Why focus and decisiveness surpasses technique in an encounter with an assailant

This is a quick post I decided to write on my thoughts about decisiveness over technique in karate. I normally would post this only to my martial arts blog, but since this has to do with philosophy of karate, and includes a bit of abstract science in the form of a formula, I decided to pose here as well.

My philosophy in karate is to “overpower your opponent without hurting him”. While this is the ultimate goal, it’s not always successful. It requires a focused and decisive nature to pull off overpowering without brute attack. Ultimately, it doesn’t require superb technique to overpower an assailant, but efficient reflexes and planning. One must be alert, focused and decisive when it comes to dealing with an opponent, for one may know flawless technique, but if they can’t apply it effectively, then all is lost.

It only takes, at best, mediocre technique, and moderate understanding of a technique to make it effective. The rest comes form its application, and in using the correct technique for the proper situation. In summation, the formula variables for effective defense are Focus + Effective Application + Speed + Timing + Technique and the result may be perhaps best formulated in the following formula:


Defensive Result = [(Focus * Effective Application) * (Speed * Timing)]Technique


Although this is a tentative formula and should not be taken seriously, or taken as the whole truth of a defensive result, it was meditated on and may perhaps may give some truth to a defensive result in an encounter. It is mainly an abstract representation of a possible result from defending in a concrete encounter, or perhaps a concrete representation of an abstract art of an encounter. Take it is a guide only and meditate on the truth or falsity of my claim. It may need revision. I will go through these variables one by one and explain why they are important in the formula for defense.

I will first go through speed and timing. For speed, it is important that you are quick so that you may “beat your opponent to the punch”.  That’s to say that you can block or dodge quickly when an opponent makes a move. If you are too slow, your move will fail to connect before the right time, or at the right time for effective application. Karate techniques, in my view, is best performed with precise timing so that you can connect your block with the attack, and at the precise points, and deflect it properly. By “precise points” I mean that, in my opinion, a block which connects, as an example, just above the elbow of your assailant, can overpower him with less force and acts as a pivot point which may make the opponent more overpowered with less effort as you are using the body’s pivot points. You will get what I mean if you have ever blocked or been blocked with such efficacy that it made you spin around with loss of control. It takes speed and timing as the most powerful assets to pull this off. One may also dodge quickly timing it so that an opponent’s follow through or counterattack is not possible. One may also block the opponents attack before he even produces it, as an example, as soon as the opponent flaxes his knee for a kick, you are there with your hand/foot on his knee so that he cannot raise his leg for a kick. This speed and timing can overpower an opponent.

But even speed and timing is moot without focus and application. Before even speed and timing, focus is required so that you are aware of what is going on in the encounter. As the say: Mushin or “empty mind” which should be one of the first mental techniques you learn as a karateka. You must empty your mind and be aware of the encounter. This is the letting go of or “empty mind” which should be one of the mental techniques you learn as a karateka. You must empty your mind and be aware of the encounter. This is analogous with letting go of your emotions as emotions are salient (hard to ignore) and throw of your concentration. But one should never quell their spirit. One should remain focused in a Zanshin state at all times “remaining mind”, do not deter your awareness. With focus, then comes effective application, as one must be focused so that one can decide the correct course of action. A focused person can use reflex or be aware of the opponent in subtle ways, such as his body weight shifting, “tells” for upcoming attacks, changes in muscle tensions, etc.… Then when focused on these things, on can plan/execute a correct plan of action. One must always execute effective application by using the correct/most efficient block or movement for the situation. As an exaggerated example, an opponent kicking to the groin would not be well done with age uke “rising block”, nor shuto uke “knife hand block”, nor even soto uke “middle level block” may not be effective in this situation. It is important to be decisive because an attack is not always to the face, stomach, or groin exactly, and it may be in between two areas. Each attack is different, and not perfectly executed like in a dojo, where karateka perfect their aiming to three levels (jodan, chudan, gedan). Untrained opponents may also not throw karate-like techniques. In this manner, I am stating that one needs to be focused on what the opponent is doing, the environment around them (terrain, obstacles, etc…), and efficiently decide on a correct action. Perhaps a block is best, perhaps dodging or shifting out of the way. Maybe a persistent assailant requires some pain as an aversive stimulus by using a counterattack, or a hard “jamming” block to inflict pain by using the bony points on wrist/ankle to hit pressure points, and deter the assailant.

We can’t ignore technique as well, but it does matter least (in my opinion) in an encounter. A correctly chosen technique best suited for the situation is between than one performed perfectly, but not suited to the situation. Technique is important though, as one must correctly turn the hips, forearm, have the correct range and motion. But as I’ve said, focus, deciding on best technique for situation, then speed and timing of a mediocre block can surpass a great untimed or incorrectly suited block. Technique here includes application of power, rotations (including hip), movement, etc…Effective technique, though, can exponentially increase your effective action, but does not give a large result if there is nothing to increase (i.e. no, or little focus, no speed).

Imagine an opponent decides to kick do you i) wait for kick and use gedan berai with correct timing? ii) beat him to the punch by blocking his knee so that he cannot perform the kick? iii) dodge? iv) dodge and counterattack? v) block strongly to the inside of his leg at a pressure point to inflict pain? or vi) dodge and run? These decisions are situational and must be suited to the opponent. Some opponents may just become enraged by pain and attack stronger and faster, while others may be deterred by it. Some may become discouraged if you constantly dodge them and may walk away, while others become enraged and may pull out a weapon to make their point. A focused and decisive person while note these things and know how to manipulate their approach to the encounter. Your approach may also need to be changed if one is not working, such as dodging constantly may yield to submission from the opponent, and one strong block to a pressure point may be all that is required to cause the opponent to think twice about assailing you.

The formula for defensive result shows that if you lack focus and don’t effectively plan, there is no result in your defense. If you lack speed and timing, your defense is moot. The result of your focus, planning, speed and timing is further increase exponentially with technique. As technique rises, so does your defense, but alas, without any of the other variables there is nothing to increase even with flawless technique.

To conclude, focus is most important in a fight, an unaware person does not fight well at all. With focus can come decisiveness, as awareness of the opponent and situation allows to effectively choose a correct action. Then the action must be performed speedily with good timing, and technique serves to increase the effectiveness, but must be given last. A person who can read encounters and effectively choose effective actions can overpower assailants more than brute technique or with raw power.



  1. Some thought provoking ideas, thank you. I’m curious about the part of the equation on technique. You say it matters least (and I agree, to a point), but you also say it can increase the effectiveness exponentially. It’s an interesting dichotomy that. I see something exponential as important. Why did you choose to make it exponential rather than multiplicative?


    • Hi Nicola,

      Thanks for your comment.

      To answer you in short, this was mostly for aesthetic purposes.

      The long answer is that I didn’t particularly pick technique as an exponent for any quantitative reason. It just “felt” like it would be appropriate and is entirely subjective. One reason is that once you’ve laid down the efficient movement, while making it precise (speed, timing) technique can only serve to vastly increase this defensive content. This may be because when we think of a sloppy movement versus becoming more and more proficient technically, this may improve results more than simple multiples.

      Note that I also wasn’t sure whether to add or multiply speed and timing, and focus and efficient application and this is open for interpretation.


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