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Violence Prevention: More Fight in the Dojo, less Fight in the Street

The picture shows Thomas Prediger who says that Sport Karate is a "perverted system". He also sees a great potential for kumite in violence prevention.

Violence prevention is a major part of Karate. The one who trains in Karate becomes less prone to be violent. The reason for this is that Karate comprises of two aspects other sports usually do not offer: The experience of controlled violence as an attacker and defender as well as the regulated setting for learning how to deal with violence. A good Karate education with regular Kumite makes children, adolescents, and adults less violent. Therefore, more fights in the Dojo means less fight in the streets. By Thomas Prediger

The Violence Prevention Paradox of Kumite

From a violence prevention standpoint this may sound odd: more fights in the Dojo leads to less fights in the street. But every experienced Karate teacher will make the same observation. Let’s say, for example, that an aggressive and violent adolescent joins a dojo. The young person has difficulties controlling his anger and gets into fights on a regular basis. But after some months or years the adolescent calms down, gets more control over himself, and starts reacting less emotionally and more rationally in stressful situations.

One school teacher reported to me recently: “We can clearly see which students attend the Karate group in our school, and which do not. The ones who train Karate twice a week have become calmer, even when they are provoked or bullied. Even when another student hits them they maintain their cool and do not let the situation slip out of their hands. One year ago, they would go ballistic.”

No child, teenager, or adult from an unstable and challenging background with many years of experiencing violence will become Gandhi over night. But Kumite helps them to understand themselves and violence in all its facets. Eventually, they learn life-skills “that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life” (WHO 2012: 29) and which aggressive and violent people lack most of the time.

Kumite: Violence in a Structured Environment

What is the concept of violence in Karate and Kumite? At first, one experiences violence through physical pressure and contact. When two Karateka face each other even in the simplest form of Kumite like Gohan Kumite, the Uke (defender) has to defend his or her position. Tori, the attacker, has to put pressure on Uke by attacking with speed and power. The more advanced the Karateka become, the higher the likelihood that an unblocked attack will cause pain and injuries.

However, Kumite takes place in a very structured environment, unlike a street fight. Adherence to rules prevent the Kumite from becoming a brawl. They are structured in a way to evoke certain actions.

Kumite as Role Play

Gohon, Sanbon, Kihon Ippon, and Jiyu Ippon Kumite are all settings for role play. One plays the role of Uke, while another plays the role of Tori. Both roles are equally important. One has to execute violence in order to understand what happens when one does it. Especially in Kihon and Jiyu Ippon Kumite one also has the role to take and to cope with violence inflicted on oneself. In such a situation one cannot act based on raw instincts. First, Uke has to analyze and understand the situation. Second, Uke has to react within a prescribed set of techniques.

This role play offers an interesting insight: The Karateka cannot avoid the situation. Thus, he or she has to deal with it. Through this pattern, Karateka learn to deal and experience both roles: Being an attacker and being a defender.

The outcome is twofold: They see what happens when they apply violence, and they experience what happens inside them when they become a recipient of violence.

Introspection and Self-reflection

To master this inner state of uncertainty, any Karateka will need Kihon training. During Kihon, which requires introspection and self-reflection, they become aware of their own physical and mental processes.

But the prerequisite for the deeper understanding of violence is physical contact. Tori must step into the physical comfort zone of Uke. One must learn to deal with the intruder, and not become stressed by the opponents behavior. Especially at the beginning, Gohon Kumite requires courage. One must stand and wait until Tori attacks. Uke is not allowed to retreat or flee. So, Tori sets the pace. Thus, Uke must control his or her impulses and reactions. Maybe the intuitive reaction would be to run away or to attack. Both are prohibited.

The highest form of the role play is Randori like Jiyu Kumite. It increases the complexity and degrees of freedom for both Karateka. It is a double-role setting where both Karateka are Uke and Tori at the same time. Depending on the rules, dangerous punches and kicks are allowed. Hence, Randori requires experience and skill to manage one’s emotions and impulses to be successful. It is not a brawl. The winner will be the Karateka who manages the unpredictability of the fight, not the most aggressive one. Literally translated, Randori means “chaos taking.”

During training the Karateka will become acquainted with different violence situations. The exposure to violence in a controlled setting trains their understanding of violence.

The Role of the Instructor in Kumite Training for Violence Prevention

What is the role of the insctructor during the process? Karate is rule-based, but not self-structured. Thus, the instructor has at least two functions:

  • First, the instructor must be trustworthy and a role model. Students will follow when they believe that the instructor has experienced what he or she teaches.
  • Second, the instructor must recognize when situations become too intense. Then, the instructor has to intervene immediately. That does not mean that the instructor stops the exercise. Rather, it means to redirect the rising tension. The instructor has to create situations that push the students out of their comfort zone so that they experience some stress. That requires some experience and education on the part of the instructor.

A good Karate instructor is, therefore, somebody who knows situations of high emotional and cognitive uncertainty for Karate students. That counts even more for students with a history of violence as an aggressor and/or victim.

