Kesa-Gatame (袈裟固) is one of the seven mat holds, Osaekomi-waza, of Kodokan Judo. In grappling terms, it is categorized as a side control hold. It is commonly referred to as scarfhold in English due to erroneous translation from Japanese. The ‘scarf’ in scarfhold is in reference not to a western neck scarf but instead to a Bhuddist Monk’s sash worn from the left shoulder towards the right hip (hendan uken) which was formerly known as ‘kesa’.
Many Judo throws lead naturally to Kesa-Gatame, since the classic judo hold places one grip on the opponent’s lapel and one grip near the opponent’s elbow. As one enters newaza (ground fighting), one arm encircles uke’s neck while tori’s sleeve grip provides control over uke’s arm. In The Canon Of Judo, Kyuzo Mifune points out that tori’s arm should lift uke’s head and tori’s leg should be under uke’s shoulder.
- Tori’s Head Position:
Tori’s head ought to be as low to the ground as possible, (often ear-to-ear with uke) which greatly lowers tori’s center of gravity and prevents a common roll-over counter by uke. This is frequently confused for the ideal head position in kuzure kesa gatame which ought to be more upright and above uke’s.
- Tori’s Arm Position:
Tori’s arm should encircle and elevate uke’s occiput as this diminishes the power of uke’s bridge, which is a fundamental component of the roll-over and elbow escapes from kesa gatame. Significant variation exists for gripping strategies in kesa gatame but this is most commonly accomplished by gripping the back of uke’s lapel, tori’s own thigh, tori’s far lapel or even clasping hands (gable grip).
- Tori’s Leg Position:
Kodokan’s technique guide (2020) and Kashiwazaki (1997) posits that tori’s lead leg should be almost parallel to uke’s trunk and be fully extended at the knee; this allows for foot plantar-flexion to be used as a post in countering uke’s bridge. A common mistake for tori is to maintain his/her knee in a flexed (bent) position, this results in the loss of foot plantar-flexion as a primary post and renders tori susceptible to any forward momentum generated by uke’s bridge. Another common mistake is for tori to leave his/her lead leg and thigh extended at the knee but perpendicular to uke’s trunk, this results in the same problem as having a flexed knee. Tori’s inability to maintain his/her leading leg in an extended parallel position puts him/her at risk of the roll-over counter to kesa gatame.
Tori’s trail leg should be flexed at the knee with his/her knee touching the ground. Knee flexion allows for tori trail leg to counter a sit-up escape via foot plantar-flexion as this orientation causes tori’s foot to be pointed rearwards. Maintaining tori’s knee close to the mat prevents the initiation of the leg hook (niju ashi garami) escape; this lowers tori’s center of gravity and also prevents the roll over escape. A common mistake is for tori to have his/her knee pointed upwards (in a squat) in an attempt to increase the amount of pressure exerted on uke. This causes more weight to be loaded onto uke’s trunk at the expense of overall stability of the position as it increases tori’s center of gravity (increasing susceptibility to the roll over escape) and significantly increases the susceptibility to the leg hook escape due to knee exposure.
- Elbow Pullout Escape:
Tori escapes by pulling out his held elbow and attempts to take uke’s back or pull uke backwards into yoko-shiho-gatame.
- Roll-over Escape:
Tori clasps uke’s trunk and bridges into uke, causing a forward shift of uke’s weight off tori’s abdomen. This is followed by a quick change in torque in the opposite direction, pulling uke across tori’s shoulders or upper chest, landing in mune gatame.
- Leg Hook (niju ashi garami) Escape:
Tori turns his lower body to face uke in an attempt to hooks uke’s thigh with his leg. If successful, tori can either hold uke in niju-ashi-garami and wait to be stood up or use uke’s hooked thigh as leverage and roll to take uke’s back.
- Sit Up Escape:
As uke circles towards tori’s head to tighten kesa-gatame or avoid the leg hook counter, tori can use his/her legs as a counterweight to rapidly sit up and reverse uke into his/her own kesa-gatame. The kuzushi for this move stems from uke’s rapid movement towards tori’s head and would not otherwise be possible unless there is a significant difference in weight.