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Since 1925, judo competitions have nominally banned all joint-locks applied "anywhere other than to the elbow joint". Since its inception in 1951, the IJF has also adopted this rule.

In spite of this, the shoulder-joint rotating armlock ude-garami has remained a staple of kansetsu-waza for the past century, not uncommon at the highest levels of competition and consistently appearing in the IJF's list of recognised techniques.

Given the rules seem to prohibit shoulder locks, why is "bent-arm" ude-garami explicitly permitted?

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2 Answers 2

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Original intent of rule

The phrasing "kansetsu-waza applied to the elbow joint"b is used by the Kodokan to describe joint-locks which achieve their effect by:

  1. straightening or bending the elbow joint ("locking" it in place), and
  2. stretching, bending, or twisting the arm to submit the opponent1 2 3

The defining point is the manipulation of the elbow joint, not the location of pain in uke's arm.3 6 As such, ude-garami, as well as other bent-elbow, twisting armlocks (e.g. hammerlocks and omoplatas), have consistently been included in Kodokan and IJF descriptions of legal kansetsu-waza since the rule was last modified in 1925.a

Later confusion

Likely due to:

  • the rarity of non-ude-garami rotational locks
  • the fact that certain applications of ude-garami can cause pain to the elbow joint
  • the ambiguity of the phrase "locks applied to the elbow joint"

it has become common outside of Japan to believe only locks which cause pain to the elbow (of which ude-garami is nominally included) are permitted. The Kodokan consider this a misinterpretation:

Also, Tori who was trying to apply Ude-hishigi-te-gatame was given penalty as it was considered as an attack to Uke’s shoulder, with the current tendency of overreacting to hazardous actions. These seem to be caused by lack of knowledge rather than insufficient referee skills.

This has lead to the strange scenario where the hammerlock and kimura have been respectively labelled illegal and legal by Neil Adams when asked about this rule in JudoFest 2020 (2:58:44):

Is ude-garami allowed behind the back?

Referee Supervisors: Twisting up towards the back and head with a twist of the wrist as well will apply pressure to the shoulder and the wrist. This is not allowed. The general arm entanglement, the normal movement, is encouraged.


Notes:

  1. Lock the elbow by straightening, twisting, or bending the arm... Straighten out or twist the arm to lock the elbow.

  2. Joint locks are directed against the opponent's joints, which are twisted, stretched or bent with the hands, arms or legs.

  3. ude-garami... use both arms to entangle one of your opponent's arms while twisting it to the outside our inside to control his elbow joint.

    te-gatame... Alternatively use one or both hands to grip your opponent's wrist and twist it around behind him to control his elbow joint.

  4. Note:- In the event of a disagreement between the original Japanese text of these rules and any translation thereof, regardless of the languages used, or any ambiguity in any such translation, the Japanese text shall prevail.

  5. Though to my knowledge never performed in international competition or demonstrated in any Kodokan material, this definition may also include hyper-flexing elbow-locks (i.e. Biceps slicers).

  6. /r/judo US Referee comment

  7. Judo: Japanese Physical Culture, Sumitomo Arima (1908)

  8. Contest Judo, Roy Inman (1987)

  9. Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan: An Innovative Response to Modernisation (p.109-111)

  10. Development of Judo Competition Rules, Syd Hoare


a. Twisting locks as demonstrated by the Kodokan

Kansetsu-waza Twisting examples
ude-garami Americana from top/guard
Kimura from top/guard
te-gatame Americana
Hammerlock
hara-gatame Americana
sankaku-gatame Kimura
ashi-gatame omoplata
reverse omoplata
Huizinga roll
hiza-gatame omoplata
reverse omoplata
Huizinga roll

b. History of kansetsu-waza restrictions

Year Rule change Notes
1899 Finger, toe, and ankle locks (ashi-hishigi) banned.7 10 Inaugural jujutsu competition rules drafted by Kano for the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
1900 Wrist locks banned.8 10 Kodokan competition rules
1916 Finger-locks (again), ashi-garami, neck-locks banned.8 10 Do-jime also banned
1925 Restrictions simplified to one rule prohibiting kansetsu-waza applied anywhere other than to the elbow.8 9 10 Also restriction on techniques which may endanger the spine or neck.

When the IJF was founded in 1951, it adopted the English translation of the Kodokan's competition rules for the first 3 decades of its existence (explicitly deferring to the Kodokan interpretation of these rules in any case of translation ambiguity):4

Applying "Kansetsu-waza" (Bonelocks) on joints other than the elbow ;

  • Contest Rules of the Kodokan Judo (1948, 1951, 1955, 1961)

From 1983 onwards, the IJF published its own separate ruleset, updating it periodically. However the original kansetsu-waza rule has remained aligned with the Kodokan rule to this day:

To apply kansetsu-waza (joint locks) anywhere other than to the elbow joint.

  • English Contest Rules of the IJF (1983, 1985)

To apply Kansetsu-waza anywhere other than to the elbow joint.

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I think you have mostly answered your own question.

Ude-garami can affect both the shoulder and the elbow joint. As an official, it is not possible to tell whether the shoulder is being affected. All you can tell is that a nominally legal technique is being applied, and uke either taps or they do not. The same technique motion applied to a different uke could result in a different joint being affected depending on flexibility.

While it is illegal to attack the shoulder joint intentionally, it is considered legal to affect the shoulder joint with ude-garami because the intention is to attack the elbow joint. This is non-ideal, but honestly I do not know how you could enforce ude-garami strictly against the elbow joint.

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