Fear as your Ally

Editor's note: Darren Laur sent me this article years ago, and it got lost in the archive somewhere. I've republished it here on 4/5/13. It's a good read. Enjoy.

A recent study conducted by a well-respected organization in the United States determined that in 80% of attacks on women (I would even extrapolate this to men as well), the predator frightened his victim into submission simply by using verbal intimidation. The mind guides the body. The street predator knows that if he is able to paralyze your mind through fear, your body will freeze also, no matter how much physical training you have.

What is fear?

Most people view fear as an extremely negative feeling which causes one to totally freeze and panic, and as a result get hurt. Although this is a common belief, it is not quite accurate.

Fear is both a physical and an emotional response to a perceived threat or danger. The physical reactions prepare us to confront and survive a dangerous situation, by readying autonomic functions for self-preservation and trauma. Heart rate increases; adrenaline and blood clotting enzymes are released to make the body stronger, faster and less likely to feel pain. Although the biological response to fear does not differ from person to person, the emotional response will, based upon one’s perception of threat.

It is this perception of threat that can, and will, differ from person to person based upon training and learned past experiences in how to deal with the specific threat encountered. What may seem to be a threatening situation to one person may not be to another.

This emotional response to fear is both learned and voluntary. A learned experience is generally taught to you. For instance, if you are a parent who has arachnophobia, and you see a spider crawling across the floor, your first reaction may be to scream and jump on a chair. Your small child will soon begin to “model” his behavior in the same way. Seeing the spider will trigger the learned fear response.

The voluntary reaction is what we choose to do when faced with a dangerous situation. Unfortunately, many people use fear in a self-defeating, negative way rather than with a challenging positive attitude.

Perceived threats trigger our learned and voluntary responses and any three will occur: fight, flight, or hypervigilance. A lot of us know about the fight or flight response, but not many of us know about hypervigilance.

Hypervigilance (freezing in place or taking irrational actions) is something that we are all inbred and programmed with from the cave man days, at the “reptilian brain” or “frog brain” level. For those of you that have seen Jurassic Park the movie, what do the experts in the move yell to those people who were running from the Tyrannosaurus Rex ? Why ? because it was “hypothesized” that dinosaurs hunted via movement.

Now, lets bring this to the year 2002. Lets say you are traveling mach factor ten down a deserted highway in the middle of the night with your high beams on, when all of a sudden a deer jumps out in front of your car. What does the deer do ? It freezes. Why? Does it see the car as a car? No, it sees the car as a threat. What does Bambi do when it sees or senses a threat in the bush?

It freezes, in an attempt to not be seen by that which is potentially hunting it. Like Bambi, we have this same response programmed into us as well. Once caught in a state of hypervigilance, it is a downward spiral that once caught into, is very difficult, if not impossible, to get out of.

Why is this important?

Because the mind guides the body. If the brain freezes, so will the body !!!!! Allowing yourself to become stuck in a state of hypervigilance, both mentally and physically, will most certainly allow the attacker to succeed, or will prevent you from becoming proactive in dealing with the situation at hand.

The emotional response to fear, need not be mental immobility; it can be trained and utilized as a voluntary, positive force. An analogy can be drawn by comparing the fear emotion, with electricity. When used positively and appropriately, electricity runs our lives; when used negatively and carelessly, electricity can kill.

The emotion of fear is the same way; used in a positive way, the emotion of fear is a “powerizer” and an “energizer”. Used in a negative way, the emotion of fear can cause one to panic, freeze, get seriously injured, and in the worse cases, even killed. What you choose to do with the emotion of fear – allow it to control you, or harness the energy – is left up to you to decide, it is a conscious choice, but the decision you make could mean the difference between winning or loosing.

So now we know that fear is simply an “emotion”, just like any other emotion that the good Lord gives us. We also now know that although the emotion of fear is triggered based upon one’s perception of threat, which could differ from person to person, biologically it reacts the same in each and everyone of us.

We also now know that when the emotion of fear hits, one of three responses; fight, flight, or hypervigilance, will take place. Based upon what I just shared with you about the hypervigilant state, I think you will agree that we want to pick the “fight” or “flight” response.

How do you choose fight or flight and not the hypervigilance response? The answer is simple in concept; ask yourself: “ Am I threatened or am I challenged?”

To understand this concept, place yourself on the following scenario: You are in an office building that has thirty floors, and wanting to go to the top floor, you decide to use the elevator.

When the elevator arrives, with no one inside, you enter and start your ascent. Arriving at the tenth floor, the door opens and standing in front of you is an unknown male, 6’5”, 250 ponds, built like a Mac truck, brandishing a knife and saying, “ shut up and I won’t hurt you, if you scream, you’re dead.” Now ask yourself , “Am I threatened or am I challenged?” Most people , when faced with this situation, will say they are threatened.

The brain makes decisions for the future based upon past experience and training; it guides the body. No matter how much physical training you have to deal with an attacker who is about to assault you, if you stay in the “threatened” mindset, you will go into hypervigilance mode, come to a paralytic standstill, and be at the mercy of the attacker. Because off this fact, you need to get “CHALLENGED.”

How do you get from a “threatened” mindset to a “challenged” mindset? By consciously saying the word “BUT.” In the elevator, when the door opens and you are faced with the attacker armed with the knife, what should be going through your mind is, “I’m in a bad situation, BUT if he takes another step, I will …….”

The powerful word “BUT” challenges the brain and allows it to work and think. When I give lectures on this topic, I always lead my audience up to the point where I ask them this question: “ There is one little three letter word that will change your mindset from threatened to challenged, do you want to know what that word is?”

At this point I pause for about three seconds, and then I say the word “BUT”. It is amazing to see the expressions on people’s faces. I then share with them that as soon as I said the word “BUT” most of the audiences brains asked themselves, “BUT what ?” As soon as the brain goes “But What”, the brain now begins to work.

It can now find answers to the questions it is being faced with, such as, “How am I going to get out of this situation as quickly and safely as possible.” Once the brain is allowed to work, the physical training and experiences you may have can now be applied. In other words, instead of freezing into a complete standstill, you begin to take some action to protect yourself.

A good self-protection program with “realistic”” scenario based training is beneficial not only in teaching you physical strategies, but in helping you realize that you CAN use fear to your advantage.

