1. Dynamic attacking footwork

The simplest and easiest way for an opponent to defend is to outrange you by shuffling back and making your techniques fall short. In order to beat this, you have to develop explosive footwork that allows you to take big lunges or big steps to catch retreating opponents.

2. Counter attacking

If you can’t counter attack your opponent will be fearless when they are attacking you as they know they are not going to get hit back. A good martial artist should be like a porcupine, whenever an opponent attacks they risk getting hurt themselves. A variety of different counter attacks is great.

3. Evading

There are two skills in evasion: being a hard target that moves, feints, switches feet and slips and rolls to make it hard for an opponent to acquire you as a target before they attack and even harder to develop a strategy against. And evading and disengaging from an opponent who is attacking so they hit thin air.

4. Relax

Robotic, over tense attacks, become slow and predictable. Be loose and light in defence – with flowing blocking movements, do not be rigid or tense. In attack have a sense of lightness for speed, develop a sense rhythm for timing, chain the techniques of your combinations together, then go off rhythm to throw your opponent of the scent.

5. Variety of techniques and combinations

Have an arsenal of combinations. Variety is an important key, without it, you become predictable and mono-dimensional or worse you may find that you do not have the tools to solve an opponent’s defensive strategy. We all have our favourite combinations that we use most of the time, which is not a bad thing but it is a wide variety of combinations which give us the tools to deal with different situations and opponents not to mention keeping them on their toes guessing what will happen next.

6. Clinching, grappling and ground fighting

Even if you don’t like to do these grappling skills your opponent might so you better be ready for them to change levels. At very least you need to have reliable escape skills. Adding grappling and ground fighting to your game can also give you a great competitive advantage over those that don’t.

7. Read your opponent

This one comes with experience learn to read your opponent in both predicting their combinations and also their blocking responses.

8. Moving off the line

Move off the line. Tai sabaki; body shifting or side stepping is one of the most effective strategies a karate-ka can learn. Basic karate lends itself to being linear. In defence, you avoid your opponents attacks while simultaneously opening up counter attacking opportunities. In offence moving off the line is unpredictable allowing you to attack at angles that are not conducive to defence opening up targets and simultaneous making counter attacking problematic.

9. Sneaky, tactical and deceptive

Set traps, distract and confuse them with decoys and dummies, condition your opponent’s responses, bait them into counters, look strong when you are weak and look weak when you are strong.

10. Thinking

Here is the big one, thinking and staying calm in sparring is more important than speed and power. You can beat people who are bigger, stronger or faster than you if you can outsmart them. The trouble is thinking while in the middle of the pressure and fatigue of sparring is a challenge

Here are 5 progressively harder thinking skills:


Pay attention to what is working for you and what is not. Don’t keep on throwing the same combination if it isn’t scoring, even if it is your favourite. Don’t stand still if they are too quick to counterpunch. Do more of what works and whatever isn’t working for you dump it quickly and change strategy. The ultimate change in strategy is to change the game by either clinching and dirty boxing or taking them down and ground fighting.


Pay attention to what is working for them and think how can you avoid or defeat their tactic.


Play your competitive advantage. There are two ways to do this spar to minimise their advantages or spar to maximise yours.


Pay attention to their defensive strategy.

Do they counter attack? Is their counter attack instantaneous or is it delayed? Do they have a variety of counters or just one or two?

Do they retreat? If they retreat do they panic and come up in stance?

Are they orthodox or southpaw?

Is their guard open or closed, I.e. will they block your first straight punch inwards or outwards and what holes will does their blocking strategy leave.

Are they a front hand blocker? I.e. do they always block with their front hand first or do they block your lefts with their right and your rights with their left?


Once you know these things you can start to formulate a strategy to pick at the weaknesses of their defence. This is where having a wide variety of combinations and tactics, and knowing what they are for will serve you well. This is so much better than trial and error.


Pay attention to their attacks.

What are they throwing at you and most importantly what is hitting you and why?

Do they habitually throw the same combinations?

What range do they fight best at?

Can they cover ground quickly? Ie do they have to get in close before attacking you?

Do they have telegraphs that will help you predict their attack?


Again once you start observing these things you can start strategizing against them. A simple change like switching feet and circling away from a big right hand is often the difference between victory and defeat.




Invest this knowledge into action.

Right now take the time to rate yourself from 1-10 on each of the ten skills. Then put together a plan of fixing your weakest areas also becoming an expert at a couple of skills to give you a competitive advantage.

If you want to know more about these skills or work on them that is what Combat classes are for. Your Combat instructor will be glad to help. Click below to find your local combat classes.