Kumite Footwork Exercise

Are you ready for a quick kumite footwork drill that helps develop strong quads, explosive movement and agility?


You’ll need a sparring partner and a pair of focus mitts.

It works like this:

  1. Partners face each other in their fighting stance at kicking range, left leg forward.
  2. The Target  holds the mitts in front of their body with palms touching (picture and imagine praying).
  3. The Fighter  waits in anticipation for the Target to present the mitt to hit.
  4. With their left hand the Target shows the mitt at a position for a front leg jodan mawashi geri  (upper level roundhouse kick).
  5. The Fighter skips up with the back foot, chambers the knee and fires off the kick, recoiling the leg and placing their foot to the ground next to their other foot, legs slightly bent at the knees.
  6. At the same time the Target EITHER shuffles backwards or pushes forwards one  slide .
  7. The Fighter must react appropriately after the kick.

In the case of a retreating Target, the Fighter pushes forwards using the loaded spring of the BACK LEG into forward stance, and delivers reverse punch.

In the case of an advancing Target, the Fighter pushes backwards by loading up the FRONT LEG and driving backwards. At the same time the Fighter must move the back foot as to regain their original fighting position, and follow with slide in reverse punch.

[HINT: Pay attention to what you/your students do after the kick! A common mistake is to fall forwards instead of recoiling the leg and driving forwards. This action leaves the fighter open for the counter. It also puts the fighter in a position unable to chase their opponent should they double-shuffle backwards. Conversely a fighter who recoils and springs forwards has momentum and can push forwards again if their opponent moves further back, breaks line, etc.]

Typically we to this exercise for 10 repetitions before changing roles, and of course then working the other side of the body. The objective is for the fighter to develop strong explosive movement, to be able to anticipate the target’s movement and react appropriately ensuring proper distance and timing for their technique.

Here’s a quick visual, just because I know you love my stick figure animations. 😉


Try it with you students and if you like this kumite drill I have a ton more of them here.


— Jason

Develop Your Weak Side

How many karate-ka does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one. But he’ll do it 10,000 times with his right hand, then 10,000 times with his left.

(This is the part where you laugh.)

In all seriousness as much as we karate-ka like to think we are equally proficient on both sides of our body, the reality is we’re not.

The fact is most of us are right-side dominant, and not as coordinated as our left-handed brothers, since “lefties” have to adapt to our right-handed world.

Side note: Unless you’re left handed you probably don’t realize how much of a challenge it can be with daily tasks in a right hand world. Think about writing, scissors, tools, measuring cups, etc. For lefties, check out https://www.leftyslefthanded.com/ – You’re welcome. =)

Anyhow, let’s get back to the original point.

Typically, by nature we are a one-side dominant species. Approximately 85% of people are right-handed according to Scientific American.

But why?

Well it’s to do with the left brain controlling the right side of the body. The left brain is also what controls speech, and when the written word came to be, it was therefore natural to write with the right side.

Fascinating, isn’t it?

This explains why other primates (who can’t speak or write) don’t tend to favor their right side, yet us wacky humans do.

However one of the requisites of karate is that we train both sides equally. But how many of us seriously do that in every aspect?

ZERO would be a good guess.

Here’s why:

It would be a fair assumption most traditional karate dojo practice either Pinan or Heian kata, wouldn’t you agree?

If we look further at kata it’s apparent they were developed for defense with right side attacks first in mind. Think about the first move in any pinan/heian kata… you turn/move away from a right-handed attacker.

(A savvy reader might argue these right-handed attacks develop a strong left side defense. And I would agree… which is followed by a dominant right hand counter.)

In addition many of the finishing techniques/kiai points are made on the right side of the body. This holds true for almost every kata. This evidence reinforces karate is a right side dominant fighting system. 

Still need more convincing?

Try doing Pinan/Heian Godan as the mirror image of what you regularly practice. You’ll probably get through it, but not smoothly. There are certain techniques that you almost only ever apply with the right side of the body. And when you attempt the lefty version of these you’re bound to feel like a beginner all over.

Consider the kosa dachi/uraken kiai point in Pinan/Heian Godan, or the first move in Bassai Dai for example. How often do you practice these moves on the left side during kihon (basics) or bunkai (application) practice? I’m guessing not very often if at all.

