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Deai: How to Train Counterattacking in Shotokan Karate?

The picture shows Yuki Nocilla and Keigo Shimizu during Shotokan Karate Do training and a deai routine.

Deai is the most sophisticated fighting tactic in Shotokan Karate Do. Some karateka even deem it as the ultimate goal in a fight. However, many karateka only partially know the concept or how to train it. In this article we are going to show you what it is and how to train it. By Keigo Shimizu and Dr. Christian Tribowski

What is Deai?

Deai is a tricky Japanese term because its meaning depends on its writing. It is written this way 出会い then it means “meeting; rendezvous; encounter”. However, in budo, more specific, in aikido exists an alternative writing of deai, which looks very similar to the colloquial one: 出合い. This version has a way more sophisticated and deeper meaning and relates to fighting.

An exact definition of the concept offers Kenji Tokitsu in his book The Inner Art of Karate: Cultivating the Budo Spirit in Your Practice:

“Find the vulnerable moment in the opponent at the moment when he launches his attack. This kind of counterattack that is executed in the void instant when your opponent is just beginning to launch his attack is called “deai”.”

(Tokitsu 2012: 119)
The picture shows a classical deai situation when Hirokazu Kanazawa counterattacks the with mawashi geri attacking Katsunori Tsuyama during the All Japan Karate Association Championships in 1957.
The picture shows a classical deai situation when Hirokazu Kanazawa counterattacks the with mawashi geri attacking Katsunori Tsuyama during the All Japan Karate Association Championships in 1957.

The concept, hence, refers to intercepting an opponents attack. After the initial reaction of the attacker one has to take the initiative and counter – all in! The prerequisite for this tactic is either the anticipation of any attack that might come up. Or one needs extremely quick reactions and an excellent timing.

What is the Difference between Deai and “Sen“-Concepts?

But what distinguishes from concepts like go no sen, sen no sen, and sen sen no sen? If one applies the definition by Kenji Tokitsu then deai equals sen no sen: One counters in the moment an attack takes place. In a broader sense go no sen can also be a deai tactic. When only a little block or evasion takes place and is applied in the same situation like the attack then it also has the quality of countering in the “void”.

Thomas Prediger gives a perfect example of deai in this video in a tournament final. In the very moment his oppenent attacks he takes advantage of the little void emerges induring the attack and steps in with a uraken and a tai sabaki.

That happens mostly when a gyaku-tsuki becomes accompanied with a gedan barai or nagashi-uke or a kizami-tsuki is combined with tai sabaki. In this case go no sen works as an interception and thus becomes a deai tactic.

When it comes to sen sen no sen it can be clearly distinguished from deai. Because one executes this tactic before the opponent physically attacks. The attacker might have build an intention to attack. But he has not moved yet. The defender, therefore, must anticipate a potential attack and strike first. Such a situation does not pose a counterattack in a physical sense. Hence, we distinguish sen sen no sen from deai tactics.

How to train Deai?

Following we present a light “deai” practice between Keigo Shimizu and Yuki Nocilla. We stress the term light because the focus of this routine lies on the development and training of the “eyes”. Thus, the training is not about scoring points or being faster then the opponent. It serve the purpose of improving reactions, timing, distance, and motions. To achieve this all practitioners must take it “light”.

The staring constellation of a deai practice is as follows:

The picture shows Karate-Gis by SaikoSports, Taisei, and Momoko in the The Dojo Shop.
  • Both practitioners start from a long distance – longer than their actual fighting distance;
  • They move freely in jiyu gamae;
  • Then the attacker starts to close the distance until it becomes a realistic and cross-able;
  • The attacker initiates an attack, which the defender must anticipate and immediately counter.

In the video you can see that Keigo attacks first with a gyaku/gyaku-tsuki combination. He starts from a relatively far position but closes the distance with the first gyaku-tsuki. The Yuki tries to counter the attack with chudan gyaku-tsuki. The attantive viewer sees that the uses the other arm to block simultaneous with the counterattack. Therefore, her deai is inbetween sen no sen and go no sen.

The second situation shows Yuki attacking with her favorite jodan gyaku-tsuki from a relatively far distance. Keigo tries to counterattack with jodan gyaku-tsuki. As one can see: timing and distance are very important. Because Keigo manages it to find the “void” with his counter in Yukis attack. While her punch was a bit to short but her motion was not finished Keigo places his counter a split of a second later over her gyaku-tsuki.

As you can see in the video: Taking it light does not mean to not focus. Especially deai training needs an alert mind. But do not stress yourself when you miss the first 100 options to counterattack. It is the masterclass to intercept an attacker. Just keep training – and stay light.


Tokitsu, Kenji 2012: The Inner Art of Karate: Cultivating the Budo Spirit in Your Practice.

1 thought on “Deai: How to Train Counterattacking in Shotokan Karate?

  1. […] a knife threat situation, remember that an action is quicker than a reaction: initiate the action (Deai).  […]

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