Kumite teaches Life-Skills, which lead to Violence Prevention

What actually happens to a Karateka during Karate and Kumite training that leads to violence prevention? They learn, improve, and strengthen their life skills. In its briefing about Violence Prevention from 2012 the World Health Organization ranks life skills as one of seven major factors for the reduction of violence. But what does the phrase “life skills” mean? According to the WHO they mean:

“abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” (p. 29)

The list of life skills that prevent violence:

  • Self-Awareness: self-esteem and confidence building, self-monitoring, self-evaluation, goal setting, etc;
  • Self-Management: anger and stress management, time management, coping skills, controlling impulses, relaxation, etc;
  • Social Awareness: empathy, active listening, recognizing and appreciating individual and group differences, etc;
  • Relationships: negotiation, conflict management, resisting peer pressure, networking, motivation, etc; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making: Information gathering, critical thinking, and evaluating consequences of actions

Karate is one piece of a larger puzzle. All these life skills become habits during Karate and especially Kumite training. But it further depends on the social environment where a student is embedded, relationships to parents and caregivers, etc. But through Karate’s focus on etiquette and ethics, as stipulated in the Dojo kun and Niju kun, regular training can have a specific effect on violence prevention. Karate has the potential to create a value system for students in how to behave and abstain in violent situations.

Children and Adults Learn to Cope with Violence

Karate training has a high education value for children. They are a tabula rasa and must learn to judge their own feelings. The concept of violence is abstract for them. They know that violence in any form is uncomfortable.

But it also holds a high value for adults and violence. For Adults, who have had already experienced violence as a victor or aggressor, can also gain a more productive relationship to it. Most of the time they are blocked to talk and reflect about it because societal rules declare violence to be a taboo. This attitude leads to a counterproductive effect: It creates enormous inner tension that can lead to more physical violence. However, this tension has to leave the body and mind. Karate offers a relief and teaches the life skills to cope with it. Hence it has a huge effect on violence prevention.

Conclusion: Kumite and Violence Prevention

Violence stems from, among other factors, a lack of life skills. Karate teaches these life skills, and does so in a structured and controlled violent setting. Karateka learn through their education to deal with violence, to feel empathy, to understand the consequences, to control their fears and aggression, and to resist pressure.

In Kumite they develop these skills in actual violent situations in order to control and tame the violence. They training of Kumite mitigates violence instead of increasing it. Therefore, Karate has a huge potential for violence prevention and is a active means to help individuals to “deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” Hence, the paradox of more fights in the Dojo leads to less fights in the street dissolves. Violence prevention does not mean eradicating it, but rather, civilizing and developing an educated relationship to it.

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How can Sport Karate Become Respected Again?

The picture shows children fighting is sport karate gloves. Thus, we ask the question:Is Shotokan effective?

Sport Karate has lost the respect of the global budo karate and combat fighter community. The reasons for this has been the sanitizing of karate to make it more attractive for the Olympic Games. But this project has failed. Now it is time to consider reforms of Sport Karate, to make it respected again. A proposal of reforms in the column Shotokan Essence by T.D. McKinnon

A Proposal of Reforms

Olympic Karate has been talked about, at least, since my heyday as a fighter in Scotland in the 1970s. The tournament organizers have been sanitizing competition Karate ever since, to present a more visually attractive event to the Olympic committee.

But has the whole sanitizing exercise been worth it?

With France leaving Karate off the agenda for the 2024 Paris Olympics, in favor of breakdancing, it appears that the Olympic dream might begin and end at the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics.

Therefore, the answer must be: No, it has not been worth it.

With the sensitization, sport karate has also lost a lot of respect within the Budo Karate and combat fighter communities. Yahara Mikio Sensei, when asked for his opinion of today’s sport Karate, is reported to have said, “No… no, this is not sport Karate… this maybe ‘sport fighting’, but this is not Karate.” I myself call modern sport karate ‘martial ping pong’ rather than a Martial Art.

Therefore, since the Olympic dream is over, let us start to envision how sport karate could regain its credibility. To do so, I will review a few elements in the WKF rule system and consider how they could be changed for the better. With a focus on Kumite, I will finish with a proposal of how future sport karate could and should look.

Sport Karate and World Karate Federation Rules

Within WKF point scoring competition, a score is awarded when a technique is performed according to the following criteria:

  • Good form,
  • sporting attitude,
  • vigorous application,
  • awareness,
  • good timing and
  • correct distancing.

Once these criteria have been met it depends on the technique how many points a fighter receives. I give you a brief overview here:

Ippon (3 points) is awarded for:

  • Jodan kicks
  • Any scoring technique delivered on a thrown or fallen opponent.

Waza-ari (2 points) is awarded for:

  • Chudan kicks.

Yuko (1 point) is awarded for:

  • Chudan or Jodan Tsuki
  • Jodan or Chudan Uchi.

Shortcomings of Sport Karate: WKF Rules and 4 Areas for Reform

So, where are the shortcomings of the WKF rule system? Following I discuss 4 areas of reform which are fundamental to karate. However, willfully or not, the WKF has neglected them.

1) The Lack of Kime

The first area stands at the center of karate: the concept of Kime. In the WKF rules, Kime is mentioned in the ‘Kata points to be considered’. However, it is yet not mentioned in the ‘Kumite points to be considered’. Why is that? There seems to be a lack of understanding of exactly what Kime is. And although Zanshin is not mentioned in the criteria it is mentioned in the latest rule changes (page 13 article VI) as a criterion often missing in a scoring technique. However, while I agree in regard to Zanshin, in my observation, Kime is the element most often missing from WKF competition scoring techniques.

Because Lack of Kime = lack of intent, that the controlled technique would indeed do the damage it represents. A technique can be ‘delivered vigorously’ (WKF criteria) and have no ‘Kime’. More acceptable, from a Budo standpoint, would be ‘delivered vigorously with Kime!’

