Ashitori is a 'hand to leg' technique, where the winner will grab his opponent's leg and lift it, thus ruining his balance, making him fall over ("ashi" means leg, and "tori" is take).
The technique will be initiated as the wrestlers are positioned side by side. The attacker bends down and takes a firm hold of his aite's (opponent) nearest leg. As he then straightens himself, he lifts the leg up with him. Ideally the loser will fall over backwards. The technique is similar to one used in amateur and professional wrestling.
Ashitori is rarely a pretty or impressive kimarite. The attacked wrestler will often try to defend himself by grabbing hold of the attacker, and sometimes they stagger around for several seconds - which, in sumo terms, is quite a long time. If the attack is successful, both wrestlers tend to fall over, though the defender will be the first to hit the dohyo floor.
Strength and balance are important to pull off this kimarite. Once the attacker has his grip on the opponent's leg speed and tecnique are less crucial; getting that far is quite another matter. The technique can seem to be an attack of opportunity during a drawn-out match, rather than a carefully planned tactical move.
Of the 82 official kimarite, 29 involve the legs (15 are "leg to leg" tripping techniques, and 14 are "hand to leg"), but only a total of 37 (23 and 14) bouts out of the 1729 mentioned below were won by using one of these 29 kimarite.
Of 1729 bouts in the Makuuchi division, 3 (0,18%) were won by ashitori.1
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- Statistics from the March, May, July, September, and November Basho, 2005, and the January Basho, 2006.
My sources are, besides being glued to the TV whenever sumo is on, http://www.scgroup.com/sumo and http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng.