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?


Making an Impact

Here’s a nice little karate drill you can use with your students, young or old, small or tall.

It’s a good one because it helps students develop their timing, distance and impact at the target all at once.

It works like this:

Students get a partner and then one takes an impact pad or kick shield.

You nominate the technique (eg. Reverse punch or front kick, etc)

One person will hold the pad and the other will make the specified technique with full force, 10 times then switch roles.

Ok, so easy stuff, nothing new so far… let’s make it more challenging

The pad holder moves forward, back or laterally and then suddenly stop and stands in position. The split second they’ve stopped, the striker must close the distance and hit the pad with the specified technique with full force. As soon as they’ve hit, the pad holder moves again then randomly stops and the striker must again adjust their distance and hit the pad again.

The idea is the striker is anticipating their next move like a lion stalking it’s prey, waiting calmly but poised ready to pounce. As soon as the target stops moving, BAM!

Advanced method:

The pad holder can also rotate, forcing the striker to move around the pad holder, adjust their distance, change their angle of attack, etc.

Ultra Advanced method:

The pad holder does everything above plus now calls the technique they want the striker to perform. Eg. “kick” or “punch”.

Super Ultra Advanced method:

Pad holder calls “left punch” or “right kick”, etc.

Extreme Super Ultra Advanced method:

Pad holder calls multiple techniques, “left punch, right kick”, etc.

As mentioned above this drill is great for working distance, timing, impact, coordination and agility.


Please don’t confuse this drill with what you see in boxing / MMA drills with a trainer and focus mitts. The striker is NOT supposed to follow the target around at close distance the entire time. The idea is for the target to change the distance (either by crowding the striker or moving away) and then only AFTER they’ve stopped, the striker must move in closing the gap with proper footwork OR back up and maintain proper distance, hit the target and get back out of range.



P.S. Due to a lack of creativity (and possibly growing up in the 80’s) I was forced to use words like “ultra” and “super ultra”. If you have any suggestions for better adjectives please let me know. 😉

Getting More from your Martial Arts Drills and Exercises

If you teach martial arts to kids you’ll know the value of incorporating fun karate drills and exercises into your classes.

One popular one is the “shuttle run” or “relay race” type of exercise. It usually involves dividing a class into equal teams of say 3-5 students, and having them run from one side of the tatami to the other, perform a task and run back before the next person may go.

This simple exercise works great, chews up plenty of time and is enjoyable for just about everyone.

Kudos to the karate relay race.

However, if you do this type of thing frequently, boredom creeps in like tiny spiders into your dojo. Soon your relay race is covered with cobwebs and your students eyes glaze over at the mere thought of another relay race.

So today I wanted to give you some ideas on how to clear away the spider webs, rejuvenate your students’ enthusiasm, and get 10 times more value out of this simple exercise. Furthermore you can use these CONCEPTS to get more from your other martial arts drills and exercises.

So let’s get started using the relay race as an example.

A problem is most often instructors focus on the task at the end of the room as the important part of the exercise – for example, you might have your students run to the other side of the floor and do something like:karate drills

  • 10 pushups, or
  • 10 jumping jacks, or
  • 10 sit-ups, or
  • 10 kicks, or
  • 10 reverse punches
  • etc

before racing back and allowing their teammate to  go.

Instead of focusing on the task at the end, why not make the focus of the race on way students cross the room? For example instead of having students simply run from one side to the other, you could have them do any of the following:

  • run and jump over a pad, or
  • run and crawl under a bo-staff, or
  • run along a stretched-out belt, or
  • weave through cones, or
  • jump from pad to pad, or
  • run backwards, or
  • hop on one leg, or
  • duck walk, or
  • commando crawl
  • etc…

Once they reach the other side, they can still perform the end task you’ve set like 10 front kicks for example. Making this change to the exercise increases the enjoyment and challenges your students both physically and mentally.

In the bonus material that comes with my 125 Dynamite Drills I share helpful teaching strategies, to show you how to increase the difficulty or how to simplify different drills and exercises depending on the skill level and maturity of your students. The above example is just one method – by ADDING a new variable. To simplify, simply REMOVE a variable.

Not exactly rocket science is it? Yet we often overlook these simple ideas.

There are additional ways to get more from your old drills. Another would be to increase the COMPLEXITY of the exercise. Using the example above, you could have the task at the “end” be more challenging mentally, such as performing a multiple technique combination instead of simply a reverse punch.

Or you could have your students do the techniques on their non-preferred side of the body, or BOTH sides of their body instead of one before coming back.

How about adding a CONSTRAINT to increase the pressure of the exercise – such as a limited TIME in which to complete the challenge for each group?

All these methods can scale up or down the difficulty level and complexity of your drills.

What other ways can you think of to manipulate a drill or exercise to increase its half-life and usability?