3 Simple Exercises Guaranteed to Improve Your Karate

Ever heard this old Chinese proverb?

Tell me – I forget.

Show me – I remember.

Involve me – I understand.

The wisdom of it can be applied to anything in life.

Like Karate.

One of the greatest honors in Karate is to be the “uke”, or receiver, of your sensei’s techniques (also known as  “human punching bag”). It’s a unique learning opportunity that should never be passed up.

Because, although you can certainly understand a lot by watching and listening to your sensei, the oomph of being actively involved (rather than being a passive observer) in the process of learning stuff is unequalled when it comes to improving.

And that’s what we want, isn’t it?




Allow me help you with that.

Today I’ll show you three simple yet effective exercises that are perfect for learning some important principles in Karate.

Principles that could take forever to understand by merely watching or hearing about them!

Needless to say, this is my personal favorite way of teaching – by showing a quick and practical exercise, and then having everyone try it out in pairs. The important part is to remind everyone to use both their analytical part of the brain as well as their senses and feelings to really understand the core message of the lesson in a 360 degree fashion.

But enough chit-chat.

On with the frickin’ knowledge.

Here are three simple exercises guaranteed to improve your Karate – today!

#1: The Egyptian Mummy Zombie

Thanks to my loyal slave… uhm… black belts Stephen and Sebastian for demonstrating.

The first exercise I call ‘The Egyptian Mummy Zombie’.


Because you kinda look like one of those ancient pyramid wall painting mummy hieroglyph-type dudes when you perform it. And to make it even cooler, you’re a zombie version. Obviously.

(Or, here’s another explanation: I just have weird imagination.)

What you do:

  1. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, arms out straight to the sides.
  2. Have a partner push one of your arms down.
  3. Resist the push. Notice the feeling.
  4. Now, put one of your feet on an object.
  5. Have your partner push your arm down again, notice the bizarre difference.

What you learn:

The importance of structural alignment and correct spinal posture for maintaining optimum functionality in your muscles – which, of course, applies not only to standing still, but in all movements and techniques that you perform in Karate.

(Read more: The Karate 4-Point Principle).

#2: The Pregnant Panda

pregnant-pandaOn to the next one.

In this exercise we will be lying down. But don’t be fooled – this lesson should be applied to all movements in Karate, not just groundwork.

(Want me to explain the name? Trust me. You’ll get it.)

What you do:

  1. Lie on your back, legs bent, knees apart.
  2. Do a situp.
  3. Notice the lack of ease, most likely caused by too many hours in front of the TV with a bucket of deep-fried chicken and 6-pack of beer.
  4. (What, that’s just me?)
  5. Squeeze a sturdy object, like a medicine ball, intensely between your knees.
  6. Do another situp, and pay attention to the ridiculous difference.
  7. Crack open another beer.

What you learn:

The value of proper Karate stances – through experiencing the importance of active tension in your lower body for enhancing the functionality of your core muscles (through a phenomenon known as irradiation), which directly affects your power output in upper body techniques.

Also, I don’t really drink beer.

(Pro tip: Try this exercise standing up, when you’ve mastered the lying version.)

#3: Fist of Awesomeness

fist-of-awesomenessLastly, we have the ‘Fist of Awesomeness’.

The name is pretty self-explanatory.

But don’t be fooled: This exercise is not about your fist. It’s about your whole body.

What you do:

  1. Stand in a front stance (zenkutsu-dachi) and do a punch (tsuki).
  2. Have your partner standing in front of you, gently applying pressure on your fist towards you.
  3. Resist the pressure, and try to keep your posture intact.
  4. Notice what body part/joint fails first.

What you learn:

The importance of correctly aligning your joints in unison behind your technique’s line of power, and what muscles to relax/tense in the process – along with the discovery of your weakest structural link(s).