2) The Role of Referees in WKF Competitions

In WKF competition, the referee conducts the competition but doesn’t seem to make any decisions concerning the actual scoring. Unless a corner judge shows a flag the referee cannot award a score. At the latest Australian Karate Federation (Australian national level of WKF) Championships, I observed missed flag calls on several occasions. No wonder. It is difficult enough to control a bout, let alone, simultaneously, watch for flag calls. Conversely, I did see referees, having recognized a scoring technique, stopping the bout; however, with no flag support, the referee was forced to restart the bout without awarding a point.

The picture shows that the Olympic Dream of the WKF is over. That is the reason why reforms of sport karate should be considered.
The Olympic Dream of the WKF is over!

3) Yuko is Unnecessary

In my competition days (and still in Shobu Ippon and Shobu Sanbon), an Ippon was a decisive strike leaving the opponent with no chance of defending against it. It had to be delivered with Kime, while balanced and in a state of Zanshin. A slightly less decisive technique would score a Waza-ari; two Waza-ari equaled one Ippon. Cleanly delivered kicks to the head and strikes to a downed opponent generally scored Ippon. However, any technique, regardless of its nature, delivered with all the scoring criteria in place could score an Ippon, if it was considered a decisive technique.

Many years ago, I watched (the legendary tournament fighter) Frank Brennan Sensei, subtly, encourage his opponent to attack with mawashi geri. Mid-kick, Frank executed a gyaku tsuki that knock him to the floor. Frank scored an Ippon, and his opponent received a Mubobi (unprotected while attacking recklessly). The epitome of timing!

With WKF criteria in today’s competition rules, a Yuko might be awarded for the gyaku tsuki; if indeed a warning isn’t given for excessive contact.

As mentioned in the WKF Rule Book – affective from 1.01.2019 – page 13 article X:

‘A worthless technique is a worthless technique – regardless of where and how it is delivered. A bad technique, which is badly deficient in good form, or lacking power, will score nothing.’

Quite right, it should score nothing. From a Budo standpoint: a technique that has not managed to touch enough bases to score a Waza-ari and has no potential to cause damage should score nothing. So where is the point of a Yuko?

And yet, technically, one Yuko can win a match. Indeed, one Yuko could win an Olympic Gold Medal. From a Budo standpoint, that is just wrong. Only a karateka, who really prevails, should win a fight.

4) Senshu Rule and Hikiwaki

Senshu rule: in the event of a draw, the fighter to have scored the first point in the match wins. This rule is questionable. In my competition days, I liked to claim a psychological edge by getting the first score. However, from a fighter’s viewpoint, the Senshu rule is nonsense. This rule creates the incentive to get the first point, which is usually a yuko, under any circumstances.

Even worse is the Hantei rule, whereupon a drawn match cannot be decided by Senshu, i.e. no score given. An arbitrary vote is taken. Hantei is another rule that, from a fighter’s perspective is nonsense. What if a fighter focuses on a counter-strategy? Hantei fosters hyper-active fighters instead of fighters with Zanshin.

In the event of Hikiwaki (a draw) we had Enchousen, a one-minute extension rule. If, at the end of that time, it was still a tie the ‘sudden death’ rule was applied (first score wins). Those rules worked well. They were quick, simple and easy for competitors, officials and audiences to understand.

Reforms of the WKF rules are necessary

Sport is generally considered good for an individual, especially the young: teaching many of life’s lessons. But sport is not for everyone. Not everyone benefits from the kind of stress that accompanies competition with others. Nevertheless, even for those who don’t wish to compete, seeing your art performed, realistically, at an elite level is enlivening.

However, flash and showmanship have replaced Budo and practicality in sport Karate. Not only has this trend lost the respect of the martial arts world, traditionalists and the martial combat fighters alike, but also the wider community. To reform the four mentioned areas would be at least a first step to a more acceptable approach of sport karate.

True Karate-Do Spirit is missing

I have felt for some time that the true spirit of Karate-Do is missing from sport Karate, particularly the WKF. It’s a shame, because competition on such a wide, varied, multi styled level could be a positive, developmental element in Karate-Do. It was for me. However, the tendency for the sport to take precedence, as in many purely sport orientated organizations, diminishes the understanding of the larger picture: Karate-Do.

Karate-Do is far more than sport, more than Budo even. Karate-Do is a way of life, a competition with one’s self: ‘to be better today than you were yesterday.’ Rather than

merely honing and perfecting a few athletic techniques, the goal is being better in an expansive, holistic way.

Shobu Sanbon as Alternative

As for the sport: for what it’s worth, to close the ever-widening gap between the sport and the art; I, a life-long karateka, would recommend to the WKF: If the Shobu Ippon format is too restricting, the Shobu Sanbon format could be implemented. It forces the karateka to focus on a few decisive and vigorous techniques but still offers enough time and space for spectacular action. Of course, if the WKF did that they would need to teach competitors and referees alike the difference between ‘Delivering Vigorously’ and ‘Delivering with Kime’!

This legendary fight between Toshihito Kokubun and Johan Johan LaGrange in Tokyo at the Shoto World Cup 2000 shows how intense and exciting Shobu Sanbon fights can be.
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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:

  • 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.