However, even if you do not have the self-protection training or life experiences to deal with a specific threat, the “CHALLENGED” brain will begin to adapt, overcome, and improvise to find a way for you to stay safe. There are hundreds of instances in which men and women with no prior self-protection training, have physically resisted their attackers and “won.” Why? They CHALLENGED themselves.

As previously stated, in 80% of attacks on women, the predator used only verbal intimidation to scare his victim into a submissive state of hypervigilance. To overcome this, you must allow the brain to work, challenge it to mentally figure a way out of the dangerous situation, and to physically release the “internal warrior” that the emotion of fear can stimulate.

Decide to focus and direct the mental and physical forces into a powerful attack of your own, and allow the full impact of the fear response to propel your mind, body, and soul against the your attacker. Fear can be your greatest ally in a dangerous situation, but it can also be your worst enemy. THE CHOICE IS ULTIMATELY YOURS TO MAKE !!!!!!

What I have just shared with you, you can practice in your everyday life. I share with you, this personal experience to demonstrate this fact:

I was one of the youngest sergeants ever to be promoted in my police department. While in the promotional process, the last stage was an interview in front of a panel consisting of the Chief of police, the Deputy Chief, a Police Board member, and a City Counselor.

My interview was set for 2pm, so I was there at 1:45pm. The panel knowing of my early arrival, waited until 2:30pm to call me in. Why? They wanted to sweat me !!!! As I was waiting for my interview, I noted that my heart rate and breathing had increased, I was sweating, my mind was racing a mile a minute, at which time I asked my self; “Am I threatened or am I challenged.” I immediately identified the fact that I was “THREATENED” Upon comprehending this fact, I knew that if I went into this interview in this mindset, I would choke (go into a state of hypervigilance) !!!!

How many of you have heard of this happening to someone, or experienced this yourself. Immediately upon recognizing my state of mind, I said that magical, but very powerful word, “BUT”. As soon as I said “but”, I stopped sweating, my mind slowed, and my heart rate and respirations decreased. I went into my interview in a now “CHALLENGED” mindset and as a result, did very well, and got myself promoted.

Why did I share the above noted experience with you the reader?, because in my 15 year career as a police officer, I have been attacked with an edged weapon on four separate occasions. In each one of these edged weapon encounters, the biological effects of fear that I felt were no different than those I experienced during my sergeant interview. Remember, fear is strictly an emotion, IT DOES NOT DIFFERENTIATE. What you choose to do with the emotion of fear, is left up to you to decide and to practice!

Strength and Honor

Darren Laur
Integrated Street Combatives
Victoria, BC

The Killer Instinct

My junior football coach always inspired us to be our best.

Mick often talked about the importance of possessing “the killer instinct”. That feeling deep within that drives you to your potential. That inner desperation that pushes you further than your opponents. The burning sensation of feeling unstoppable. Together with the mind set that nothing can stand in your way…

This was one of the reasons we achieved so much, one of the things that made our team so strong. This is what pushed us so far – the killer instinct.

Too often these days it seems that many karate students lack the drive to be better. A lot of students just cruise through class, rarely giving their all unless the instructor is watching. They believe that just plodding along coming to training every now and again will serve them well, when in fact it does the opposite. They lack the motivation. In short they lack the killer instinct.

People who have the killer instinct contest the impossible. People who have the killer instinct never quit. They believe that their goal (whatever it might be) is first priority, and everything else takes a back seat.

Even pain.

In any life threatening confrontation “the killer instinct” is critical for survival. Your focused desperation must be greater than your opponent’s. Assuming skills are equal, the killer instinct might be what pushes you over the line. And if the situation is unfairly weighted against you, the killer instinct may make up for those shortcomings.

My grandfather served 5 1/2 years in the Australian army during WWII, serving one tour in the Middle East and two tours in the jungle in Papa New Guinea. He always said that he was lucky to come back but he also told me that he believed there was no enemy out there that could touch him; there was no enemy out there that could outsmart him; there was no enemy out there that could defeat him. Clearly he possessed the killer instinct. It kept him safe in the worst of circumstances.

The killer instinct isn’t something that is exclusive to survival or sports, however. You can utilize the same feeling to create massive change in your life and achieve what you perceive as seemingly impossible. You can use the feeling of the killer instinct to achieve your black belt, become a national champion or open your own school. You can switch on that killer instinct and tackle projects in school, at work … even at home.

It’s what can separate you from the mediocre. It’s what makes you remarkable. It can give you the edge and in karate specifically it can help you reach your karate potential. People who possess the killer instinct play to win. They dream big and act accordingly. They don’t let fear, intimidation or anxiety stand in their way. They realize that it’s easy to achieve when they draw on their killer instinct, when most of their competition doesn’t even consider it.

If karate training just seems “too hard” sometimes, it’s time to heed the words of “The Doors” and use your killer instinct to “break on through to the other side.”

So how to you find your killer instinct?

As a new parent I can tell you the easiest way to discover your killer instinct, is to think of how you’d feel if you had to protect your child from an imminent threat. Imagine what it might be like to have your kids in a perilous situation and how you’d turn your fear and anger into action. That’s the feeling right there. It’s the “whatever it takes” attitude to put your goal beyond your personal consideration.

If you’re not a parent the best way I can explain it is to think of a time when someone told you that “you can’t do that” or that “you’re not good enough”, and the feeling you had and the actions that followed to prove them wrong. It’s the desire to achieve against all odds.

In a nutshell the way to find and then utilize your killer instinct is a two part process. First you’ll need to attach your strongest emotions to your goal. You need to attach them to achieving, winning, and being the best you can be. Those emotions or how you feel is what drives you to take action. The stronger the emotion, the greater the action.

Part two is to think about the result if you achieved your goal. How would you feel? Try to physically feel the feeling of achievement and success as if you already have it.

Now get the feeling of your deepest emotions in the first step (by using the examples above), then visualize your goal in step

Go back and forth visualizing and feeling the emotions with each part. Try to make the connection between the two. This technique helps you make a new neurological association in your mind – an actual physical pathway in your brain – linking the two together*. Linking the “whatever it takes” attitude (the killer instinct) to achieving your goal will help your body kick it into high gear easier and faster when your goal is in sight… because it will have become your habit.

So if you find that you don’t care about a particular goal, or can’t be bothered when the going gets tough it’s clear you haven’t attached your killer instinct to achieving it. However once you do make the association, you’ll feel empowered and the results will follow. You’ll feel unstoppable. Achieving your black belt or next dan rank will become reality as you’ll have committed yourself both consciously and unconsciously.

