3 Ninja Tactics to Become a Better Karate Fighter

Testing my Karate in the cage. (Read: 4 Things I Learned From Getting My A** Kicked in MMA)

Are you a good Karate fighter?

Many people think kumite is difficult…

I agree.

Even though I’ve trained with world class coaches, athletes and fighters, I have tons to improve.

Luckily, I know the secret to becoming a better fighter.

Be like a ninja!


I’m glad you asked…

Here are 3 ninja tactics you need to know:

#1. “Go Where The Puck Will Be”

When legendary ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky was asked about his secret to success, he replied:

“I don’t go where the puck is. I go where the puck will be.”

The same holds true for kumite.

Instead of aiming where your opponent is, aim where your opponent will be.

That’s why the first thing you should do in a fight is OBSERVE.

Don’t just mindlessly start fighting. Make an effort to observe the rhythm, movements and habits of your opponent.

Once you’ve identified a pattern, attack!

Not where your opponent is – but where your opponent will be.

Naturally, this also applies the other way…

Don’t allow your opponent to sense your intentions.

Have an aura of unpredictability.

Like a ninja.

#2. Relative, Not Absolute Speed

Getting kicked by Luigi Busà while Junior Lefevre observes in the background.

A key to being a ninja is speed.

You can’t defend against something you can’t see.


There’s something more important than speed.

Changing speed.

In other words, focus on relative speed – not absolute speed.

If you have a constant speed in kumite, your opponent learns to read you (even if you’re quick). A steady pace makes you predictable and easy to hit.

The key lies in shifting between fast & slow.

Learn to play with the rhythm, tempo and timing of your techniques.

You don’t always need to be faster than your opponent. But you need to vary your speed better.

Acceleration and deacceleration.

Yin and yang.

3. Position > Demolition

Finally, let’s talk defense.

Your opponent can attack you in a thousand different ways.

According to Hick’s Law, the more defensive moves (blocks, counter techniques etc.) you have in your arsenal, the less chance you have of actually being able to use any of them. That’s how the brain works.

So, don’t focus on memorizing specific ways to defend against attacks.

Instead, focus on defending yourself against positions.

Positional management.

By position yourself lika a ninja (through adjusting your distance & angle), you will have an advantage in both defense and offense. This comes before all else.

Stop practicing tons of defensive techniques. Start practicing how to position yourself better.

Like a game of chess.

The person who controls the positions controls the fight. That’s why the greatest fighters obsess over footwork.

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”


That’s it!

3 ninja tactics to become a better Karate fighter.

Do you know other kumite strategies?

