Get Tactical, Get Sneaky

In Sun Tsu’s iconic work on tactics “The art of war” he says, “all warfare is deception”. Sparring is no different.

Most sneakiness in kumite is based around making your opponent think one thing but then doing another.

Make them think you are weak when you are strong

Make them think you are strong when you are weak

Make them think you are kicking when you are punching

Make them think you are punching when you are kicking

Make them think you are going left when you are going right

Make them think you are going high when you are going low

Make them think you are slow when you are fast

Make them think you are going fast when you are going slow

Make them think you are disengaging when you are attacking

Make them think you are attacking when you are counter, counter attacking

Make them think you are far when you are close

Adopt a different posture for what you plan to do.

Here are some examples:

When people are about to kick they often come up higher in stance and can even lean their shoulders back in anticipation of having to lift their leg high. Adopt this posture and even fake some kicks when you are planning to punch.

When people are about to punch they will often adopt a low stance bending their knees in anticipation of needing to spring forward, frequently they will hunch slightly forward to bring their hands closer to their opponent to they have less distance to travel. Adopt this posture when you are planning to kick.

Set traps for counter attacking

Leave a hole or gap in your guard that you know an opponent will extend and reach for. When they do, be ready to quickly close or shift the gap and counter attack simultaneously. To make this trap even more effective, tailor it to your opponent i.e. if they are a right-hand reverse puncher I would leave a gap for my left-side ribs or if they were a sweeper I would extend my foot forward only to pull it away when they sweep.

Cowering is another good trap, retreat and turn sideways or duck your head and cower. This show of cowardice will spur an aggressive opponent to surge forward to reach over the top, and when they do have a side kick ready, or if you have speed be a little more pre-emptive and pick them off with a reverse punch.

Decoys and fakes

Key elements to a good decoy

  • Make it start off looking real and intimidating. The more threatening it looks the more attention and resources will be diverted to defend the fake.
  • Often the best fakes are to the head as they draw more attention as it is vulnerable area but also it obscures people’s vision.
  • Chain your techniques together closely so the scoring technique follows almost simultaneously behind the fake. Remember people react to the start of (initiation of) a technique (they can’t wait until the end of the technique to decide whether to block it or not). Use this against them as your fakes don’t need to finish off. This can make it easier to get the scoring technique in faster.
  • Sometimes aim fakes to the outside edge of their body as these will require them to block further out and hence create bigger gaps.
  • Look at what hands they use to block different techniques and choose a combination that will involve them use the same hand to block the fake as well as the scoring technique.

More distraction and other deceptions

Some examples:

  • Point at people’s feet with concern as if there is something wrong, then when they look down, punch them in the face.
  • Stare at their stomach to indicate you are going to punch them there then go for the face or vice versa.
  • Move your hands vigorously in guard (moving objects draw attention to them) use this to hide advancing footwork (usually bringing your back leg closer to them ready to spring), a kick preparing or what the other hand is doing or going to do.
  • Cough or fain injury or fatigue then suddenly attack.
  • Look intense as if about to attack then pull away as if about to disengage: they will, in turn, relax, and then you can explode forward and attack.
  • Move in circles around the opponent this will cause them to have to follow you around, as they move sideways to follow you lead them into walls or other obstacles when they bump into them or feel constrained or distracted attack them.
  • Get closer to opponents without them noticing by cutting a tighter angle when circling them.


Conditioning is an essential tool that makes your opponent feel that you are predictable, making them develop their own predictable defensive response. Of course, now they are now conditioned to respond to your combination in “x” way and you will capitalise on this by changing the end of your “predictable” combination to “z”

Some other types of conditioning:

Punching in rhythm and then breaking that rhythm will throw them off their rhythmic blocking.

Push their forward guard hand tapping it down, they will respond by stiffening their guard, even resisting and moving their hand up in anticipation of being pushed down again. When they do this, fake to push their hand down and instead attack underneath that arm which is now too tense to defend properly.