If everyone were to give their best every time, standards would be raised and skills would develop faster. The best of the best people in karate and other sports, business and those successful in life realize this important point. They are the ones who combine their killer instinct together with their passion for what they do. And of course success follows.

So next time you have a choice between sitting on the couch watching tv or getting to karate class, which will you choose?

Next time you spar against someone who intimidates you, will you give it your all and perk up at the challenge or give up and cower away? Next time something seems just “too hard”, what will you do?

Will you choose weakness and take yourself out?

I hope not!

Just summon your killer instinct instead and see how far you can go…

Learn How To Do A Spinning Hook Kick!

The spinning hook kick is probably the most spectacular kick but sadly has the least value in karate outside of the tournament arena or Hollywood. Like anyone who has ever watched any martial arts movie, I’m sure you’ve been impressed by the ability of the hero to magically pull out a spinning hook kick to save the day (of course after being brutally beaten for 10 minutes by the villain). Go on, admit it…. you’ve jumped up and punched the air and yelled “Yeah!!!” at the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris… =) Well I can’t teach you how to take a beating and THEN be able to pull off possibly one of the most difficult karate kicks to end a fight. But I can teach you the basic steps of what’s involved in the kick, give you some exercises to improve your kick, and then show you how to put it all together… and who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to pull it off on the big screen. Before we get started, here are 3 handy things to remember when learning anything complicated.

Handy tip #1 – Break it down!

As M.C. Hammer said… “Break it down!” Who’d have ever thought we’d turn to 80’s rappers for advice? Well in this case breaking it down is exactly what you have to do if you want to learn something complicated quickly, including the spinning hook kick. Break it down and practice in sections, mastering each as you go. You need to have ALL sections working before piecing the entire kick together, or you’ll just end up looking like (and feeling like) a newborn foal trying to balance for the first time.

Handy tip #2 – Work backwards

Yep you heard right. Work backwards. I can already hear you saying, “But if I can’t do it forwards, how can I possibly do it backwards?” Don’t worry we’re not actually doing the kick in reverse, we’re just going to work backwards as we learn it. This is a concept I learned from possibly the world’s greatest lateral thinker, Edward de Bono. His ideas are great for problem solving, goal setting and clear thinking. And for most people performing a spinning hook kick is a problem, requires goal setting and clear thinking. I explain more in a minute, but for now you’re gonna have to trust me… work backwards.

Handy tip # 3 – Persistence

Once you have each individual part working for you, it’s just a matter of linking them all together in the correct order. And yes, it takes a some practice even after you have each section correct. This is when you iron out the bugs, learn to increase your speed and then put it into action against a real target. Keep persisting in your endeavor. Remember that persistence is the father of success! So without any further adieu let’s learn how to make a spinning hook kick!

Breaking it down…

What are the most obvious parts of the kick? Let’s look at the name – Spinning Hook Kick. From that it should be plainly obvious that there are 2 major parts to the kick.
  • The spin or turn and…
  • The hook kick
Yes, you need to be able to do the hook kick before you can do the spinning version of it. But don’t be disheartened – after reading this, watching and practicing the drills I’m about to show you, you’ll pick it up in no time. Our technique can further be broken down into…
  • The spin or turn
    • Finding the target
    • Performing the spin/turn
  • The kick
    • The motion of the body to the knee high position
    • The motion of the leg from the knee high position
Now we have the basic components… let’s work backwards starting with…

Step #1 – The motion of the leg from the knee high position – the final part of the kick.

Using our concept of working backwards we need to master the final part of the kick first. Most people start at the beginning without knowing how to actually do the kick so they end up losing balance, falling over or at best making a horrible kick. So what’s the final part of the kick? It’s the motion from the knee down. For many people making this part is challenging. Most of us are accustomed to “flicking our kick” with mawashi geri (roundhouse kick). Making the opposite motion starting with a straight leg is somewhat foreign but absolutely necessary in order to have a successful kick. An easy way to learn this motion without worrying about losing your balance is to practice the kick lying down. Simply lie on one side with your head propped up with your hand (see image below). Now take your top leg and pull the knee into your chest and practice the motion of the kick from here.
Do this by extending your kick straight out as if making a side kick. Once you reach full extension, push with your toes until pointing straight. At this point you’ll notice that you’ll want to start bending your knee, which is exactly what you want to do. Continue to bend your knee until your leg is bent at 45 degrees at which point it’s time to recoil your kick in the exact opposite motion. Begin by straightening your leg like you were kicking roundhouse kick. When your leg reaches its straight position, pull your knee back towards your body.  
Practice this 20 times and then switch sides. Do this on a daily basis and within a week or so you’ll have the motion down, often much sooner.

Step # 2 – The motion of the body to the knee high position

So now you know how to do the actual “kick”. Let’s look at the position from which you should kick and how to get the knee up to that point. For an effective hook kick it’s good to have your body turned side-on with your kicking hip facing the target. That is, your supporting foot should be pointing 180 degrees in the opposite direction… or at an absolute minimum of 90 degrees to the target. The greater the angle you can achieve, the better your kick will be as it helps stretch out your hips and get your body in position to achieve the greatest possible range. So, from a side-on standing position pick up your right front foot as if making a front kick directly in front of you (that is 90 deg to the real target) but look at the hook kick target to your right. This is the “knee high” position from which to make the kick.
Now we need to practice how to get to this position without losing balance. We don’t actually want to kick yet; just learn how to get the knee up quickly to the chamber position. Do this by standing with your right leg forward with your back to the target. From here look at the target over your right shoulder and push off with your front foot until you reach the knee high position. Practice just this motion 20 times a day until you feel comfortable getting to this point without losing your balance.

Steps #3 and #4 – Performing the spin and finding the target

Now for the spin! Stand with your left leg forward and with your eyes on the target. Quickly twist clockwise on the balls of your feet until your back faces the target. As you make this twisting/turning motion, be sure to whip your head around quickly and sight-up the target, just like the way an ice-skater moves their head before their body when spinning in place. This gives you a point of reference and tells your body where to aim. Practice this 20 times a day or until you feel comfortable with it
Key point: Do the spin this way and bring your knee up (keeping your leg compressed) at the 9 o’clock position. Most people who lose their balance do so because they pick the leg up too early or allow the kicking motion to begin before they reach the chamber position.

