Seeing the Mental Opening

Seeing the mental opening is looking into the mind of your opponent for any momentary lack of attention or concentration. The easiest place to see this is in the eyes of the opponent. Often times the eyes will indicate what and how the mind is thinking. The obvious one is when the eyes look away from the opponent. This is a physical indication that a mental distraction has taken place. Perhaps something happened in the next ring or someone in the crowd shouted out your opponent's name distracting them for a split second. When that distraction takes place, capitalize on it by delivering an explosive attack. The other indication I call "momentary daydreaming". This is when the opponent may be looking directly in your eyes, but they are thinking of something else. They may be thinking about something totally unrelated to the match at hand or they may be consciously thinking about what move they will do next or trying to predict what move you will do next. This daydream is also a prime opportunity to attack. Since there is no easy physical attribute to watch one must "feel" it. Sometimes the opponent may be looking directly at you but may have a blank look on their face as if they are somewhere else. This is one indication that the mental opening may exist. Be aware that mental opening, having no physical movement attached to them can be closed as fast as a thought can be generated. Any offense must therefore be explosive and direct as possible.

Be Aware of the Clock and Your Score at All Times

When fighting in point matches there is usually a 2 or 3 minute timed match. Be continually conscious of the time remaining. If you are down 1 point to 2 with 30 seconds left on the clock, do not be complacent. You cannot afford to be strictly a counter puncher at this time. This sounds like common sense but I have seen it happen dozens of times where a fighter is down on points and lets the clock run out and does nothing. Either they lost track of time or their score and did not realize they were down. If you are down on points and time is running out you have no choice but to initiate the attack especially if it seems as if your opponent seems complacent to let you make the first move. You must! Do not demonstrate a loss of patience and show any panic though otherwise it will be more difficult for you to score. You opponent will sense this and will try to stay clear of any movement you make if they are smart. Likewise if they are smart they will also wait you out and let the time run out. Be calm, focused, and prepared to deliver one of your saved techniques that you have mastered. If you are tied  this can give you the match. If you are down, you can tie the score and go into sudden overtime. Just don't wait too long!

Emphasize Your Point By Returning the Attacking Hand

One important part about tournament kumite is to make it as easy for the judges to see your technique and to deliver it with kime (focus).  One way to do this is by snapping the hand back to the hip after executing a punch or other hand strike. This makes the punch more focused and makes it easier for the officials to see your technique. It also demonstrates your intention to make the movement a scoring technique.  Accompanied by a loud kiai the officials will not easily be able to ignore a point move delivered in this fashion. In addition, a quick retraction makes it more difficult for the officials to see exactly how close you got to your opponent with your hand. So long as the strike is close to the target a point will often times be awarded even if direct contact is not made to the opponent. This is especially true with attacks to the midsection. In Shotokan tournaments, this movement is commonplace and it is almost expected if you are to score points. 

Working the High and Low

This concept is one of the most basic techniques but is often forgotten in tournament matches. The concept is to alternate your attacks between a high target (the face) and a low target (the stomach). The alternating is done within movements of the same set. The initial attack draws the defense to the level of the initial attack opening up the other level. For example a face punch followed up by a stomach punch. The face punch draws the defense up exposing the stomach for the second attack. This also works for kicks and sweeps as well. Kick or sweep low, follow up high to score the point and visa versa.  

Doubling Up on the Level of  Movements and Using the Same Technique

Since it is very common to deliver the high-low, low-high, combination of attacks, at times it is to your advantage to double up on the attack to a given level. Many fighters are used to blocking at one level and then immediately recovering to the opposite level in anticipation of a change in attack. If your opponent does this, it can be used as an advantage. You can also double up on the identical movement such as doing a double kezami (jab) with the same hand or a double reverse punch. Since it is not commonly done the opponent may be off guard and their hand already returning to the guard position as you are delivering the second move, thus scoring your point. 


Breathing is key during kumite. Your breathing should be deep, slow and deliberate. In through the nose and out through the mouth or in and out through the nose if you can get enough air. Fast shallow breaths do not replenish your body's oxygen as fast as slow deep breaths. Correct breathing will maximize your strength and reduce fatigue. Controlled breathing also helps you to keep a calm and focused mind as well. Slow deliberate breathing is one of the techniques used to alleviate stress. In addition, watching your opponent's breathing also tells you when they are inhaling or exhaling. In karate, we kiai, and exhale at the same time. It is difficult to deliver a strong technique and breathe in at the same time. Consequently it is therefore difficult to perform a strong defense when you are in the process of inhaling. If you watch your opponent's breathing, time your movement correctly, and attack during the time when they inhale, then you have a split second advantage.

Stay Loose to Increase Speed

One technique that can be used to increase delivery speed for point tournament karate is to stay loose throughout the movement including during the kime or focus point of the movement. To correctly deliver a strong punch it is necessary that you tighten the muscles at the point of impact and kiai. However, in tournament the idea is not to disable our opponent but to score a point on them. The tightening of the muscles at the focus point slows down the time of the retraction of the punch. By staying loose with the hand and arm during the extension, focus point, and retraction, you maximize your speed. This is not a good practice to get into for delivering strong karate blows but is viable strategy especially when fighting someone of equal speed or greater. You can utilize the additional speed that a loose body can give you. 

Keep the Weight Forward

When you wish to deliver an explosive forward movement such as an oizuki (stepping forward punch) try keeping the weight of the upper body a couple of inches forward over the hips. By keeping the body forward the bulk of your upper body mass is already in the direction that you wish to deliver the technique. With the body in this position it becomes easier and faster to launch the body into a forward movement. If the lead foot slides back a few inches before you start the attack, you increase the speed of the delivery even further. Be aware also that additional weight on the forward leg offers more defense against the ashi barai (sweep) as well. 

What To Do If Your Points Are Not Called

 If you are in a match and the referee is not calling your points, it could be for a number of reasons. Here are a few reasons and their solutions:
1. The official cannot see your point due to position
-Change the your position relative to the delivery of your technique so the official can see the point
2. The official does not feel the attack was strong enough
-Increase the strength of the attack, the speed of the retraction, and/or the volume of the kiai
3. The official does not think the technique itself merits a point
-Try a different technique. Some officials just do not like some moves or feel they lack power.
4. The official favors your opponent or the school they come from
-Make your points as clear as possible so they can't deny you the point. Don't give them any room for judgement. Make your points crystal clear by delivering simple techniques and kiai loudly.
5. The official does not like you personally
-Perhaps you did something to offend them. Again make the points clear so they will have no but to give you the point. At best you can get the corner judges to give you the point, the referee will have no choice but to give you the point if the corner judges are calling the point unanimously. 

Tournament Strategies Part 4