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When martial artists refer to “timing”, they are usually discussing anticipatory skills. Anticipation is the ability to predict outcomes of an action (largely external, for our purposes), plan an appropriate response, and initiate it with the correct timing relative to the external action. Numerous studies have shown that superior anticipation timing is indeed what sets expert practitioners apart from novice practitioners in a given activity. The person who can successfully anticipate the outcome of an opponent’s actions before they are completed, and then formulate and initiate a plan of their own response with the appropriate timing will be able to effectively counter an attack. But the important distinction in quoting this information is the context in which it is applicable. Two people facing each other for a match or duel-type fight have the following advantages:

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An Investigation of Leg and Trunk Strength and Reaction Times in Hard-Style Martial Arts Practitioners

There’s a lot of useful and interesting information in this paper, but one of the conclusions stand out:

This study has revealed (rather surprisingly) that the trunk strength is not significantly increased in practitioners of hard-style marital arts. Given that this physically demanding sport is associated large and random movements of the trunk, it would be wise for training regimes to increase focus on trunk stability exercises to increase strength of the abdominal and back muscles. This may lead to an increase in performance and possibly lessen the likelihood of injury or incidence of low back pain; this however, would require further research.

For some strategies to strengthen the musculature involved and avoid muscular imbalances, look here and here.

Kata and waza are both limited by themselves. They are useless until one learns how to apply them in context.”

Motobu Choki

I’ve been fascinated lately with the struggle to define what karate is, why it is or is not special among fighting arts, and specifically, what role kata play in all of this. A quick look around karate blogs and discussion forums makes it evident that more and more practitioners are looking for answers.

Some seem to content to lean on the dojo kun or Confucian-esque observation of customs and “correct behavior”, which implies that karate is not unlike the Boy Scouts. Often this comes with a distinct air of “if you don’t do it like this, you’re simply a heathen running around on the mats.” When other martial arts groups that use codes of conduct are pointed out, many traditional karate people act like wine critics and put on an air of superiority- even when the codes are worded the same as the dojo kun. So much for open-mindedness.

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I’m not very good about keeping a training journal, but I do scribble notes here and there when things occur to me after thinking about something from training or from watching others train. Lately I’ve been cataloging these bits as I find them tucked  into various books, pairs of pants and under couch cushions. So in no particular order, here are some of my random training notes (watch out, Jack Handy):

How you train dictates how you will try to fight- but there is no guarantee that a fight will resemble how you train.

Just posted a couple of additions to the TKRI training clip library:


Peripheral Visual Tracking Drill

(this is one of those ideas that made us wonder afterward “why the hell did we think this was going to be fun?”)



Sumo Drill, 2-Man Variation

If I could move and react like this, I’d never lose a fight.  The way he controls ground force and adjusts his balance, while repeatedly being hit with the opponents’ entire body mass is truly amazing…not to mention, his explosive speed and power.

He didn’t get that way by practicing kata.

At TKRI, almost everything we do can be seen as variations on a theme.  Bob says, “I only have two techniques, strike/throw or throw/strike.”  That may be an exaggeration.  But, in general, we are training to hit hard and put an opponent on the ground.  That’s what it’s all about.

Beginner’s have a tendency to over complicate things.  It’s difficult, at first, to see how the wide variety of techniques all have a few basic principles in common.  When introduced to a new technique, I find the best way to really “make it my own” is to analyze it in terms of a these basic principles.  Almost all martial encounters follow pretty much the same overall pattern, involving three phases:  1) Connect 2) Get an Angle 3) Put Opponent on the Ground.

These three phases roughly correspond to the popular MMA model of free-movement, clinch phase, and ground fighting.  However, for strictly self-defense purposes, we prefer to stay on our feet for maximum mobility.  Running away won’t score points with the UFC judges, but it is often the best way to survive on the street.

Anyway, I would like to present a few of the most important principles involved in each of the three phases.


During the free-movement phase, we need skills that will enable us to close the distance safely.  Our goal is to hit or grab the opponent without getting hurt.

  1. Avoid the Opponent’s Power – Almost all techniques will involve some sort of footwork that moves us at an angle off the opponent’s line of attack.  Also, bobbing and weaving type movments allow us to further avoid or absorb the force of an attack.  We do not oppose the force directly, because a bigger, stronger opponent will always win.
  2. Divide the Opponent’s Attention – We usually throw strikes to distract an opponent, while we move into a dominant position and secure our hold.  Often, the strike is intended to break our opponent’s posture, which creates an opening in his defenses to be exploited.  Striking combinations utilize the same principle by creating a reaction in the opponent, which sets-up the next attack.  Strikes are always part of a series of movements.  We do not expect a “one- punch knockout.”
  3. Take Out the Slack – No matter what type of hold we have secured, to effectively impose our will on the opponent requires that we are able to move his center as part of our own.  This means we have to take any “slack” out of the opponent’s tissue between our point(s) of contact and his center of gravity, so that we are moving as one body.