Wrapping it up

  ura mawashi geriNow it’s just a matter of pushing off the front foot (now your right foot), bringing your leg up to the knee high position and extending the kick to hit your target. From here recoil the kick but keep your body turning clockwise to complete your circle. Once you have put the sections together and have this basic motion sorted out, concentrate on building speed and working with moving targets. Remember, persistence! Well, there you have it. All the basic components of the spinning hook kick complete with drills to practice and refine your technique. Good luck with it!

Developing Hara for Improved Karate Technique

The impact was immense.

That kick hit me right in the stomach, and as I crumpled up I had a sense I was about to vomit.

I’d just been hit by my sensei’s spinning ushiro geri (back kick) and was literally shocked by the impact.

From my hands and knees I tried desperately to regain my breath…

After class I wondered if I could have done anything to prevent being hit. Of course I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. That would have helped…

But you and I both know that sometimes you get hit.

It’s part of karate.


I heard someone say “More sit-ups for you mate!”, which kinda ticked me off. I trained hard. I did a ton of situps. So why did it hurt so badly when I got hit?

2 reasons.

First, my sensei’s technique was flawless.

Second, I hadn’t learned how to develop hara.

With plenty of hara that kick that dropped me to my knees probably still would have knocked me around in a big way, but perhaps the outcome wouldn’t have been so devastating.

And it wasn’t until many, many years later I truly understood what hara was in a karate sense, and how to develop and apply it.

This article  will shed some light on what exactly hara is, and help you develop yours more quickly than me. The result will be a tougher, stronger and more controlled you. Plus you’ll learn through proper application of hara, how to increase the effectiveness of your karate technique.

Read on for more…

So what is “hara” exactly?


haraIn simple western karate terms hara bascially means “abdominal tension”. It’s the tightening of your abdominal muscles.

However as you’re about to learn, hara to the Japanese has a far more in depth meaning in both Japanese culture and religion. This lends to a deeper understanding of hara for karate.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Japanese suicide ritual, “hara-kiri” which literally translates as “abdomen cut”, or to disembowel oneself with a knife.

Hara-hachi-bun is another term used in Okinawa that basically means “eat until you’re 80% full” – again you can see the meaning and reference to the abdominal tension.

But at this point we’re really just touching the surface as far as understanding hara.

Hara in Japanese culture and religion

Hara can refer to many things associated with the abdominal area, such as abdominal tension, gut, belly, etc, but is also thought to be the center of one’s being, or the source of one’s vitality or energy. It also has the emotional attachment of courage, fortitude and even anger.

Have you ever felt sick in the stomach when you’ve become enraged? Or have you ever experienced that deep seeded emotion of determination that seems to extend from within?

That’s your hara at work. There’s more to it outside the scope of this article, but that should give you some idea of what hara is to the Japanese.

So why is hara important in karate?

Proper application of hara in karate not only toughens your body and makes it more resilient to impact, but it provides the connection between your upper and lower body.

It’s the link between stance and upper body.

We’ve all heard the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. In karate the lack of hara is often the weakest link, which in turn translates to ineffective technique and lack of impact.

Imagine having two pieces of wood connected by a piece of rope, hanging vertically. Now if you twist the top piece of wood the rope twists and then slowly under the force of the spring action the bottom piece of wood turns.

Now imagine replacing that rope with a piece of stiff but elastic rubber and again twisting the top object. The rubber due to its increased elastic property twists the lower object with more force, more quickly.

Consider a third scenario where the two pieces of wood are connected with a third piece of wood. Immediately as the top one is turned, the bottom piece turns with it because of the solid connection.

Of course in karate we’re not twisting from the top down, but from the bottom up. But the same principle applies.

If your abdominal muscles act like the rope, your upper body technique will be sloppy and lack impact. And if it acts like the all wood connection, everything turns at once and you’ll see only a small increase in effectiveness. But if t acts more like the rubber, then the force will be increased dramatically due to the ELASTIC properties of the rubber and the resulting spring action or “whip effect”.

Massive Hint to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Upper Body Technique

It’s not the “twisting of your hips” that has the biggest influence on developing technique effectiveness!

In fact the term “twisting your hips” really doesn’t make much sense and is often used poorly to describe what really should be happening. It’s the DRIVE from your legs to PROPEL your hip forward, the contraction of your abs (hara) and the resulting whip effect of your arm that creates the most kinetic energy. The amount kinetic energy is what gives the “knockout power” to a technique, not so much the force of the technique.

There MUST be separation between HIP and SHOULDER through proper application of HARA for maximum impact.

In other words, it’s all about the timing of your contraction of your abs to make the connection between upper and lower body. Just like the example above with the rubber connection, with the added improvement of being able to delay the “whip effect” for maximum spring tension (but not too much because we don’t want to stop momentum completely).

So as you can see the application of HARA involves not just simply contracting the abs, but the TIMING and method of abdominal contraction depending on what we’re doing. When receiving impact, simple “hunker down” contraction is what we’re doing. When punching HARA encompasses the timing, twisting and contraction of your DIFFERENT abdominal muscles.

How do you develop hara?

The short answer is through martial arts exercises that develop abdominal muscles. Remember you have 6 sets of abdominal muscles, not just one. Each are used when making tension in different ways, crunching, twisting, breathing, etc.

Situps, hip raises, core-strengthening exercises like bridging or planking, all develop abdominal strength, but remember it’s about HOW and WHEN you contract that’s really important for proper HARA.

Of course once you make the distinction between how your muscles are used for different movements, that’s when you start to understand how to apply hara correctly. Try to distinguish between the muscles you use for sit-ups, compared to the abdominal muscles you use for twisting, compared to the abs used when breathing, for posture, etc.

To the novice it might seem like one contraction does all. But for us we understand it’s far more involved than that.

There are specific kata that really focus on developing hara such as seienchin and sanchin, but if you don’t practice those specific kata, you’ll need to develop your understanding of hara in other ways.

Actively thinking about making hara is the first step to developing hara subconsciously. Think about it when making basic technique from yoi. Think about the muscles you use while making oi-zuki and gyaku-zuki. Think about how you use those muscles while making transitions from one stance to another. Become aware of your breathing and the role of hara while performing kata.

In Closing…

If you put hara at the top of your list of things to improve, you’ll see that your understanding of one of the most overlooked aspects of modern karate will make MASSIVE improvements to your technique. 