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Is Karate Effective for Real Fights? A Martial Arts Comparison

The picture shows two tigers fighting. They represent Shotokan and in the article T.D. McKinnon is discussing whether Karate is effective in real fights.

Is Karate Effective in Real Fights? Many karate practitioners and non-practitioners ask this question. Our columnist T.D. McKinnon tries to give an answer reflecting on his 50 years of experience in multiple martial arts which he compares and juxtaposes. He also illuminates what distinguishes a real fight from sports competition. Read another exciting part of Shotokan Essence.

I focused on the sport side of karate for about seven or eight years: competing, refereeing and coaching competition karate, representing at State and National level in my native Scotland, and my adopted home, Australia. In my wider martial arts experience, I was a boxer for four years, and spent a further four years training/coaching and promoting Muay
Thai and kickboxing fighters.

Combat Sports are not Real Fights

Training with the proper attitude for any of these combative sports demands a certain positive mindset and has many benefits, both physically and mentally. While competing, my timing, distance, core strength and confidence was probably at an all-time high. Your psyche doesn’t ever really forget that kind of intensity.

Timing, distance, core strength and confidence are some of the positive aspects of combat sports. However, in respect to transferring the experience to real fights, there is some negative baggage. In sport karate, for instance, the repetitious use of limited, non-lethal and sometimes downright impractical techniques, repetitively targeting to do no damage. “One simply needs to focus for more depth when the occasion demands,” is a comeback I’ve heard to that point. However, under extreme pressure, you react the way you repetitively train. Period! There is little time for thought and re-adjustment.

Real Fights and Fudoshin

I do believe that sporting competition can be invaluable to your over-all martial experience. However, I further believe that any experience of real fights – practical involvement with physical conflict – is priceless. In terms of your Fudoshin surpasses the sport experience one-hundred-fold.

There are also physical, mental and spiritual downsides to all combative sports, and far too many to properly scrutinize here. However, I will briefly address a few points.

The Limits of Martial Arts in Real Fights

For instance, while involved with one specific discipline, you narrow your focus to the particular techniques that are acceptable and practical in that particular arena. Also, one of those initial pros, ‘distance’, tends to get dropped from the advantages. The distance in sport karate, for instance, is rarely the same as in real physical conflict situations. Another of those pluses, confidence, tends to desert some people when the threat of real violence proves to be all too imminent.


Violent real fights was part of my experience before sport karate and so, when switching from one to the other, I inherently understood the difference. I had also been involved in boxing prior to sport karate; although, boxers can also fall into the sport versus reality conflict. Remember… you react the way you train; and boxers train repetitively for clean, non-lethal targeting. Some boxers may have been scrappers all their lives, using whatever is necessary to survive. However, in adverse situations (when things get real) one rule remains constant: you react the way you repetitively train.

Kyokushinkai Karate

I’ve seen it time and again with full contact Kyokushin fighters. I would be the first to agree that they are tough fighters, but their repetitive training is mostly punch, kick and knee to non-lethal targets, as well as not punching to the head while under pressure in their particular type of competition. Under duress, you naturally react the way you train repetitively.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai training is probably one of the quickest ways to get street ready. Learning to impact on moving targets with fist, shin, elbow and knee; and the standing grapple can be used to devastating effect. In Muay Thai, the difference between the ring and the street is probably minimal. However, it is an art that is almost exclusively a sport these days and non-lethal striking is practiced repetitively. I do love those Muay Thai elbows though.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Even the newest kid on the block, the Mixed Martial Arts fighter, is used to training repetitively to fight, with rules, in an enclosed area. They may have, comparatively, fewer rules, but rules they certainly have; in regard to illegal striking areas: throat, groin, eyes, joints et cetera. The MMA fighter’s repetitive training completely avoids those targets (as they should: it is still a sport after all) and so in a real situation, with their life on the line, the chances are that repetitively trained techniques will come to the fore.

Karate is Effective, because it Comprises Everything

Prior to Karate, I trained in several fight disciplines, and even after my Shotokan involvement began, I believed that I needed to round out my martial arsenal by training in several disciplines. I eventually realised, however, never ceasing my Shotokan training, that just about everything I needed was right there in my Shotokan. You just have to really study kata, with Shoshin (beginners mind), and you will find everything you need.

Happo Kumite: Martials Arts and Multiple Attackers in Real Fights

There is something that all these combat sports have in common: they are all fighting, and training to fight, a single advisory. Let me tell you something about adverse situations: in my experience they rarely involve just one adversary.

So – whether you are a sport karate fighter, a boxer, a Muay Thai fighter, a judo player, a Brazilian Jujitsu competitor or an MMA fighter – taking on more than one adversary is very different. As a sports combatant you may have the edge over a single adversary with no fight experience, and who doesn’t train to fight. However, in a real life adverse situation, possibly with multiple opponents, the picture is changed unimaginably. Therefore, a realistic karate training also comprises happo kumite.

Avoid Going to the Ground in Real Fights

In some of the above mentioned combat sports the main aim, or at least a major part of the game, is to force or take your opponent to the ground; sacrificing your stand-up position. In the adverse situation I keep referring to – the one with multiple opponents – for obvious reasons the very last thing you want to do is sacrifice your standing mobility.

Training Karate for Effectiveness

I have trained and fought in most fight disciplines, and I have defended myself in many adverse situations, even fighting for my very life. Believe me… you react the way you train; so train for real situations.