Get an Angle

Once we have secured a hold, we strive to apply force to our opponent in a way that he cannot resist.  To do this, we will take advantage of inherent structural weaknesses by utilizing one or more of the following principles:

  1. Break the Opponent’s Posture – Throughout the application of technique, we always strive to maintian a feeling of being “stacked,” as discussed in a previous article.  Conversely, our techniques are designed to misalign our opponent’s posture, taking away his power.  Ways to do this include:  twisting or lifting the shoulders, bending at the waist, moving the hips outside the area of the base, and moving the knee out of alignment with hip and ankle.
  2. Uproot – The easiset way to move an opponent off his base is to push through his center at an upward angle.  This principle is utilized by wrestlers as they “turn the corner” and lift an opponent, while executing the popular double-leg takedown.  Ideally, you should push upward at a right angle to an imaginary line drawn between your point of contact and the outside edge of the opponent’s base, the same way you would tip over a heavy refrigerator.
  3. Hip Displacement – Many of the throwing methods involve rolling the opponent’s hip up onto our own, creating a situation in which we momentarily support his body weight.  It is especially important to remain “stacked,” when perfoming these types of techniques.  Other techniques involve stepping into the opponent’s center and replacing his hip with yours, as you knock him out of the way.  The end result is the same…the opponent’s center of gravity becomes subordinate to our own.
  4. Dead Angle – Pushing an opponent at a right angle to an imaginary line drawn between his feet, usually causes him to take a step or fall over.  It’s very difficult to resist force applied across the narrowest part of your base.  Avoiding the opponent’s power line automatically takes advantage of this principle.  Many techniques involve applying force to the opponent’s “dead angle,” in order to upset his balance.
  5. Tripping – Blocking or sweeping an opponent’s leg is commonly used in conjunction with applying force to the dead angle.  This prevents the opponent from stepping to correct his posture.

Put Opponent on the Ground

Once you have effectively closed the distance, secured a hold, and broken the opponent’s posture, putting him on the ground is the easy part.  You will do one or both of the following:

  1. Drop Your Weight – With the opponent in a compromised position and his center subordinate to your own, just dropping your weight is often enough to put him on the ground.
  2. Remove Support – If you are supporting the opponent’s body weight on your hip or shoulder, you just toss him off, or get out of the way and let him fall.  A properly timed foot sweep effectively removes the opponent’s base of support and is another example of this principle.

Obviously, in a real fight, a million different things can happen.  But, training with these principles in mind should begin to develop an understanding of what it takes to make the techniques work.  The rest is up to you.

There’s a special kind of paranoia that often accompanies a serious practitioner of martial arts.  Upon entering a room, we begin assessing possible threats and analyzing escape routes, like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard.  I usually pick out the biggest, meanest looking guy and imagine ways that I might take him out.  It’s only natural to want to use a skill you’ve worked so hard to acquire.  But, it’s scary too, because you just never know….

I approach the bar to get a drink and accidentally bump into the guy, or step on his foot.  Maybe, he catches me checking out his girlfriend, and I can’t “smooth talk” my way out of it.  He’s determined to teach me a lesson.  I begin to go to that place inside myself, where it seems like my life is happening to someone else, like I’m watching it all on TV, or something.  I stay calm enough to avoid a premature adrenaline dump.  But, it’s coming on, as I feel my heart rate increase and senses begin to heighten.  We’re facing each other, and, after a few choice words, he takes a swing at me.

It’s a big overhand right.  I instinctively duck under, to the outside, and explode into his liver with a left shovel hook.  An uppercut, with the same hand, lifts his chin, and I immediately punch through his jaw all the way to the back of his head with a right cross.  Of course, my hand is broken, but he drops and doesn’t get up.  All those hours on the heavy bag finally paid off.

But, maybe, he’s too fast for me to duck, and I just barely manage to cover my head.  When I feel the impact of his punch, I instinctively wrap the same arm I just used to cover with over the top of his punching arm and manage to get a dominant overhook, or whizzer.  Then, I make a base by lowering my center of gravity and widening my stance.  He is swinging at me with his other arm, so I place my free hand in the crook of his elbow and prevent him from punching me.  While controlling that arm, I manage to twist his shoulders out of alignment with his hips and begin to pull him forward at the angle perpendicular to an imaginary line between his feet.  In one fluid motion, I step in front to block his legs and drive him into the ground, landing on him with everything I’ve got.  That took the fight out of him.  He may even have a couple of broken ribs.

But, maybe, he used to be a football player.  So he rushes in to tackle me, right after throwing the big right hand.  I couldn’t get control of his arm, becasue he lowered his level too fast.  But, as he drives into me, I’m able to throw my feet back and drop all of my weight onto his shoulder.  Somehow, one of my arms ends up across his neck, and I establish a front headlock.  If he has an arm in, I gator roll to an arm-triangle type choke.  That would be way cool.  Otherwise, I jump guard and do the classic guillotine.  Either way, he’s not breathing too good, anymore.

But, maybe, he’s too fast and too powerful.  I’m stunned by the punch, even though I was covering my head.  So, he just drives right through me with the tackle, and I’m underneath him on the ground.  Luckily, I ended up with one leg on the outside, so I’m in half-guard.  I work to get control of an arm and pull his head to my chest, not letting him posture up.  I need a few seconds to recover.  As soon as I can, I make my move.  I slide my hips out to the side, while pressing on his thigh with my forearm.  Hopefully, there’s enough space to pull my leg through and establish full guard.  From there, I place my shin across his hip, like I’m going to do a scissors sweep, and push myself away making space to kick him in the face with my other leg.  If it works, I’ll be able to stand up…and then we’ll see.

Of course, there are a million possible scenarios that could play out.  I guess, there’s really no such thing as a perfect fight.  Plus, I’ve been thinking like this for over twenty years, and nothing ever happens.  I always manage to stay out of trouble…and that’s good.  But, sometimes, it sure is fun to fantasize about.

With a nod to Bob Dylan…below is a short clip of some general training on the Target Grid (as discussed here) in my backyard dojo.  This is a great cure for Cabin Fever, brought on by a wet & cold weekend. More to come…

"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others. As a karateka you will of course often watch others practice. When you do and you see strong points in the performance of others, try to incorporate them into your own technique. At the same time, if the trainee you are watching seems to be doing less than his best ask yourself whether you too may not be failing to practice with diligence. Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Funakoshi Gichin


July 2020

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