Developing Timing, Distance and Reactive Karate Skills

Of course you and I know one of the most basic concepts of karate is not getting hit.

No big surprise there, huh?

Typically that means “not being there” should be the first rule of self defense. In other words moving out of range of your opponent’s reach is a critical skill to possess. How far does your opponent have to miss by, in order to miss you with their technique?

Not far, I’m sure you’ll agree.

(Great fighters do this well – they make their opponents just miss… and then they make them pay.)

The other side of that coin is the challenge of closing the gap without telegraphing the technique. Now, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to practice both skill sets simultaneously?

Never fear dear reader, I’ve got your 6 as usual.

mousetrapThere’s a drill in my 125 Dynamite Drills ebook called Stepping Mousetrap, in which students pair up on one side of the tatami and take their forward stance facing each other. As one person steps forward, the other steps backwards. The objective is for the person stepping forward to try and trap their opponent’s front foot by stepping on their foot. The person stepping backwards must be fast enough to avoid the trap. When students get to the other side, roles are reversed as students make their way back across the room. There are a few more rules and regulations to the game, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Anyhow, this week I took that exercise to a new level with my students and I want to share it with you today. Furthermore you can do this with all adults, teens and kids of all skill levels.

The first upgrade for this drill is simply to have the “attacker” make oi-zuki (lunge punch / step forward punch), and again the defender must be fast enough to step back and avoid the hit. The defender is not allowed to block, but simply must stand with their hands on their hips and rely on the speed of their movement only. The objective is to learn the range of their opponent’s technique, and to shift just out of that range. For safety have the attacker punch to the chest and not the face.

The second variation we worked on this week that raised the stakes was to have the attacker make mae-geri (front kick) and land forward as the defender stepped backward. The attacker must kick as fast as they can with the objective of kicking their opponent in the abdominal area. Again the defender may not block – just move back.

Each of these variations increases the risk for the defender and subsequently raises the awareness level for all students. The defender doesn’t want to get hit, and the attacker must not telegraph their technique if they are to be successful.

Students really enjoy this drill. It makes them nervous and the occasional student will get hit. However, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s best they learn this in the dojo rather than somewhere where a mistake could have dire consequences.

What other variations can you think of that would develop these same skill sets?


How long is your warm up?

warmupYour body doesn’t need 15 – 30 minutes to warm up.

So why is it so engrained into martial arts training that a “warm up” should take so long?

The quick answer is because many warm ups involve stretching.

Apparently someone once believed that stretching at the start of class warms up muscles. Yet for years now we’ve known for a fact that static stretching does nothing to help warm up the body, and there is little evidence to suggest that it prevents injury.

Think about it – how long does it actually take to warm up your body? 3 minutes of jump rope, a couple of rounds of light shadow boxing or some jogging followed by some light calisthenics does the job just fine. You’ll know when your core temperature is up, because you should have a light sweat beading up on your brow.

But when I think of the way many schools warm up (and 25 years ago at my first dojo we did this too), there would be a few minutes of jogging, followed by jumping jacks, pushups, situps and calisthenics. The body would be warm and then we’d do static stretching for 20 minutes as our bodies cooled down!

Finally when we got to the “technique” part of class, we were supposed to be fast and sharp using a body that had more or less returned to regular operating temperature. That’s kind of like expecting peak performance out of race car whose engine is cold.

Do you see the conflict?

Back then as a student I did it because I my sensei told me to. Now that I have my own dojo, I have abandoned the 25 minute warmups in favor of a 5 minute warm up, with static stretching done at the END of class when the body is truly hot and fatigued. That’s the best time for stretching for flexibility…

Remember, things don’t have to be done the same way as they always were – if that were true we’d still be living in caves, making fire and reinventing the wheel. Change is part of development. What could you change about your warm up and class structure to make a positive impact?