The left photo shows the first kiai point in Pinan Godan. The right picture is a reverse image of the same technique.

With all of this in mind, it becomes apparent why lefties tend to do quite well at karate since they already have the left side dominance as a natural ability. They learn through repetition to be proficient with their right. Often times they can hit just as hard with either side of the body, or perform difficult techniques on either side without much thought.

Makes sense, yes?

And if you’re a right-handed karate-ka, guess what? Your right will almost always be stronger and more coordinated no matter how much you practice both sides equally. It has the natural advantage already. So equal numbers of reps will keep it ahead of your left, less dominant side.

So what’s the solution?

In order to feel more coordinated on your weak side, a simple exercise would be to make a list of movements from kata for which you only practice the right side of the body. Take those movements and incorporate those directly into your kihon (basics) section of class and you’ll see a marked improvement in your students’ skill sets.

For example, from yoi dachi have your students step in (on your count) to kosa dachi and make uraken per the picture above. On the next count have them return to yoi dachi. On the next count they step in with the other side of the body. Repeat.

What other techniques can you think of to practice in this manner?

Post away!



Removing Boredom from Basic Repetitions

You know as well as I that student boredom is the number one reason for students to quit karate. As karate instructors we have the responsibility to keep our students motivated, focused and working hard. However some students would rather watch paint dry than do basic reps.


dojoSo how do you keep your class interested and still get them to do basic repetitions with the passion they once had?

It’s easy… just involve them in the learning process.

I’ll say that again just in case you missed it.

Involve them in the learning process.

This keeps them ENGAGED and INTERESTED and keeps BOREDOM on lock-down.

For example, instead of simply having your class do 20 lunge punches, followed by 20 front kicks, and then 20 back kicks, ask for your students’ involvement.

Here’s what a typical day at my dojo might sound like during the basic repetition portion of class.

“Who can name one hand technique?”, I ask.

“Oi-zuki!”, shouts one student. (That’s Japanese for lunge punch)

“Ok, great”, I say, “Who can give me another technique. This time with the legs?”

“Mawashi geri!”, shouts another. (Roundhouse kick)

“Perfect. Ok so here’s our new combination technique. First you make oi-zuki then immediately make mawashi geri off the rear leg. Ready! Ichi… Ni…. San…”

Once my class is done with the first set of 10 reps for this new combination, we switch sides and repeat. Then it’s on to the next one.

“Ok, next combination… Joseph – name a technique.”

“Mae geri”, he answers.

“Thank you. Someone else?”

“Uraken”, says Tommy.

“Ready, step forward into your fighting stance, kamae-te!”, I shout.

“Mae-geri / uraken combination on my count…. Ichi… Ni… San…”

This is a great way for you to have your students do their basic reps every class but with a twist. They never know exactly what the combination will be, so that keeps them focused and interested. It’s also a great cognitive karate exercise because they are challenged mentally to put together combinations they may never have practiced or thought about before.

You can scale up the difficulty of this exercise in the following ways:

  • increase the number of techniques per combination
  • make the combinations only hand techniques, only leg techniques, or combination hand-leg techniques
  • restrict the techniques to only one side of the body
  • etc

Your class will always be challenged no matter the skill level or experience.

What other ways can you think of to modify this exercise?

Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

Force Your Students to Chamber Their Kicks…

karate drill for chambering your leg correctly
I tell my students – “You kick the bo and you get 2 things – a sore foot and 20 push ups. Make sure you chamber your leg properly!”

Here’s a simple karate drill to force your students to chamber their legs correctly for kicking.

This works great for front kick, round kick, side kick, back kick, hook kick… any kick that requires the knee high and the leg compressed. This in turn creates faster, more powerful kicks.

And who doesn’t want that?

All you need is a bo and 2 kick shields.

Just have your student pair up and lay the bo across the pads as shown. Have one student be the target and stand in the “pod” while the other will work for 60 seconds making combination techniques.

All kicks will need to be chambered properly otherwise the bo will be disrupted from it’s position. Have your students work 3 sets of 60 seconds each, alternating each time.

