Entering the Ring

The entrance in the ring is important because at this time the judges as well as your opponent is already evaluating you based on first impressions. The walk to the entry point on the ring should be done with respect. No officials or competitors should be cut in front of. To do so is an immediate demonstration of disrespect and the judges see this immediately. It also shows a disregard for basic fundamentals or the lack of knowledge of karate etiquette. You should walk with a positive stride and with the eyes focused on your direction. Your head should be held high and your posture sure and upright. A bow from the hips, not the neck is rendered before stepping foot into the ring. Enter the ring to your mark and bow to the referee and immediately focus your attention forward to your opponent in the ready stance. Hachiji dachi with fists clenched in front of you. Bow when instructed by the referee. The match then begins.

Body Language Analysis

If you have not seen the fighter fight before, likely you have seen them walking and interacting with others before the match. You may have had time to assess the fighter before the actual competition begins. If not, you can begin your analysis as soon as the fighters start to assemble around the ring. As the person approaches their mark, make a careful analysis of the points outlined above and make a quick assessment of what techniques from your arsenal can be used and will be effective.

Number of Competitors and Pacing

Analyze the number of competitors to determine how much energy you can expend in the early matches. A small division means you can maximize the intensity of your attack and defense with running out of energy. A very large division means you will have to pace yourself. Too much energy expended early in the tournament leaves little energy to fight your most skilled opponents in the final matches. Too little energy expended may result in a defeat early on. A personal analysis must also be made prior of your own physical condition. Have you been running or doing other aerobic exercise to build stamina? Even doing repeated kihon and kata will develop stamina as well. Learning how to pace oneself in a tournament requires repeated experience in tournament situations to be able to assess your physical stamina and the pace at which you must fight at to maximize your effectiveness and efficiency in the ring.

Knowing When To Be On The Defensive

So often during point kumite tournaments I have seen fighters that are ahead in points on their opponent, lose the match because they did not know when to stop being on the offensive and to take a defensive position. In a three point match if you are ahead 2 points to 1 point with 30 seconds in the match, it is the best strategy to keep your distance from your opponent and leave the burden of scoring points up to your opponent. One of the times when you expose yourself and are most vulnerable is when you are on the offensive. When you are on the offensive some of your limbs that are a part of your defense are now used for offense and thus create an opening in your defense. By refraining from going on the offensive when you are ahead on points, you maintain your maximum defense. The best defense is a distance. By maintaining your distance and side stepping your opponent you are able to maintain your lead for the duration of the match, increasing your chances of victory.

Counter Puncher or Offensive Fighter?

Finding out if your opponent is a counter puncher or an offensive fighter will help you assess your opponent and determine your course of action of how to fight. If your opponent has fought previously and you had the opportunity to observe them then already you know how they tend to attack 

If you have not seen your opponent fight a simple test can be used to see if the opponent is a counter puncher or not.  Execute a half jab to the face while sliding forward to your attacker and immediately recover back to a defensive position. When you did this the opponent usually does one of two things. If they are a counter puncher, during your attack they did not move back or moved back little with their hands maintaining a guard position and the hand "cocked" ready to deliver a blow. If they are an offensive fighter then they usually move back. This type of fighter will yield you when you attack and defend themselves. When you stop attacking or when there is a break in the action, they will often return the attack to you with a barrage of techniques themselves. When a fighter attacks they create openings in their own defense when they punch or kick. The counter puncher waits for the split second when these opening present themselves and they capitalize on these opportunities with an immediate punch and sometimes but not as often will  counter with a kick.

You may also try this test with a half slide forward reverse punch and see how the opponent reacts. This is not an absolute test as many fighters are both counter punchers and offensive fighters but in general most fighters tend to favor one type of fighting over the other and will demonstrate this tendency during kumite.

Working The Referees and Judges

Learning how to present yourself to the officials is a very important part of competition. It is the referees and judges that award the points so how you present yourself to them and how they perceive you are both important. Complete respect must be given to the officials at all times. Following the protocols of respect are absolutely necessary. Some basic pointers:

1. Never cross in front of a judge or competitor, always walk behind them
2. Never enter the ring until instructed to do so by the referee
3. Bow to the referee after entering the ring
4. Never argue with the referee or judge regarding a call they have made
5. Do not speak to an official unless spoken to first or unless absolutely necessary.
6. Show no disrespect to your opponent at any time regardless of what they may do to you.

Your demonstration of strength of spirit and respect begins the second your name is called to enter the ring and the officials are watching you from this moment. This is where a first impression is made and where initial evaluations of strength are made as well as an observation as to the adherence to protocols. 

Once in the ring you must obey the officials directions without hesitation. Any delay in obeying a command is a sign of disrespect. When told to stop fighting you must stop any offensive movement but maintain your defense as you break with your opponent.

Positioning is also very important. If you execute a reverse punch and your opponent's back is facing the referee where they cannot see the technique, the referee can't give you a point. In addition by watching the judges to see what judges are scoring your techniques tells you to position your attack such that the referee and/or a judge that will call your points can see the technique. All too often a competitor is oblivious to the position of the officials and when they do not get the point they say it was bad judging when in fact it may be the fault of the fighter by not positioning their body such that the officials can see the attack. The officials are only human and can call only the points they see.

If what you feel is a bad call is made, keep your mouth shut. It is considered extremely bad respect to make comments or even demonstrate bad attitude by making disrespectful gestures when a bad call may be made. These comments will only infuriate the officials and it will make your job of securing future points even more difficult. It may also result with your ejection from the tournament. Each judge has a different tolerance level for disrespect and even the smallest infraction will get you disqualified by some judges.

Acknowledging Contact

In a light to no contact point kumite tournament when no face contact is allowed it is good strategy is to acknowledge contact when it is excessive. I never advocate faking injury when contact is made. Faking injury is dishonorable and shows a weak spirit. What I suggest is that you merely look at the referee and point to the place of contact one time with no signs of pain or disrespect on your face. This respectfully tells the judge that you have been hit. The judge will at this time make a judgment as to whether to penalize the opponent for contact. If no action is taken, ignore it and continue on. If nothing more the referee will be more aware to watch for contact on future infractions and will be have more respect for you because of the way you told him you were hit.

Tournament Strategies Part 1