Setting up your opponent involves making your opponent do what you want them to do and delivering a technique in response to the movement you have orchestrated. Most often it is done by offering an opening and drawing in an attack. The presentation of the opening should not be so obvious as to present itself as an obvious trap but must be done subtle enough to draw the attack in to be most effective. At times your opponent may not see the opening if you are too subtle. In addition, many opponents will attack an opening even if it is presented as an obvious opening to draw the attack. Not all opponents are in tune to the fact that they may be set up or they may think that they are fast enough to deliver the attack and get out before they can fall prey to your trap. A simple example of this would be to simple raise the lead hand, thus presenting the body as an open target. You are doing this with the hope of drawing in a counter punch to the stomach and are immediately prepared to drop the arm in defense and immediately counter attack with the reverse hand over the top of your defense to the face of the opponent. This type of presentation can also be done by dropping the hands to draw in a face attack and then dropping to deliver a stomach punch. More advanced versions would be to use a broken rhythm technique as discussed earlier and to display the opening during the slow movement of the broken rhythm set. This opening followed up by immediate defense and counter attack is very hard to defend against especially if the opponent has committed themselves to their attack.
Don't "Telegraph" Your Movement
A common mistake that many novice karate competitors display is what I call telegraphing the movement. You can see them change expression in the face, show tension in the body, or show a "wind up" motion before executing their attack. All of these things tell your opponent that an attack is coming a split second before it is even executed. Like the telegraph, your opponent is using body language to deliver a message from a distance before executing the technique. In essence, they are saying "here comes the attack, get ready for it". The way to avoid telegraphing is by learning to be explosive in your movements. Do not wind up or show tension before executing the technique. Instead of being like a spring being wound up ready to be released, be like a light bulb that has just had the switch turned on. Be explosive and immediate. Like wise, learn not to show tension in the body before doing a technique. Stay as loose and relaxed as possible before the delivery of the technique. This will better enable your body to deliver the explosive movement desired. Learn to keep a relaxed expression on your face. Many people raise their eyebrows, open their eyes wider, or clench their teeth right before they attack. Learn to keep a relaxed expression. On the other side, learn to be watchful of all these signals that tell you that an attack is coming. By being watchful, you will be prepared to deliver an immediate counter attack, often times before the opponent has a chance to deliver their own technique.
Attack off the Hajime (Begin Command)
Usually when the match first starts and the referee says "Hajime" which starts the match, the opponents will try to feel each other out and set a distance that they can work from to deliver attack or counter attack. Most people are not prepared to defend against an attack immediately after the hajime. One can utilize this to their advantage at least once during a tournament especially if you are faster than your opponent. It is not advised to repeatedly do this as your opponents and all future opponents watching will soon be wise to your strategy and will immediately prepare themselves for counter attack. This technique can also be utilized during the match immediately after the official stops the match to award the point or penalty or just stops the match for a restart. The advantage in this case is surprise. So long as surprise can be maintained, the attack remains effective. On the reverse side of this, always maintain your level of alertness immediately after the hajime. If an attack comes you can get the jump on the opponent and immediately deliver a counter attack. If it does not come it is of no consequence unless you were planning to do the same thing. One thing to note though is that many opponents like to touch fists at the beginning of the first round. To attack when someone extends their hand to you in a gesture of good sportsmanship is a bad idea and will not only infuriate your opponent but may influence the officials as well. If you think that a hand may be extended to you, wait until the first stop in the round and execute your attack at the beginning of the next round. Be prepared and on the defensive at all times. It may be you that extends the hand and get the point scored on you when you least expect it. Remember, once the command to start has been declared any legal attack may be delivered. Good sportsmanship may be the last thing on your opponent's mind especially in the finals.
Handling Injuries During a Match
Injuries during a match are inevitable in the course of competition. Therefore it is important to learn how to deal with injuries once you have received them. Learn to utilize your other techniques that do not need or minimize the use of the injured body part. For example, if you hurt your foot, don't continue to kick with that leg. It sounds like common sense but you would be surprised how many times this advice is not followed. An injured foot may be OK at the moment but it is in fact weakened and may not take much to disable it to the point where you can no longer compete. Learn to keep this body part where it has less exposure to your opponents attack. In the case of the injured foot, switch your stance so that the injured foot is rearward and furthest away from your opponent. Focus your mind such that you acknowledge the injury but do not let it upset your concentration. Dwelling on the injury or letting the pain take over your conscious mind creates huge gaps in your mental defense that can easily be capitalized on. Remember that longevity is key to winning the tournament. The longer you can stay in the game, the greater your chances of success.