Have fun!

– Jason



Simple Karate Kumite Drill [Video]

We all want our students to be accurate with their technique, right?

And we’ve all got karate drills to help our students hit targets, yes?

However some drills, while they might help with one aspect of training fail in another.

For example, you might have one person holding focus mitts, while their training partner hits them with certain combinations. Or if you don’t have focus mitts, you might simply hold your hands up as targets for your partner to hit. These are both drills I’m sure you’ve done over the years as I have. And they are fine to develop some basic skills, however they have their downfalls which I have pointed out below.

  1. Targets In Incorrect Positions

    The target holder must be acutely aware of where they are holding the mitts in relation to the real target position. In other words, focus mitts must be held exactly on  the intended target, otherwise proper distance, accuracy and timing will be incorrect.

    You may have seen targets (of course you’ve never done this)  held in a lazy fashion maybe 12-24  inches away from the real target (such as in front of the face, or to the side of the body). This mistake by the target holder directly affects the technique of training partner.Often, especially with kids, the targets are nowhere near where they should be. As karate students we should be a little more intent on the accuracy of our techniques… wouldn’t you agree?

    (In MMA you see this all the time – jab/cross/jab/cross types of drills where the coach holds mitts up to either side of the face and the fighter is throwing punches wide of the real target (the head), while the coach swats their punches with the mitts.)

  2. Holding Hands As Targets

    This is another common mistake when doing these kinds of exercises. Doesn’t it make more sense that we train our students to hit real targets (head, body, back, etc) instead of hand targets?

    The problem that arises from this type of exercise is that students (especially kids) will default to throwing their techniques at their opponent’s hands when sparring. I used to see this all the time with my own students, so that’s why I’ve moved away from such exercises and now make sure they are hitting the real targets instead.

    I want their default action/subconscious to instantly hit the real target when it becomes available (such as when their opponent drops their hands or when they do something unexpected like slip over). I want my students to be on that target in a split second like a frog’s tongue snapping up a fly.

Here’s a quick 2 minute video I shot last night to show you a very simple drill that develops awareness of the real targets, improves reaction time and develops “clean hitting” for the attacker, while the target person works on covering the exposed target. We do several drills like this, each with it’s own emphasis, but this is a good one to start the process of developing a fighter’s affinity for open targets.


Karate Sparring Drill to Improve Awareness and Agility

Here’s a video from earlier this year of some of my junior students showing a fun yet challenging sparring exercise.

As you can see the floor is covered with cones. The objective is to spar without knocking over a cone. So the rules for this particular match were you score a point for every technique you landed on your opponent, and also another point for every cone your opponent knocked over.

This exercise helps develop spacial awareness and agility. Surprisingly my students rarely knocked over any cones which got me thinking how could I make this sparring exercise even more challenging?

Here’s a few more ideas for you…

1) Add more cones

2) In the event a cone is knocked over, the other person wins by default.

3) Make the sparring area smaller

(For a full list of my awesomely creative skill building karate drills and exercises check out 125 Dynamite Drills here)

Can you think of other ways to enhance this exercise? If so, post ’em below!


– Jason

Focus Mitt Drill

So last night I came up with this little focus mitt drill and I thought you might enjoy it too.

The drill is designed to work reaction speed for reverse punch and roundhouse kicks, both front and rear legs.

You’ll need to have students pair up and you’ll also need 2 focus mitts for each group.

The target will hold one focus mitt against their belly and the other one against their back.

(Tip: Target can put the front focus mitt on backwards and place their hand just above their belt. It’s easier that way.)

Now the attacker will stand at middle to long distance from the target and will either make chudan gyaku zuki (reverse punch to the mid section) or chudan mawashi geri (roundhouse kick to the midsection) depending on what targets are presented.

I broke this drill into three one minute rounds where the attacker must continuously either be punching or kicking as the targets are presented. The animated diagram below will help illustrate how it works.

karate focus mitt drill

Note the attacker doesn’t have to throw both kicks when the target is facing sideways. They may choose to throw front leg, or rear leg, or both if the target stays in that position for a long enough time. Or the attacker might choose to double up on their front roundhouse if they like before switching kicks, or if the target moves then they would throw their reverse punch.