Leave a comment & share! 🙂


  • I couldn't agree more with the positioning. My Sensei gets all the white belts to learn pivoting and stepping in to attacks to gain advantage as soon as they have covered the first Kata. All of this is taught within the frame of Go-no-sen, sen-no-sen, sen-sen-no-sen, which is something that other Dojos don't tend to do... :)
    • Awesome! Your sensei sounds like a great teacher. Say hi from me! :-)
  • Hitorikko
    Wow... !!!
  • I like your understanding and point of view of fighting. Thanks for Sharing!
    • Thanks for reading and commenting Francisco-san! :-)
  • John Poland
    For better positioning/defence/evasion it is good to practice "tai sabaki" - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tai_sabaki
    • Exactly! Body movement principles (tai-sabaki) is the reason Aikido has helped a lot of Karate practitioners.
      • Krishnov
        I really liked number 1. Go where the puck will be. I am going to use that principle in my next sparring. Also is it not only applicable in karate. But in all combat sport or real life situations. Thanks Jesse-san.
    • Josh Lewis
      In class, we play a game of "Simon Says" with Tai sabaki / Te Sabaki. Not only does it work the speed to switch, but sometimes your already in a good stance for the opponent's changing position, if you just move your upper body / hands!
  • Jim
    Great Post Jesse, just this morning, I was working with one of my students and trying to help him see the importance of Point 3 in that great technique without great positioning is all thunder and no lightning. I love the term, 'positional management', it makes the process of kumite sound like the serious business it really is :-)
    • Great, thanks for chiming in sensei Jim! Love your analogy of "all thunder and no lightning". Keep it up! :-)
  • Anupam Sharma
    Those postition tips ans and speed changing was good.. but that puck thing is awesome.. it really helped me soo much thnx for that man..I am bif fan of you
    • Wonderful Anupam-san! It makes me glad to hear that I can help you. Keep training hard & smart! :-)
    • Amen to that brother! Bruce Lee was 100% right. Thanks for the reminder! :-)
  • Teguh
    This is an excellent entry, Jesse-san. I like that you also point out the positioning tip. Thank you for your knowledge sharing
      • Teguh
        I really do, Jesse-san. As a student of Karate myself, I'm glad that Karate is not as "stiff" as I thought. From I was a white belt to where I am now, I was always told that in Karate, you should counter and attack with a faster attack. But they seldom taught me about what you describe above as positional management which in my opinion (as a student at least) isn't quite right
  • Wow! Thanks for sharing.. I want to know how to be a great kata player. Can you write that for us?? I'm from Bandung Karate Club
  • Carlos
    Thanks for this info, it works for both Kumite and MMA...thank you....OUS!!!
  • Maureen
    thanks Jesse, kumite is a huge one for me, the tips i needed.
    • Awesome, glad to hear you found it useful. Train on! :-)
  • Fredrik
    Great tips! I think kumite is really fun, but also difficult. My own (beginner) strategies are: 1. Breathe! As a beginner (like me, 8 kyu), you tend to hold your breath while fighting. 2. Practise combinations. E.g. Oi Tsuki, Gyaku Tsuki, Mawashi Geri. In the beginning you will probably very predictable, but it is a good starting point (a single technique is more easy to block). 3. Find your strengths. For instance, I am quite tall and recently found out that my Oi Tsuki works well as a block against shorter opponents (but not so well against opponents of the same length or taller). 4. Similarly, find your weaknesses and practise them.
  • Sasha
    Good post, sensei, thank you. Coincidentally, I was reading this short (for now) discussion on the related topic - footwork to get advantageous positioning, discerning patterns, etc. Thought it may be of interest to you and your readers: http://knockdownfighters.com/thread/1177/kumite-tips Osu.
  • Dear Master Jesse; I hope you are fine,as well as your family and your Students. I follow with great interest your articles, which have been useful to me in class, as an assistant instructor (I am a II Dan), I like to give tools to the students for their learning easier (ie, assimilate in a better way what is taught and so they can apply). Many only care about their physical and technical training, leaving his mental training. A big hug from Panama A big hug from Panama and gratitude
  • Haid
    Hi Master Jesse. If had´nt read your article I would greet you with Osu!(lol). By this comment I would like to thank you for sharing your knowledge about karate. I realized that many of (us) Karate practicioners are lacking in theoretical knowledge about it. it is very helpful to have peaople talking about diferrent things regarding tha lifestyle named Karate. Best Regards from Mozambique
  • Simon
    Osu, sensei! Thankyou for sharing three very hot tips, I would like to add that Bruce Lee in his book of Jeet Kune Do talked about a timing of 3 1/2, 1 1/2 - I would say be less predictable than that! also while randomising your own attack timings as much as possible, be aware that many styles teach timings that are supposed to be unpredictable, but have become so steeped in immutable tradition as to be a recognisable characteristic of that style, for example Shotokan's classic 1 - 2-3. (I would say practice music also to gain the advantage, playing an instrument is a worthy discipline of its own). The bit about the puck, or predictive aim is also a military strategy known as 'leading the target' - of course snipers and artillery gunners also have to account for wind speed & direction, gravity, projectile speed/distance to target, etc, but the metaphor holds (for most of us, the most cost effective way to practice leading the target is to play the right video games - no auto-target, mouse aim only!) To train best position, i might suggest imagining a samurai duel (blocking is considered a wasted move, just evade and counterstrike in one fluid motion); try it as a sparring exercise, it will change your entire view! Lastly to add something of my own to the discussion, i would say don't cheat while training alone: resist the urge to just go through techniques, imagine yourself in a fight to the death every time - visualise! Greetings from England, thanks again :)
  • Calvin Rion Naidoo
    Jesse-san, I believe the method of interception introduced by the great Bruce Lee is also very effective. Basically, strike your opponent during his/ her attack. I believe the legendary Lee also shared your sentiments of reading a fighter by reading his rhythm as well as positioning. Great article - Thank you!
  • Tom
    Loved this article and agree fully - when I was training for my sho dan, my greatest fear was failing on the jiyu kumite element. One of my friends highlighted how changing speed and position would help and it really did. Recently our black and brown belt classes have focussed on blocking and countering simultaneously, rather than one after the other, and that has also made a big difference.
  • Ros
    Amazing advice! Thanks a lot for such wise tactics, I needed them ??
  • Paul murrell
    I actually learned most of these from fencing then I just learned to apply them to my karate.
  • Paul murrell
    Great article
  • Joje
    i want to learn karate :) pls
  • Thank you for putting this good advice out in the open. I was always prone to sink into an obsession with being able to block and evade every attack that may come at any time. Positioning actually takes that load off me now.
  • David Rieger
    I especially agree with the last section. I am currently working on evading and countering very quickly. It is simple, but it can work from almost any position, with the right angle and balance. The counter is essential for me.
  • Limbo
    I knew nothing about karate until today.. Im going to the nearest dojo here and signing up... I'll get back to you when i get my black belt bro
  • Harjas
    (By the way I am a girl) I have a tournament tomorrow and this time I had zero practice then why do I feel more light than ever?
  • Maxwell
    Can one learn karate all alone without the trainer and succeed by reaching the different level of fighting?
  • Jesse Enkamp that was a nice idea you given all its so helpful for the kumite fights of karate thanks jesse.

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