Not Wasting The Good Techniques on a Poor Fighter
Earlier I had spoken about selecting a few good techniques to master, some of which may be used continuously to score points on if they are not too complex. The more complex the technique gets, often times it becomes more difficult to utilize them in tournament once you have used them once or twice in a match. Save these techniques for when you need them most. Do not waste the technique on someone you can defeat utilizing basic technique. By showing your technique, you eliminate the surprise factor against an opponent that may be watching your match that you may have to fight in later rounds.
Working The Distance
Distancing is perhaps one of the most important keys in kumite. Proper distance from your opponent is your primary defense. Any hand or leg defense is secondary to distance. Learning to work this distance properly is an important part whether or not your defense or offense can be performed effectively. Based on our physical attributes and ability, we all have an imaginary circle projected around our bodies. Anything entering this circle, we are able to deliver an attack against. Anything outside of this circle is out of our reach. Every fighter has a different size circle around him or her. If a fighter faces off against an opponent with a larger circle, it is important that the fighter with the smaller circle stays just outside of the opponent's larger circle to give them a better chance of survival. If two people are close enough to be within each other's circle then the person that initiates the attack first often times will be the one to score the point. Due to this, it is best that in order to give you the best chance against your opponent you do not stay within each other's circle for a prolonged time. Enter the circle only when you wish to deliver an attack and immediately retreat out of the circle. This perimeter can be tested during a match by entering the circle and then moving back out of the circle. If you enter the circle and the opponent does not move back then you may have an opportunity to deliver an attack. Even a counter puncher will often times move back when the boundaries of the circle are breached. The circle can also be tested by slowly sliding the lead leg into the perimeter. If you can get your foot just inside the circle without the detection of the opponent then you have an opportune time to deliver an attack. Likewise be alert as to opponents that are trying to enter your circle of defense. The lead foot position is the primary key and should be watched. An opponent can be leaning slightly back but if the front foot is in the circle then they are able to deliver an attack merely by shifting the weight and reaching forward.
Importance of the Kiai
The utterance of the kiai (abdominally generated shout) during a scoring technique is key to securing a point. The kiai unifies body and mind and enables one to deliver the maximum force in an attack or defense. When you kiai in a match you are also alerting the officials to your movement. It is in effect telling them to watch the technique you just did. It can't be ignored if the punch or kick is good. Many officials will not even award a point if the technique is not executed with a kiai. The timing of the kiai must be on the scoring move of the technique. If you do a 3-move technique with the third move scoring the point, make sure you kiai on this move. If you kiai on the second move and don't score and score with the 3rd move but don't kiai there is a good chance you will not have a point called in your favor. In this case you are telling the referee, I meant to score on the 2nd move but didn't so I threw a third move but I really didn't think I would score. If you miss with the second and kiai, make sure you kiai on the 3rd scoring move as well. By the same note, kiai on every move also takes away from the point. Now you are telling the judge that every one of your techniques are strong and you just happened to get lucky and score on one of them. It is important you convey intention to the judges by only using the kiai on the scoring movement or potential scoring movement. The order of preference by the judges is to 1. kiai and score 2. not kiai and score 3. kiai and miss 4. no kiai and miss. Note that to not kiai and score is only marginally better to kiai and miss an opponent. In some cases a kiai and miss may even be called a point if the opponent is wide open and your delivery and kiai are strong. Distance of the attack to the opponent is subjective and determined by the officials.
Learn to be patient when in a match. Detection of impatience by an opponent demonstrates a weakness to you by showing a lack of self-discipline and restraint to wait. It shows that the opponent is probably tense and that their mind is not clear and focused. Demonstrating patience and a cool mind is also unnerving to the opponent without patience, which only causes them to be more tense and less patient. If you feel your best chance to score on an opponent is to counter, then wait for the opponent to make the first move. If you opponent decides to do the same thing then the first one that loses their patience to wait for the initial attack will probably be scored on all other things being equal. Patience does not always mean to counter punch either. It also means to be able to wait for the opportune moment to deliver the attack. If you have the patience to wait for an opening in your opponent's defense and capitalize on this then you are in a much better position than if you waited but could not wait any longer and then attacked at a less opportune time, allowing the opponent to score on you. The openings may are not necessarily physical ones but may be mental ones as well.