It’s a great drill for kumite or for developing fast reactions for basic technique. Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you, and of course please LIKE, SHARE and add your comments…

Karate Kumite Reaction Drill

Here’s a quick kumite drill you can use to help your students develop their reaction speed.

You need 3 people for this one to work and your students should stand, so 2 fighters face each other, while the third person stands as shown below. We need a name for that guy, so let’s call him Bob… more about Bob in a moment.

kumite drill

The fighters stand outside of punching range, stationary but ready and focused, like a big cat about to pounce.  Bob’s role is to tap one of the fighters on their glove. He might choose to tap either fighter’s front or rear hand. That fighter must immediately slide forward and score their technique to the head or body, then immediately slide back to guard. In the example below Bob tapped the red fighter’s front hand.

front jab

Bob might then tap the blue fighter’s reverse hand, in which case he would slide in and make reverse punch.

reverse punch

Now Bob’s job is to keep the fighter’s guessing. He might tap the blue fighter 3 times before tapping the red fighter. Or he might tap the red fighter and then immediately tap the blue fighter on completion of the red fighter’s technique.

Bob can make them wait… tick… tick… tick, or make them work with a series of taps with no downtime. He can mess with the timing and can fake, so the red fighter thinks he’s about to get tapped and then tap the blue fighter instead.

An advanced spin on this is to tap both fighters at the same time and see who scores first. Be careful with this one, of course.

After one minute Bob switches out with one of the fighters and the exercise continues, this time with a new Bob.

This is a great kumite exercise for developing reaction and anticipation skills…

Happy Holidays…

– Jason

P.S. Thanks for being my subscriber and/or customer this year. I appreciate you.

P.P.S. Don’t you love my awesome stick figures with over-sized, disproportionate heads?


*** UPDATE : December 20, 2013 ****

Last night I shot a quick video of my junior class doing this drill so you can see it in action… Enjoy!

How to teach front kick

Here’s a quick karate exercise to help your students develop their front kick.

We all know that true karate power comes from using our body, and not just our limbs, right? Do this exercise with your white belts when they first learn front kick. It will get them using their body to develop power.

While I’ve got a dozen drills to help develop front kick (mae geri) , this exercise below stands head and shoulders above the rest. And the neat thing is that it’s so simple.

But first… the problem.

Let’s assume you’re teaching mae geri from heisoku dachi (feet together). The way I teach is to first have students twist their body 45 degrees to bring their kicking hip forward. Then raise the knee and point it straight ahead, and then finally make the snapping motion of the kick.

However, in my experience 90% of beginners have a hard time keeping the hip “forward” and kicking straight. One of two things usually happens:

  1. The hip stays forward but the kick goes across at 45 degrees (think stage girls performing the can-can)
  2. The kick goes straight, but the hip collapses (reverts back) to being square on.

Rarely are beginners able to keep their hip forward, their body rotated and their kick straight.

Ever had this problem, or is it just me?

So, here’s how you fix it. This is how I learned to make mae geri in my first class 25 years ago…

Take a bo staff and place it behind your back by wrapping your arms over the top and hold both of your fists by your side in the usual “hikite” position.

(Remember those stories your parents would tell you about how their teachers would make them sit up straight at school, by placing the ruler behind their back? Or is it just me again?)


Anyway, once you’re in position and standing in heisoku dachi turn your body 45 degrees so that one end of the bo staff faces 45 degrees relative to the direction you’re facing. Your hip should be “forward” at this point. Now pick up your knee, keeping the bo pointing diagonally, and make the kick.stickfigure2

(Just in case you want to do it wrong, the examples below show how to do the kick incorrectly with the bo staff.)stickfigure3

Now to make sure this doesn’t happen with your students, stand behind them and assist by turning the bo staff 45 degrees and then have them kick straight. Then twist it back the other way and have them kick again. Repeat as many times as necessary until they can turn and kick with their hip in the forward position. I do this exercise with my students in pairs. One is the assistant while one kicks. They do 20 kicks and change roles.

This is a really *simple* exercise but extremely effective in developing good technique with plenty of power.

Try it and let me know how you go…