(Note: Can be performed with any technique (block, punch, kick, strike etc.) in any stance (neko ashi-dachi, kokutsu-dachi, sanchin-dachi etc.) as long as your partner understands the right force vector when applying pressure.)

And that’s it.

Three super quick exercises that are guaranteed to give you more “bang for the buck” than merely watching or hearing your sensei speak about the important lessons that these exercises are designed to impart.


Whaddya say?

Ready to try them out for yourself?

At the end of the day, if you are anything like me, you can hear or watch some important detail explained over and over by your sensei (sometimes for years!) before it finally clicks.

That sucks.

Let’s save some time.

Get involved in the process and take charge of your own learning.

It’s all about discovering principles.

Once those universal principles are fully understood and embraced, you’ll open up new doors for even more awesome Karate knowledge.

And that’s when you’ll understand what the old Chinese knew all along.

Tell me – I forget.

Show me – I remember.

Involve me – I understand.


PS. Congrats to Danny Le Rose from Switzerland, who won last week’s GSP book contest. Send me your address dude! Thanks to everyone who participated – you made my week!


  • Thank you for your exercises. They are very interesting and they should help me a lot. Damon
  • Madelyn
    Thanks Jesse, I will definitely use this in class, for myself and when I'm teaching. I also checked out the 4 point principle, now I can correctly translate that into my posture as well - when doing karate and everyday life. Like most people I sit at a desk most of my day, so aligning myself correctly should help tons with easing back pain. Isn't it wonderful how everything changes when you make karate your lifestyle and not just a sport?!
    • "Amen" to that, Madelyn-san... ;) PS. If you sit at a desk, try to alternate your straight posture with a 45 degree angle back to minimize the pressure on your spine.
  • szilard
    The last one we did regularly in my Shotokan training, except the "opponent" was the wall, and it was sometimes reverse punch (dyaku zuki). We had to sink in it, feel how the power goes from ankle through hip and shoulder to fist towards the wall. Then lift up your front foot for a few second, focus on what you feel, then put it back down while keeping on the pressure, lift it up again, etc...
    • That's a perfect alternative when you don't have (or want!) and opponent. Thanks for chiming in, Szilard-san!
    • I'm glad you liked it Jorge-san. Thanks for making your presence felt! :)
      • Umar
        Thanks for ur help my friend
  • Good stuff! Can't wait to do it whit my karatekids. These are awesome training methods! Beacuse the reponse of the own body is always the best teacher! YEAH I WON THE GSP-BOOK! Thanx Jesse-San!!
    • Thank YOU, Danny-san! Your book is on the way. I might even have signed it ;)
      • You signed it? You honour me Jesse-San!! (Imagine a deep japanese voice or Splinter from the Ninja Turtles) :-D
  • Take your makiwara training seriously and you won't need to push against the wall ;-)
  • Alex Jonsson
    Young master Jesse from deep in Karateland has been tracing the Universe in a grain of sand There are no magic tricks, or hidden sublimes just do hundred techniques each ten thousand times Peace with yourself and the World is at hand
    • You're quite the poet, Alex-san! Thanks :)
  • chethan
  • Wow these exercises really help!! Especially for a starter like me
  • Jesse, these are great exercises! I often have a really difficult time trying to explain some of these concepts to my younger students. With these exercises, I can finally SHOW them what I mean. Excellent and sincere thanks.
  • Cory
    In my dojo we are a small group, 1 sensei/3students. I am (almost) always the first to volunteer as my Sensei's uke when he asks. I often have my hand raised before he gets through half the question!
  • Richard
    Hi, I love karate more than every thing.I want to link with you for inspiration, directives to improve upon my skills.
  • Dave
    Karaté do
  • Paddington Muguza
    Hello Jesse Thanks for the app, I need your assistance in getting back in to karate after 20 years when I did junior judo which is totally different. I am passionate and 38 years old , can I still do karate My muscles are all stiff , I can hardly head my knee and stuff Thank you in advance Paddington

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