The assessment of an opponent in competition is important to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an adversary. Weaknesses should be capitalized on with attacks that are most effective against the weakness. Strengths must be taken into consideration to bolster the defense against the strengths being exhibited by the opponent. The best time to assess an opponent is when they are fighting in matches while you are awaiting your own match. Often times inexperienced fighters are distracted on the sidelines, talking to one of their team mates, or working on their own stretching and warming up. The experienced fighters are taking this valuable time to assess each person that fights in anticipation of being matched up with that person in later rounds.
Some of the observations that should be made:
1. Is the person primarily an offensive fighter or a counter puncher?
2. Does the opponent utilize mostly their kicks or their punches or a combination of both?
3. How fast does the opponent move?
4. Does the opponent seem to have a favorite technique that they constantly repeat?
5. How is the footwork and stance of the opponent? Are they upright? Rooted? Long? Weight forward or weight back?
6. What is the overall assessment of the conditioning of the person. Do they seem tired when competing?
7. What is the strength of the spirit of the karateka? Strong spirit and kiai?
8. What is the degree of the mental focus of the opponent?
9. Do they seem to be right handed or left handed fighters or both?
10. What is the degree of control the fighter seems to exhibiting? Do you need to pay special attention to your own defense when you are fighting them?
11. Does the opponent seem to be a home favorite? If so your points and techniques need to be clean to secure points against them.
Other times, you will not have the opportunity to watch every fighter compete before you are matched up against them. In this case there are many components of body language that can be read and interpreted to show these strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few of them:
The Eyes - Are the eyes focused? Does their look show that the mind is zeroed in on what it is being observed or not. A focused, piercing glare shows that the mind is focused on its adversary or on whatever task being performed whether it be kata or kumite. The degree of focus of the eyes shows the degree of intensity of concentration of the person. If the eyes are fixed on the opponent, the mind is in an ever-ready position. Eyes that wander show attention that is being focused elsewhere. Eyes that show an empty look show the lack of focus on the task at hand. It is said the eyes are the window to a person's soul. This may not be true but they are a window into the mind of the person. The eyes will also usually show an intention to make a physical movement a fraction of a second before the movement actually takes place. Reading a person's eyes can often tell a fighter that an offensive attack is starting a split second before the actual movement commences.
The Posture - Is the opponent's posture upright and straight? A straight posture emanates strength and confidence. A slouching posture shows the person is weak or vulnerable. A slouching poor posture demonstrates an uncertainty of one's ability and a non-confrontational attitude. Posture is also a reflection of the person's sprit. A straight posture demonstrates strong sprit while a cowering one shows weakness and vulnerability.
Confidence Level - Does the opponent seem confident and relaxed? If so the karateka may be a very experienced tournament fighter and so confidant in their skills that they are relaxed yet focused at the same time. Confidence alone does not win matches, but being relaxed gives the fighter a certain edge in that they eliminate the tension so common in tournament fighters. True confidence comes with years of training and competing and caution should be exercised when fighting such fighters.
The Walk - The walk or gait of a person also tells much about the opponent. Is the walk of the person well balanced? A well-balanced walk shows the person has training that gives them an extra edge of stability in their kumite. A strong forceful step shows the degree of power of the person walking. Is the arm movement during the walk show strength in the arms or do they flail like a rag doll when the opponent walks. Does the fighter show mental focus when they walk? Do they walk with a purpose or do they walk aimlessly like they do not know where they are going? A strong fighter shows attributes of all these strengths. Steps are positive, strong and balanced. Back and neck are straight and inline. Stomach is in and chest out showing strength and a positive attitude. Arms are held strongly by their side and move with strength while walking. Is the walk in sync and rhythmic or is it choppy? A rhythmic walk shows fluidity in movement and the ability to synchronize with a person whether attacking or defending.
The Breathing - The breathing should be deep and slow. When doing less strenuous activity the breathing should be done through the nose. When heavy activity is being engaged in one should inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with deep deliberate breaths. Shallow choppy or fast breathing shows the inefficiency in the ability to extract quantities of oxygen which may lead to fatigue during strenuous combat or activity. Choppy breathing shows a lack of rhythm which is a weakness that may manifest itself with the opponent unable to synchronize one's defense against an attacker. During activity, the respiration rate and the efficiency of the breathing should be taken into account to evaluate the fitness level of the opponent.
A strong fit body demonstrates willingness and discipline to exercise and eat properly. This applies to all bodies yet bodies come in all different sizes and shapes. By reading the physique of the body it is often easy to analyze the person's physical strengths and weaknesses.
A tall thin physique demonstrates reach with a degree of speed. The jab or roundhouse kicks are likely to be strong weapons of such a person. Reach is this person's advantage with the degree of speed obtainable dependant on the strength of the person. A fighter with this build easily executes punches and kicks to both the head and body.
A short thin physique shows speed of both hands and feet. The footwork on a person with this physique is usually very fast and nimble. This person will often be able to attack and retreat before a counter attack can be initiated. This person often times will rely on evasion using the footwork instead of a block. They are good punchers and kickers but do not have the range and therefore must rely on their footwork to get them within range of their opponent. The weakness, however, is less strength due to the lack of muscle mass and weight.
A tall stocky physique demonstrates extreme power at the sacrifice of speed but with the added benefit of reach. The movement is usually slow but very powerful. Power punches such as the reverse-punch are the strong point of a fighter with these physical attributes. Footwork is not nimble but is very sure-footed and strong. This person will often rely on the hands for defense instead of evasion using the footwork. Kicks are also usually strong but are slow and to the midsection. Leg sweeps are strong often taking both legs with them sending the opponent horizontal in the air.
A short stocky physique demonstrates power with greater mobility than the tall fighter of the same build. They are usually strong punchers but also have the ability to utilize footwork both in their attack and defense. Kicks are also usually strong but only at the midsection level, not to the head due to the shorter limb length.