And once you couple the physical with the emotional part you’ll have a true sense of how powerful hara really can be…


Weight Training – Helpful or Harmful for Karate?


A question I receive often is, “Is weight training helpful or harmful for my karate?”

That’s a great question and often a confusing and misunderstood topic. In this article I’ll explain the pros and cons of weight training, how it affects your technique and finish up by setting you straight on what kind of training routine might suit your karate goals.

Before we get to that let’s explore why we’re training in the first place. According to a survey I held back in 2002 of over 800 karate students, the number one reason for karate training was (as you might expect) self defense (37.2 %) followed closely by fitness (25%). The remainder of the results were spread over self confidence, strength building, competition and discipline. Since our results showed that over 62 % of people train for the top 2 reasons we’ll base our arguments on these two points — that we actively participate in karate to increase our self defense ability and our fitness.

So how do our karate goals relate to weight training exactly? Consider for a moment, if you will, how weight training might affect your self defense ability. Will carrying more bulk inhibit your speed and make you slower? Or will the extra mass help with the power of your strikes and give you extra strength while grappling?


Fitness on the other hand – what exactly do people mean when they say they want to be fitter? Again most people don’t understand fitness, just that they want to be “fitter” than what they are now. Are we talking about having more vitality or a stronger body, anaerobic or aerobic fitness? What’s the difference? Can weight training affect these goals also?

Finally what kind of weight training are we talking about here? Do people generally mean going to the gym to bulk up or are they more interested in building muscles for endurance? Each of these methods affects how your muscles develop, which brings us back to… what do you want from karate?


If your reason is for self defense and you’re practicing a striking art like karate, then it makes sense that you want to be “built for speed”. We want to end a conflict within seconds, not let the fight continue for 15 rounds. As far as generating power, always remember a slow technique is a useless technique.


“Have you ever heard of the slowest gun fighter in the west?”
– Tommy Morris


So why is speed important?

Firstly without it you’ll never hit your target or block/evade in time. The second reason why speed is so critical is more scientific. As karateka we should be interested in how to develop as much force as possible with our technique, of which speed is a critical factor. Newton’s second law of physics reveals the following:


Force = Mass x Acceleration


Now getting a little more technical we see that it’s not actually speed but acceleration that is critical. It’s how quickly you can develop speed from a resting position to its maximum velocity at impact. With that we now see that:


Acceleration = Change in Speed / Change in Time


Yikes… if your eyes just glazed over at the thought of high school physics, don’t worry. I’ll make this as painless as possible. Promise. =) Basically it boils down to this: the faster your technique is traveling at the point of impact, the more force it will generate. How do we get faster acceleration? Through faster contraction of our muscles of course!

As you may already know different kinds of muscle fibers are responsible for different muscle functions. Everybody has both slow twitch fibers and fast twitch fibers, about 50% of each kind, which are intermingled in different proportions in different muscles. The slow fibers utilize repeated slow contractions for strength and endurance, like maintaining your posture or marathon running. These fibers don’t fatigue nearly as quickly as fast twitch fibers, which contract up to 10 times more quickly, and also fatigue much faster. Ever had the “lactic acid buildup” after doing something like 15 fast jabs with your front hand, or holding your arms above your head for an extended time? That’s a byproduct of muscle fatigue and the fatiguing of your fast twitch fibers in that muscle.

Some experts say that the percentage of fast to slow twitch fibers is entirely controlled by genetics meaning that if you’re born slow, there’s nothing you can do about it. Other experts in the field of athletics say that although the ratio is genetic you can teach slow twitch fibers to be fast and vice versa depending on your training routine.

A marathon runner would be interested in developing more slow twitch fibers to help with endurance. Some people have been tested to have as much as 80% slow twitch fibers which is great for endurance, while a karateka should be interested in developing their fast twitch for more powerful strikes.

So what’s all this got to do with weight training?


You see the method by which you train your muscles will either develop more slow twitch or more fast twitch fibers. Regular weight training and plyometrics build slow twitch fibers, through repetition. That’s what gives you your endurance. If you’ve ever lifted weights you know that the general concept is to do, for example, 3 sets of 10 reps for each muscle group. This repetition is what builds your strength. Over time you’re able to lift more weight and increase the number of reps or sets.

If you want to develop strength then there’s nothing wrong with weight training. In fact weight training and plyometric exercises are perfect for developing strength and endurance. This might be a great option for you if you are simply looking to increase your strength and fitness, something that grapplers would be interested in doing.

If you want to develop speed on the other hand, regular weight training won’t help in the long run. Sure initially as you build more muscle, you’ll have a few more fast and slow twitch fibers created, but what we’re really interested in for speed is focusing on developing our fast twitch fibers.

That involves a whole other method of training. Most people think that simply using weights and making faster curls develops speed… well, again this develops strength not speed as it doesn’t target the fibers we want — even if you do it as fast as you can. Actually it makes fast fibers act like slow fibers! Anything that involves repetition builds slow twitch fibers.

There’s a very specific method of speed training to develop only fast twitch fibers. The entire process is outside of the scope of this article today, but the basic concept is to teach our muscles to be fast by teaching them to be elastic. Teaching a muscle memory if you will, so your muscles can “snap” into position, just the way a stretched elastic band accelerates from rest to its maximum speed in an instant when you stretch and release it before it returns to its unstretched state. Through this type of training, the muscle “learns” its length and twitches to produce the fastest acceleration to that particular length every time.

The basic method involves using a stretch band and an isometric contraction for a measured amount of time. Unlike weight training where the aim is to make loads of repetitions, this type of speed training doesn’t use that method either… as repetitions build strength and not speed.

So what’s the solution to develop both speed and strength? Basically your training program needs to contain both strength exercises and CORRECT speed exercises to develop both slow and fast fibers individually.

So if we go back to the original question “Is weight training helpful or harmful to karate?” we see it depends on whether you want to build strength or speed. If you want strength and endurance, sure it helps – and will help your aerobic fitness also. If you want speed, then the answer is no. Weights, plyometrics and endurance training don’t help develop fast twitch fibers (anaerobic technique), which you need more of to develop more speed.

For someone studying BJJ, Judo or other grappling/wrestling where strength and endurance is helpful, weights are great. For someone involved in primarily a striking art, weights alone without speed training and proper stretching can be harmful to speed.