I’m not saying that you should never focus on a martial sport. I am saying that you should not fool yourself into thinking that the sport is the art. Regardless of the ferocity of the sport… never forget that the sport is a game made up from non-lethal portions of the art, as a sport should be.

Effective Karate and Sport are not the Same Thing

I have been a student of the martial arts for at least fifty seven years, and I have been a karateka and a teacher of Karate-do for close to fifty of those years. I have had a great deal of experience as a fighter and trainer/coach of fighters. In the real world, I was a British Parachute Regiment soldier: trained in all aspects of fighting, armed and unarmed. As a ‘Close Personal Protection Operative’ (CPPO) and a trainer of CPPOs at the highest professional level, I practiced my art for real. I’ve been a Budoka for most of my life.

I’ve said quite a lot here about the sport versus the Budo. I feel completely qualified to have strong opinions and to make general, sweeping statements on the subject of combat in any of its forms… The sport can be part of Budo, and you can have Budo in the sport; however, and I say this, emphatically, “The sport and the art are not the same thing!”

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How to fight? The “Sen”-Concept in Karate

“Sen” is a fundamental and crucial concept for combat. However, Karateka either do not know about the variations of the concept or ignore its practical relevance. In his new colum “Karate Essence” Thomas McKinnon provides a detailed account of the concept, its variations, and how to apply it in practice.

Sen (jap. 先) means future, prior, to precede, or ahead, depending on the dictionary. In Budo terminology it is variously described as initiative. To Initiate: to cause or facilitate the beginning of something. For the advanced karateka, it is imperative to understand the concept of Sen in combat.

What is the Concept of Sen about?

Like most of the esoteric Japanese terms, I have studied and explored, there is a lot more to the various “Sen” terms than a direct translation to English can explain. We can distinguish at least four concepts:

  • Go no sen (jap. 後の先): After the attack, block/evade and counterattack.
  • Sen no sen (jap. 先の先): Intercepting the attack with simultaneous block/evade and counterattack.
  • Sen sen no sen (jap. 先先の先): Attack immediately when you become aware that your assailant is going to launch an attack.
  • Deai (jap. 出会い): Don’t wait until your assailant plans to launch an attack: attack immediately you are aware of the intention.

Taking Control Over the Fight

The above guidelines are fairly accurate, as far as they go, and they give you an idea about timing. However, there is something that should be clearly understood about the concept of Sen in combat: Go no sen, Sen no sen, Sen sen no sen or Deai are all forms of taking the initiative (taking control).

Go no Sen: This video shows Sakata vs. Yamamoto during the 1982 JKA All Japan Championships.

I am actually talking about Budo: responses in real world conflict. Remember, the original purpose of karate was not for karateka to fight each-other in sport. It was for self-defense. To clarify: we could go way back to Bodhidharma’s (possibly the first) codified practice for self-defense (5th century AD). However, perhaps Funakoshi Gichin Sensei’s origins (19th century AD) with Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū, which addressed defense against the 36 habitual acts of civil violence, might be far enough back?

Sen is Present in Any Combat System

The Sen Principle, however, also relates to Ippon or Sanbon kumite, or sport karate in any of its forms, or indeed any sports combat in all of its various guises. To most spectators of the numerous sporting combat activities, the utilization of Sen might not be immediately apparent. If you were to talk to serious competitors in the said activities, though, most of them would completely understand the concept. They may not recognize the Japanese terms, but the concept of taking the initiative as it relates to the Sen Principal would be perfectly clear to them.

The Four Concepts of Sen in Detail

Go no Sen

The ‘Go’ (jap. 後) in ‘Go no sen’ means ‘after’. Quite literally, immediately after you’ve been attacked, let’s say with a punch, or indeed a flurry of punches – which you have effectively blocked/evaded – you counterattack. That’s not to say that if you fight with a Go no sen methodology you simply wait for the attack to take place. The purpose of Initiative (Sen) is to gain advantage over your opponent.

You may, for instance, control your adversary’s timing by your own presence and tactics, actually dictating your assailant’s attack options (taking the initiative). Some karateka are naturally good counter fighters, Go no sen specialists, who excel in this area. With fast reflexes and a strong, dynamic spirit, or Kihaku, they control their adversary and the fight.

Example: Seeing an imminent attack, you might fake an attack: balking to trick your adversary into striking through an apparent hole in defenses, only to be blocked/evaded and counterattacked.

Sen no Sen

Having control of the when, how and where, you can effectively block/evade while simultaneously delivering an effective counterattack; potentially finishing the encounter.

Example: Leaving your face apparently unguarded, offering your chin, you capitalist on your adversary’s attempt to punch you. Knowing the when and where, you will also limit his options in regard to how. Slipping the punch, using tai sabaki, perhaps covering with a heel palm block, while simultaneously delivering a body blow to the sternum. A version of this method, with tai sabaki as the major contributor of both defense and counterattack might also be called Tai no sen.

Sen Sen no Sen

When confronted by an adversary/opponent – your awareness in the appropriate state of Zanshin – reading your adversary’s intention to attack, you take the initiative, immediately launching a pre-emptive strike. Be aware: defending your-self using Sen sen no sen, it could appear that you arbitrarily attacked your adversary. Nevertheless, in a self-defense scenario, particularly if your adversary is in possession of a bladed or blunt force weapon, Sen sen no sen might be a highly advisable mode of action.


