentary for Fighting Films, former World Champion Neil Adams said, “One-handed again…” which reflected just how unidentifiable the throw was to everyone.

Koga used the same technique again, in his next match, against Shi Chengsheng (CHN). This time, it didn’t score ippon but Koga quickly clamped on a choke and a hold-down at the same time. Shi tapped.

In his semifinal, Koga faced Bertalan Hajtos (HUN), who was also a seoi-nage specialist. Perhaps Hajtos had been watching Koga’s earlier matches and was able to ward off any attempts by Koga to use his unusual cross-grip sode to the left against him. It didn’t matter. Koga just switched to his one-handed sode to the right and over Hajtos went for ippon.

In the final, against home favorite, Joaquin Ruiz (ESP), Koga tried to do his favorite ippon-seoi-nage but Ruiz managed to kill it. Koga then switched to his new technique and threw Ruiz to the left with it. Although Ruiz was sent flying through the air, he managed to mostly spin out of it and a yuko was awarded. It was enough to in Koga the match as Ruiz was unable to even up the scores with the remaining time left.

Watch Koga throw Ruiz (ESP) and Canto (BRA) with his unique cross-grip sode.

Many judo fans expected to see Koga use his brand-new technique – a cross-grip sode done to the left – in the 1992 Olympics but he didn’t rely on this technique there. Neither did he use this technique even once in the 1995 Tokyo World Championships. It would only be at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics that this technique would reappear, in his quarterfinal match against a young Flavio Canto (BRA).