In future articles we’ll take a closer look at the strength vs speed dilemma and give you some ideas of how to develop both.

Until next time…

Stay safe, train hard.



Textbook of Medical Physiology, 8th edition, Guyton. 1990. ISBN-10: 0721630871


Karate Drills To Increase Your Speed, Stamina and Fitness

Want to increase your speed, power and endurance? Or are you looking for drills to work your class like never before? In my “125 Dynamite Drills” you’ll find a truck load of drills to develop your strength, endurance, fitness and speed.

You’ll discover:

  • 20 Warm Up & Endurance Training Drills to build strong muscle, aerobic fitness and to tone the body…

  • 16 Basic Technique Exercises to develop powerful strikes, improved focus and muscle memory…

  • 10 Killer Kata Exercises to challenge anyone at any level. These drills are not style specific and great for working both mind and body, so anyone can see immediate improvement in their execution and understanding of kata…

  • 20 Fighting Drills and Exercises to increase your reaction speed, timing and confidence.

  • 9 reality based self defense drills to bring you as close to the real thing as possible so you’ll be better prepared.

  • Plus much more!

 Read more here: http://www.karateteaching.com/karatedrills


Transition and Technique

Back in high school I remember a classmate doing a martial arts demonstration for his 11th grade presentation. Alex was a black belt in karate and everyone knew this… Nobody messed with him because of his ‘status’ and when he got up to speak silence fell across the room like a blanket of snow in the middle of the night.

As part of his presentation Alex gave a little history and broke a board with a punch – and when that happened the guys in class raised their eyebrows, while the girls glanced at each other quickly and admired him with delight.

He had our attention…

Alex then went on to talk about the importance of body movement, knowing how to turn and what technique should follow the previous one. He explained that although you might be able to punch and kick, you need to know how to turn from one direction to another seamlessly and put your techniques together so they flow like water through a pipe.

He explained that without this connection between technique and transition, a martial artist could really find themselves in hot water, unable to completely defend themselves… particularly in a multiple attacker situation.

For example it would be foolish to try to kick to the front and then use the same leg while unbalanced to kick in another direction. This would result in an ineffective technique – and we all know that ineffective techniques can get you killed. Learning how to make a particular technique, then transition to a stable position before attempting the next technique is crucial.

I was just a beginner at the time and my head was still spinning from him breaking the board, but I guess some of what he said actually engrained itself into my memory… which today is the basis of this article – transition and technique.

So we’ve established WHY it’s important for us, as martial artists, to be able to shift from one stance to another, or change direction faster than a pinball bouncing off a rubber cushion, but we haven’t yet taken a look at…

How to change direction quickly…

Let’s assume you’ve got to turn 180 degrees. How should you make this transition? Should you pivot by moving your front foot across or your back foot across? Should you step as you turn? Do you move your back foot up or your front foot back? Why? Does this work every time? Can you think of any conflicts? In kata do you sometimes move the front? Sometimes the back? Why? The list goes on…. and on… and on…


That’s a lot of questions… and to not know the answers prior to combat might just leave you deader than Elvis.

So which do you choose?

The general answer is it depends on the situation. It depends on from which direction the attacker is approaching, how they’re approaching, and what you want to do…

To illustrate an important point let’s assume there were 8 different directions the attacker could come from… and assume that there were 8 different attacks he might use… and you had 8 different responses for any of those attacks…

8 x 8 x 8 = 512 possibilities! Aaahhhh… the power of multiplication!

What if there was a second attacker?

1024 combinations…

Are you starting to see how complex this can become?

This is why it’s SO critically important that you learn to control as many of the variables as possible… let’s start by mastering our footwork. Thankfully many of the transitions you make are similar in nature and we can simplify the situation a little. Let’s master the connection between transition and technique with…

The Left Behind Drill

The basic concept of this drill is to first turn to your left and then turn behind. Repeat this process 4 times and you’ll end up at your starting point. During the drill you’ll make 8 transitions. Pick a technique for the drill and carry that through every transition.

Here’s how it works:


The drill starts from yoi dachi (ready stance) and the first move is made to the left. For example, make your lower block as you step out with your left foot into your forward stance.


Now it’s time to turn behind. Let’s assume you want to make your transition by moving your back foot across and pivoting in a clockwise direction 180 degrees, making your downward block… this time with the other side of your body.


Next transition to the left again, this time by stepping 90 degrees to your left with your rear foot and making your downward block. Notice that you’ve switched sides of the body again… you should have your left leg forward at this time, making your lower block with your left arm.


Turn behind again by moving your back foot across and pivot 180 degrees. You should now be facing the back of the room, or 180 degrees from your starting position, with your right foot forward and blocking down with your right arm.



Again step in with your rear foot 90 degrees to your left…


Now pivot behind by moving your back foot across…


To the left again!


And finally behind, so you end up facing the front in your left forward stance. You can end the drill here by returning to your ready position.

This is a great drill for developing fast, sharp turns and transitions. Of course what we’ve covered today is the SIMPLE version. You can switch it up by changing the variables. Remember the variables are:


  1. The techniques you wish to practice

    For example – you can plug in a combination here like block down, then step forward and punch.

  2. How you wish to make your transition

    Are you going to step, or pivot, and with which foot?

  3. What stance(s) are you going to use?

    Forward stance, cat stance, sumo stance, etc?

My advice is to start off simple… otherwise in the Left Behind drill you’ll find yourself literally left behind. =)

Of course if you really want to mix it up, there’s whole other side of your body, right? But then it wouldn’t be as much fun if it was called the “right behind drill” now would it?

If you teach, try this with your class. I guarantee you that if you’ve not done this drill before it will create more chaos than protestors at the G8 Summit…. but after the chaos has subsided you’ll find that your class will be in possession of an important new skill, and have started the connection between technique and transition.

Mokuso : Thinking Happy Thoughts? Or Not?


“Seiza!” commanded the voice.

The entire class kneeled  on their left leg then their right and sat quietly with their palms on their thighs, fingers together.

So I copied. I had no idea what we were doing or what was about to happen. I just did what they did.


Everybody cupped their hands in their laps, closed their eyes and breathed deeply. I looked in the mirror to see what others were doing and that’s when I noticed that everyone else had their eyes closed.

So I closed my eyes too.

I could hear the breathing of other students. Some breathed quietly while others made some very strange inhale/exhaling noises that had me puzzled. They reminded me of some wild animal who was choking on its freshly killed prey.