When facing an adversary in a real-life, combative confrontation, after behaving in accord with proper etiquette:

  1. Giving your adversary no reason to attack you.
  2. Attempting to resolve the impending confrontation non-violently.
  3. Attempting to remove your-self from the situation.

You, unavoidably, find yourself facing a person intent on assaulting you. Deai may be a highly desirable option. Deai: attack as soon as you are aware of your assailant’s intention.

Sen and the Bully: A Personal Account of Sen in Action

Sen no Sen

“Wait!… Can’t we talk about this?” I said, stepping between the assailant and my client. His immediate response was to throw a right hook. Executing a left age-uke – while using tai sabaki to close distance and slip inside his hook – intercepting the punch and, continuing the momentum, snaking around his neck, I locked-on a vice-like headlock. Sen no sen: taking the initiative, intercepting an attack while simultaneously counter attacking.

Thomas McKinnon received it practical combat training from the British Parachute Regiment. Later he studied several martial arts and became a high-risk Close Personal Protection Operative. He applied the concept of Sen regularly.
Thomas McKinnon received it practical combat training from the British Parachute Regiment. Later he studied several martial arts and became a high-risk Close Personal Protection Operative. He applied the concept of Sen regularly.

Go no Sen

Struggling briefly, he attempted to grab my privates. I was wearing a groin guard. I inserted my right thumb into his eye socket and he began to scream. Go no sen: block/evade and counterattack.

After soliciting an apology and a promise to behave civilly, I released him. However, as he became aware of the growing crowd of observers, he changed from terrified, to embarrassed, and finally, almost snarling with indignant anger.

Sen Sen no Sen

Plainly he was about to attack. Pre-empting… ‘Smack!!!’ I whipped out a back-fist that snapped his head back. He never even saw it coming. Sen sen no sen: taking the initiative before the attack is launched.

Putting his hand to his mouth, looking at the blood, he said, “What was that for?!”

“You know very well” I said simply.


Even angrier now, he was formulating another attack plan. I hit him again, harder this time: he staggered, knees wobbling. Deai!

“Stop hitting me!” he cried, frustrated and embarrassed.

He Did not Gave up

“Give it up and go home then!” Suddenly, braking away, he ran to his vehicle, returning a moment later brandishing a large pair of shearing scissors.

Earlier, my client had said, “I wouldn’t put it past him to be carrying a knife or something.”

“Most people who carry knives in these situations”, I replied, “are inclined to, initially, show them off for effect. If he shows me a knife, I’ll take it from him and stick it where the sun doesn’t shine!”

I was calm, relaxed in my Zanshin, trusting that my Fudoshin would produce the appropriate Sen response when my client spoke up from behind me. “Take them off him, Thomas, and stick them where the sun doesn’t shine!”

Suddenly unsure, he looked me in the eye and I smiled. He ran to his car and drove quickly away.

Sen is Crucial

To understand the principals of Sen that best suit you, you must first understand your own nature. However, lest you become predictable in combat, you should train in all aspects of Sen; your Fudoshin will thank you by reacting accordingly.

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Does Shotokan Karate Work in Full Contact Fights?

Does Shotokan karate work in full contact fights? As an experienced fighter, who also fought in Karate Combat, I will point out and enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of Shotokan karate when venturing into full contact. I begin with a list of do´s and dont´s as well as disadvantages of Shotokan for full contact fights. In the second half of the article I present its advantages and show what it distinguishes from other martial arts. By Jonas Correia

1 – In Karate the hands are always low

The explanation for this is quite obvious: karate fighters keep their hands apart because they fight at a long distance. But when a full contact martial arts fighter gets punched one time, he will not have the slightest intention of stopping advancing towards you, and that will become a big problem. He will throw not only one punch, but two, three, four and as many as it takes to knock you down. It is at this time that the hand on the face is sorely missed. The transition of a karate fighter to always protect the face is not so easy and takes time to become natural, as the lack of freedom of the arms affect our movement as karateka.

2 – To not drop and raise body level during fights

I constantly hear from my full-contact coach that my technique is very “plastered”. The truth is that karate fighters do not have the habit of constantly lowering and raising the body level as boxers do, and this becomes a problem. The importance of this skill is of utmost importance so that in addition to making it difficult for the opponent to reach the head and it also has an excellent function of confusing the opponent in relation to the attacks.

Convince yourself about Jonas Correia´s Shotokan skills.

3 – Not knowing how to get out of a clinch

The clinch is an excellent opportunity to take a breath when the fighter is already tired. But it is also often used on purpose to make use of elbow and knee techniques, or even throwing. Karate fighters turn out to be an easy victim of the clinch as the opponent continues to advance to the point where he is “clenched”. Knowing how to protect your face and getting out of a clinch is of utmost importance. However, for that you need to know how to defend and take the control of the opponents arms to take the advantageous position. The technique used for this is not so difficult, but it must be practiced constantly.

4 – Not knowing how to avoid a throw

Many old karate masters from JKA were already judo black belts before joining karate. But due to competitive rules (and other purposes of the art), there was no need (or willingness) to teach karate fighters how to fend off throwing techniques. A take-down becomes a thorn in the side of most karate fighters. ‘Sprawl’ is the most important technique for learning to defend yourself in this regard. However, there are several others that deserve attention.

5 – Not knowing how to fall

Anyone, who has been thrown awkwardly, knows exactly how possible it is to lose a fight due to the impact on the ground. Knowing how to fall is very important.

