Karate Moves

What Works, What Doesn’t and Why?

Ask one of our junior students what they think about karate moves they will probably reply “karate moves are cool”, this simple and superficial understanding of karate moves is understandable in 7 year olds but what about the adult learner?

Traditionally moves and techniques are often taught by rote that is they are developed by repetition. There is little doubt that to be effective karate skills have to become second nature to the practitioner.

Take for example walking or drinking from a cup. Both require mastery of a whole host of complicated physical manoeuvres including specific muscle control, co-ordination, balance etc.

We are not born with these skills

All skills take time, patience and practice to perfect. I guess Mr Miyagi the wise oriental gentleman in the karate Kid films was right… “rub on… rub off”!

A word of caution.

As a child I was taught that practice makes perfect. I’m sure you have also heard that mantra but is it true?

I suggest that what practice actually makes is “permanent” so if you are “doing it wrong” repeatedly and never corrected you will become extremely good at doing the wrong thing!

Good guidance is critical

Karate moves cannot be learnt and understood from the pages in a book no matter how clear the diagrams or pictures. They have to be practised over and over again under the supervision of an instructor who knows what they are doing.

Generally speaking the novice student is introduced to basic moves almost immediately, perhaps a series of two or three techniques put together. Body coordination develops and soon it’s time to try out comparatively simple techniques against an opponent.

It is at this point that the limitations of learning by rote manifest themselves.

The introduction of another person, even a compliant one, requires additional proficiency in skills such as timing, distance and mental flexibility. All of a sudden the simple move is no longer quite as simple as first imagined and more often than not falls at that first hurdle.

Perseverance is a key quality required for any new skill acquisition therefore in time and with patience, practice and good guidance things begin to improve. The sequences can become more complex and the opponent less compliant.

It is at this point that the maturing student starts to recognise the importance of “mind control.” Thoughts are things and thoughts therefore have an enormous impact on our behaviour and our ability to operate under pressure or stress.

Now we are moving into Zen territory

Words like “mushin” meaning mind of no mind and “Zanshin” which refers to a mind state of total relaxed alertness, have relevance and significance.

A sense of being present in the body is vital when executing any karate move.

Think about the motorcyclist travelling along a fast and open road with many bends, they have to be “there” through every twist and turn never once losing concentration, never once considering what would happen if they fell off.

Karate students who practice while thinking about the dentist tomorrow or what they want for Christmas, or how tired they feel miss the point! I mean the samurai on the battlefield facing the enemy is probably not, I suggest, thinking about what he’s going to do tomorrow! This inability to be "present" inhibits the practitioner’s ability to select and deliver an effective attack or deflection.

For many people these concepts are alien and have little context in today’s modern world. For those who do grasp the message, these mind states are as relevant in the home or workplace as they are on any battlefield, ancient or otherwise!

This is the wisdom and philosophy that reaches beyond physical karate moves and techniques.

Pressure Testing

I’m a great believer in the need to ‘pressure test’ karate moves to ensure they are effective. The founder of modern karate Gichin Funakoshi famously wrote that karate was like boiling water, without heat, it returns to its tepid state!

Any challenging test should include the creation of fear or stress in the person being tested why? Because coping with stress or dealing with an adrenaline dump is an essential quality for every martial art student.

Fear and anxiety encourages fight or flight responses which, in turn, seriously impacts on a person's ability to respond to attack or not! In times of conflict emotions run high, anger and fear hinder the ‘clear head’ necessary to make good decisions in times of extreme danger.

Every karate student needs to improve concentration to encourage correct decision making. Assertiveness training also helps by highlighting the need to stay in the present and keep counterproductive emotions away!

I don’t enjoy witnessing senior karate students experiencing the pain of realising that their techniques are not as effective as they thought they were! Demoralised and hurt, sometimes physically, ALWAYS emotionally, the karate “master” has to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and reflect on what has happened.

It sounds awful but in truth these apparent negative experiences offer the ‘master’ and student profound and deeply positive benefits.


The defeat of the ego or at least an understanding of the limits of our ego lies at the core of many world and martial art philosophies.

Defeat dents the pride and makes us acutely aware of our limitations. It encourages humility and brutal recognition that we are not superman, Bruce Lee or Mr Miyagi!

This brings me nicely back to where I started; children saying “karate moves are cool!”

The Most Effective Karate Move of All

We teach the children the coolest, most important most effective "move" of all and they accept it’s simplicity without hesitation.

The technique has no fancy name and comes naturally to us all if only we would listen to our bodies in times of danger! It is quite simply "nobethere." No-be-there.

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