Then there was silence.

I kept my eyes shut and waited patiently. I guess 30 seconds went by when I started to become curious. My mind was racing and full of thoughts like…

“What are we doing?”

“When can I open my eyes?”

“My feet hurt”

“Is anyone still here?”

“Am I the only one in the room?”

Still there was silence….

Then I started to wonder if it was some kind of joke. I expected to open my eyes and find that I was sitting alone on the tatami or that all the other students were standing around holding back their laughter while pointing at me and nudging their friends.




I could hear the dojo clock.



“Brrrrrrrrrrinnnng”. The phone rang.




The front door slammed shut and I could hear people



Now my feet really started to hurt.




That’s when I thought I’d sneak a peek.

Sitting in front and to the right of me was my sensei. He was a big German man: 6″, 250 pounds. He had one eye open and a smirk on his face.

His one robotic-like eye surveyed the class like the Terminator locating its target. As we made eye contact, I thought I might be vaporized at any second so I immediately closed them tight, like a kid hiding from a ghost in a bad horror movie.




Why did my Sensei have his one eye open? Was everyone else doing the same thing? Was it some kind of bizarre ritual where you were supposed to move your open eye side to side in unison?

I had no idea, and the fear overcame me.

There was no way I was going to risk being caught a second time with my eyes open. So I kept my eyes shut. Tight.


Thank goodness the silence was broken by a familiar sound. I knew it was the highest ranked student’s voice, the same voice that commanded “seiza” and “mokuso”. I didn’t know what “yame” meant, but it was enough for me to trust that I could open my eyes.

I peered into the mirror at the other students and they had all placed their hands back on their thighs. The voice then said “Sensei-ni Rei” and everybody made a full kneeling bow.

I don’t remember if it was my first or second class but it was definitely my first “mokuso” experience.

It was strange and intriguing. And I had no idea what it was about!

That’s what I want to touch on today. For karate traditionalists this will be familiar. But if you’re new to karate or “mokuso” then here are some tips to help you make sense of all this fuss.

Many western karate schools do not practice “mokuso”, which literally translates to “meditate”. Many clubs do not sit in “seiza” (the kneeling position) and many do not make full kneeling bows.

This kind of formality is usually found in more traditional karate schools. Its foundations are based on Japanese/Okinawan culture, etiquette and tradition.

For western karate practitioners who sooner or later stumble across this somewhat foreign practice, it can be a little confusing at first. Some people will immediately stop listening to you, back away shyly sure not to make eye contact when they hear words like “meditate” and “breathing” come out of your mouth.

They think you’re going to be some kind of Zen master who’s going to get all “weird” with them, saying something philosophical that only truly enlightened beings can make sense of, such as…

“Master your <<insert favorite emotion here>> before your <<insert favorite emotion again>> masters you.”

But really meditation is not that strange. You don’t have to be a Zen master to meditate, or even speak of it!

Many instructors who have had years of karate training do not understand “mokuso” and simply tell you to shut your eyes and “think nice thoughts”. This advice is unfocused and misleading.

The purpose of mokuso is to clear your mind of thoughts and prepare yourself for class. This is the final point of entry to the tatami. You really should have already left your mental baggage somewhere else.

However, just in case you have any “carry on luggage” that you might bring to class with you, such as negative thoughts or deep emotion that might affect your training, your mokuso before class is when you want to get rid of it. During class you should have one focus only.


Not work.

Not school.

Not your financial disasters!

Not your kids.

Nor anything else that will take your mind away from your training.

So when you hear “mokuso” and you’re asked to close your eyes and “think nice thoughts” here is ONE thing you can do instead so that your mokuso is productive and effective.

The two basic types of meditation that I’d like to explain in this article are below. I’m not going to go into detail about the breathing technique; instead I’d like to focus on the mental state.

Mokuso With Seed

This kind of meditation is when you put a focal point (seed) in your mind to prevent you becoming distracted by such things as how much your feet hurt, the sound of the ticking clock, voices outside or cars going by.

As you breathe deeply, try to visualize an inanimate object such as a green shiny apple or a plain white coffee cup. It must be something simple, non-descriptive and a single color. If you chose a coffee cup, then it should simply be a white coffee cup. Not an intricately designed cup with beautiful patterns swirling around it. Nor should it be a coffee cup falling off a table smashing onto the floor into a thousand pieces. Just a plain white coffee cup.

Now when you hear the phone ring and you find yourself listening to other noises, visualize your “seed” and focus on that only. Continue your breathing and “see” the seed in your mind. When you become distracted you will notice that the image you created in your mind will vanish. This is when it’s time to refocus on your seed and try to hold the image steady for the duration of your mokuso.

After you finish your mokuso, open your eyes and breathe normally for a few breaths. You should find that your worries have temporarily subsided. You’ll feel calmer, more relaxed and focused, and more importantly ready to work hard and do good karate. Then it’s time to jump up on your feet and begin your warm-up.

This simple method helps you focus on one thing and at the same time, dissolve any emotional baggage that you might have brought to class with you.

How long should mokuso be?

Opinions vary, but mokuso at the start of class is usually short. Less than one minute although some clubs may make it longer). A reason for its brevity is so that you can clear your mind before class without getting sleepy! If mokuso is any longer in duration, you might find yourself feeling lethargic and it will be difficult to get motivated to train.

Unfortunately, a short mokuso makes it difficult for the beginner to find focus in that time period. Don’t expect to be able to do it immediately. Some people find it very difficult to visualize, which is usually a sign of an active brain. It might take you a few weeks before you can relax enough to visualize your seed.

Mokuso is like anything else. It takes practice, but once you get it you will find it an effective tool to help you with your karate. Practice at home if you like. Just find a place where you won’t be disturbed and take the phone of the hook. You’ll soon get the hang of it.

So next time you’re in class and hear the word “mokuso”, try this method for yourself. Don’t just be satisfied with “thinking happy thoughts” for that won’t help you clear your mind and focus on your training. Decide what your “seed” is going to be, find it in your mind and stay focused on it.

You might surprise yourself.

Uh oh. Look at that. We’re out of room. Stay tuned, we’ll talk about the other type of meditation in the next part of this article.