6 – Not knowing how to get up off the floor safely

You avoided the fall. It didn’t work. You managed to dampen the fall. But you couldn’t get off the ground. Here’s a defeated fighter.

There are two phases, which Karateka must learn, to get up. The first, is while your opponent is still standing. The second, takes place when your opponent is already on top of you. They are two totally different situations. But for a karate fighter the pose a single problem. Because no karate fighter wants to stay on the floor.

7 – Breath & Endurance

Forget everything you have learned in terms of technique if your breath and endurance is not good enough. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But the truth is that most fights (when the fighters are on same level) are defined by who has the strongest lung. Karate fighters can be challenged by that issue, because the breath and endurance can overcome your strategies. While we karate fighters have been too worried about a millimeter-accurate position of a particular muscle to apply a technique, the full contact fighter is training exhaustively to knock you out. Any Karate fighters wishing to enter the world of full contact fights must eliminate these excesses  and focus on breath and endurance.

Jonas Correia in his first full contact fight in the Karate Combat League.

8 – Not knowing how to move in different angles

Moving in different angles are a deficiency in Karate. Even knowing that few practitioners still practice it, we know that move in and out in straight lines for a karate fighter is much more comfortable, right? By the time a karateka enters a ring, cage or pit, he will not avoid the opponent’s attack by going always backwards. Strong angled movement training is required, especially looking for the opponent’s back.

9 – Always wanting to block opponents punches from a long distance

Do not take me wrong: I do not mean it is always a bad thing. But always blocking the punches at a distance sometimes exposes the face for a second or third attack specially after your opponent is close enough. Sometimes it is better to close a shield with the arms on the head. Then you go out looking for the opponent’s hand.

10 – Chin up

We train kihon constantly and are always reminded to maintain a straight posture, or also to keep our heads up. This becomes a big problem for karate fighters who, after taking the first punch to the chin, become bewildered and no longer know what to do. A high chin for your opponent and it will be a satisfaction for him like a toy inside a Kinder egg.

11 – Avoid to be touched at all costs

Karate fighters don’t like to be touched, because our training is aimed at not being touched at all costs, or it will result in defeat. The rules of karate were based on kendo, where anyone, who was struck by a sword, would be defeated. Although karate masters have interpreted karateka as weapons, we know that our weapons are not as lethal as the steel swords. Strong actions are needed much more than a good punch to win most of fights (specially using mma or boxing gloves).

This caprice of wanting to avoid being touched at all costs turns out to be a bigger problem. Karate fighters find it difficult to be blunt when attacking. Plus the fact that full contact fight arenas do not allow you to always run away from an attack. The best thing is to learn that you are there to fight. Sooner or later you will have take some punches!

12 – Not be able to use and defend short and circular techniques

“Where did this punch come from?” Is the first sentence that comes to mind when you took an uppercut for the first time. If we are going to count on knocking out someone with a circular punch or a straight punch, we will realize that the circular punch is the “king of knockouts”. Also, straight punches require much more technique than a circular punch.

In a street fight, how many straight punches and how many circulars are thrown? Have you ever thought about that? Why doesn’t karate emphasize circular punches if they are so effective? This topic does not lend itself to seeking this answer. But to elucidate the importance of defending and applying circular punches.

Ok, ok … I know that in Nakayama’s book there are kagi zuki, mawashi zuki etc. However, the point here is the karate fighters deficiency and not about techniques archived in a book. Besides that: mawashi zuki is very different from a hook punch.

Lyoto Machida is the most prominent Shotokan karateka in the field of full contact. In this video you can find some of his Shotokan highlights.

13 – Continuous attack

Karate athletes, when applying a well-done technique, have a habit of stopping the attack pending the judge’s decision to stop the fight and give the point. When it is different, karate fighters follow with a small combination. But in the contact fight it is quite different. Karate fighters will be frustrated after the opponent blocks the first three techniques. Then they will stop and think of a plan. But then is too late. The opponent will deliver a devastating combination of punches of different heights and shapes and will only stop when the round is over.

Now what? Is Shotokan karate useless for full contact fights?

Now, the reader must be thinking that the purpose of this article is to belittle karate. But no. On the contrary. I have explained where the frustrations of karate fighters in full contact sports come from. From here, I will continue to explain why karate is an art that promotes a major difference in full contact fights.

The first day of sparring is frustrating. In addition to the breath not letting you do your job, the battle between the conscious (what we know by the goal of full contact fights) and the unconscious (the way we have been training during the traditional karate years) is one of the big problems. Some people even think they have spent years of their lives training the wrong art. Or that karate does not give them what they need.

But after going through the frustrations mentioned above and starting to become familiar with the contact fight system, I began to use karate as my greatest advantage, and below I list the reasons:

1 – Sen-no-sen

Is there anything more frustrating for a fighter than taking an unexpected hit? Sen-No-Sen is a thorn in the side of every fighter facing a karate fighter. Sen-no-sen adapted for contact fights is a strong ally, which for non-karate practitioner turns out to be an incomprehensible and unexpected tactic.

This video analysis nicely how Lyoto Machida applies Shotokan tactics and techniques in MMA.

2- Excellence in distance & foot work

The footsteps of a contact fighter are obvious and predictable, while karateka have trained a lifelong how to confuse and hide intentions with their movements. In addition to fast and precise movement, karatekas have long-distance control, which makes the opponent have to be more active to find his space.

3 – Excellence in reading intentions

Karatekas are trained to conceal any unnecessary movement. Through this habit they give opponents no chance to read of your intentions. This training teaches karatekas also to read attack intentions or positioning. Thus, they are much more sensitive than an ordinary fighter towards this task.

4 – Excellence in feints

Rotating the hip to fake a gyaku-zuki and throwing a kizami-zuki. Raising the knee like mae geri and switching to mawashi geri. Among many other tactics, these are karate specialties.

5 – Excellence in eliminating unnecessary movements

Those, who have had the least contact with Japanese culture, can understand a little about Japanese minimalism. This applies to many of the Japanese arts and would be no different in karate.

Minimalism in techniques makes a lot of difference.

6 – Technical excellence

Although in the previous topics I have mentioned eliminating technical excesses in order to emphasize exhaustive training, I would like to clarify that there is an advantage in this regard in terms of long term technical development. The karateka, who has managed to synchronize various muscles and joints to perform a technique perfectly and is now working on exhaustive training for contact fights, has the natural advantage of leveraging a technique far more successful than a regular fighter can do. An ordinary example of this is our concern to keep the heel on the floor while kicking. Oother arts care little about it.

7 – Better balance and coordination due to Kata training

By avoiding getting into the controversy about kata’s applicability to Kumite, I can assure you that there is at least something we cannot deny. Kata offers us a great possibility of understanding certain movements that only kumite practice would not offer us. Kata arouses not only technical correction, but lower and upper limb synchronization in an absurd amount of combinations. In addition to giving a unique notion of stability and balance.

Lyoto Machida practices kata during the preparations for his next MMA fight.

8 – Higher impact concentration by technique

The concept of Ikken Hissatsu, though many people find it utopian, has given us the advantage of considering every technique as the ultimate technique. While ordinary fighters often practice techniques around exhausting repetitions, a karateka has the ability to concentrate a lot of force on one definitive technique. This becomes a big advantage when there is an opportunity.

Makiwara training enhances this.

9 – Ambidextrous Training

The first thing a common full contact fighter notices when studying his opponent is whether he is left handed or right handed. Karateka train both sides with equal intensity. Fighting comfortably on both sides becomes a big problem for ordinary fighters, and that’s a big advantage for karate fighters.


The truth is, karate is a very complex, long-term, lifelong art, while full contact fighting is more direct and immediate. Most MMA fighters and kickboxers, and so on retire early due to injuries. If a karate man/women uses karate intelligently, coupled with the hard and exhaustive training of full contact fighting, he will become a fighter with great potential.

Remember that Lyoto Machida had a record of sixteen unbeaten fights for using many of the advantages of karate. He only came to know his first defeat after facing Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who had to train a little karate to better understand the Machida game.


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Kumite Classics: Masao Kagawa vs. Georg Best

Usually, Masao Kagawa´s style is nothing but splendid. But the following match was not the most beautiful fight. On the other hand, it still belongs to the most exciting matches in the history of Shotokan. In 1988, Masao Kagawa meet Georg Best at the JKA World Shotokan Cup in Brisbane, Australia. The incredible bout took therefore place between two most unequal fighters one could imagine.

A Bout Between Unequal Fighters

Masao Kagawa was already 33 years old and an accomplished fighter back then. Georg Best, on the other hand, had the role of the contender. However, he arrived in Brisbane with a tremendous winning streak. He who won the European Championships in the individual kumite category in 1986 and 1987. Georg Best had therefore no reason to worry. His self-esteem and his fighting spirit must have been on a high during this years.

Masao Kagawa vs. Georg Best – The Duel of the Unequal Opponents

Besides this fact, Georg best had another advantage: his size. As you can see in the video, he towered above Masao Kawaga. Georg Best was at least one head taller than his Japanese incumbent.

Masao Kagawa: No Means Against the Reach of Georg Best

The contenders had to meet in the individual and team kumite competition of the event. Both times, Georg Best could win the bouts. But Masao Kagawa showed an incredible amount of fighting spirit against the much taller British fighter. In the end, he did not find a means to deal with the difference in size. Georg Best utilized his advantage in a perfect way and kept Masao Kagawa on distance. Even with his splendid kicking techniques he did not manage to reach his opponent or to put him in real trouble. Georg Best understood in an smart way to dominate the fight through his reach.

For smaller karateka this fight teaches an excellent lesson to learn how to fight against taller opponents. Standard shobu ippon strategies might not work under such circumstances.

However, this duel is without a doubt a classic.

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Classics: Frank Brennan Kumite Highlights

The picture shows Frank Brennan, the undisputed kumite champ of Great Britain.

Among the outstanding British Karatekas one has clearly distinguished himself: Sensei Frank Brennan of the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB). Between the late 1970’s and early 1990’s he was a feared and highly respected national and international kumite and kata competitor. According to the KUGB, kumite legend and national head coach of Japan, Masahiko Tanaka, once said in an interview “that the one man that the whole Japanese Team were specifically trained to beat was Frank Brennan.”

Blessed with equally strong hands and legs, an incredibly dynamic and speed as well as with a sharp mind Sensei Brennan managed to beat a variety of strong fighters during his career. Until now, his fights are exciting to watch and a benchmark for great and strong Shotokan Karate. Enjoy the following fight highlights of Sensei Brennan.

Opener Picture of Sensei Frank Brennan by the KUGB