Until then…

Think happy thoughts…

– Jason

Criteria for a Sensei

by guest author Graeme McConnell-Brown

Sen is a Japanese term that means before, or ahead. Sei means life, birth or living. Therefore, the sensei is a teacher. They are born before, therefore they are thought to have knowledge that inexperienced people do not. Therefore I broadly understand a sensei to be “one who has gone before”.

In the karate environment, a sensei is seen to be a “teacher” or an “instructor”, and therefore the term implies many year’s experience, and the achievement of high order of karate skills and knowledge. Further it implies the ability to teach others of a lower grade, and contribute to their development.

In the dojo environment “sensei” also implies “leadership”, and so the criteria for a karate sensei will be very similar to the criteria required for anybody in a leadership position. Throughout history there have been numerous attempts to clearly identify “what is leadership”.

In trying to define the criteria of a sensei, one necessarily must assume a moral position first, and therefore the criteria really refers to an “outstanding”, or “ideal” sensei. One could equally make a list addressing the negatives, or simply be neutral. As the following list implies “superior” human performance by it’s very definition, it is not possible to empirically identify whether any particular individual sensei has “passed” the supposed “test”. The list is also deficient in it’s omissions rather than its inclusions.

In any event, who is the judge? What human being would advance a definitive and conclusive answer to this question? The answer to the question lies in two places: our own hearts, and in God’s grace.

Nevertheless, imperfect as it is, and with humility scorched by the fire of egotism, here is my first, tentative, preliminary, draft list:

A sensei has a good understanding of teaching principles. A sensei has the ability to plan and deliver meaningful instruction, taking into account the varying needs, interests and abilities of others.

A sensei is an “extra-ordinary” person, and is seen by others to be “different” and “more advanced” in crucial areas of human life.

A sensei is a human being who tries at all times to “do their best” for others. They are concerned about other’s needs and concerns. They are good counsellors and help people work through problems.

A sensei understands and applies modern bio-mechanical and human performance principles to ensure a safe training environment.

A sensei is up to date, and maintains qualifications and expertise in first aid, teaching skills and effective management practices.

An effective sensei should have impeccable human relations skills, and has the ability to “lead” others. He is able to develop and maintain harmonious and effective relationships. A sensei who is surrounded by turmoil and “staff turnover” of senior students is not an effective sensei.

An effective sensei is fair and impartial, with no “favourites”. In dealing with others and making decisions, the sensei is seen to be fair to everybody. Fairness is defined by other people, not the sensei, so the sensei is alert to the feelings of other people.

A sensei instills, and develops others confidence in themselves.

The ability to effectively employ verbal, written and listening skills is crucial to be a sensei. The ability to communicate effectively is critical. Most leadership problems are caused through leaders being ineffective and one-way communicators.

A sensei has the ability to generate a “team” environment through effective maintenance of leadership skills. Recognising and rewarding effort, and treating other people with fairness and dignity is crucial.

A sensei always looks for and finds the best in other people, concentrating on the positives.

A sensei has the skill to solve problems intelligently and with human relations skill, so that effective outcomes are achieved in an harmonious and realistic fashion.

An effective sensei is intelligent and therefore able to act wisely. The sensei has the ability to “think through” issues and see with “spatial vision” to identify the potential outcomes from a course of action.

A sensei is honest and transparent. There is no “dualism”.

A sensei is ethical in all his dealings.

A sensei is not a true sensei if others are unwilling or unable to follow the sensei.

A sensei is “human”, and understands and forgives himself and others. A sensei can admit an error, and say “I was wrong”.

A sensei has a highly developed “self insight” and is able to “see themselves” as others see them, act accordingly, and are therefore able to be at peace.

A sensei uses discretion and honours confidences.

A sensei understands and uses “honourable” behaviour.

A sensei is a role model for moral, ethical and legal conduct.

A sensei is not a vindictive or angry person. They do not “punish”. They understand students come to the dojo of their own free will, and are not “conscripted”.

An effective sensei lives in the “real world”, and is not isolated from other people and their issues. He is flexible and understands that everybody who persists at karate tries their best, even if it’s not what the sensei wants.

A sensei does not think or act as if he’s better than anyone else, either as a karateka, or as a human being.

A sensei is polite, calm and courteous to all people at all times, no matter what the provocation.

A sensei maintains a “beginners mind”.

A sensei is grateful for all things.

A sensei is above all a human being who makes mistakes, and sometimes falters. With the support of colleagues and seniors they are however, able to overcome difficulties and grow.

If a sensei dies, retires, or is otherwise unable to continue teaching, that is the measure of a sensei. Will the students be devastated? Will they be unhappy because a great martial artist has gone, or because a great human being has gone?

It is impossible to adequately write down the criteria for a sensei, because it’s a feeling one has, and includes the ability to enter the fourth dimension of existence.

To be able to stand above a mountain top and perceive all directions is a rare gift. Not all sensei will reach this, but all would aspire to it. How does one describe the ability to see this way? It is not possible to write it down. The feeling and the understanding is from heart to heart. No human communication is necessary or possible. Human communication being inadequate to this task, the

communication is silent, like one hand clapping.

Silent communication is the only way to adequately define the “Criteria for a Sensei”.

Being imperfect, or not having yet reached the highest levels of human understanding and performance does not disqualify one from being a teacher or a sensei. It simply means the sensei still has to complete their own personal journey.

We will all be judged by our humanity, not our martial arts skills. This applies more so to a sensei.

What are the criteria for a sensei? The same as for a human being. Therefore one cannot be “inadequate” or not “fit”.

One just “is”.

This article was written by Graeme McConnell-Brown. Graeme is the chief instructor for Goju-Ryu Karate Shushin Kai karate in Victoria, Australia – and holds the rank of godan (5th dan). Shihan Graeme has 3 schools in Melbourne and under Shihan Watanabe’s guidance, teaches budo:- authentic, Japanese Goju style karatedo, including Ki Kung and a wide range of meditative practices.

Interview with Sensei Francis Hong – 6th dan Goju Ryu

Back in 2003 I was fortunate enough to meet Shihan Francis Hong, which has it’s own weird little story behind it, and I could tell you all about him, but instead I asked Francis if he would mind doing an interview. Here it is… Enjoy.

Shihan Francis Hong

Hi Sensei Francis, how are you? Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us at KarateTips.

Firstly would you tell our readers when and where you first started practicing martial arts and how old you were?

I was raised in Chinatown, Singapore, and in 1964 at the age of 9, I begin to learn Southern fist Kung Fu from one of my father’s friends. He owned a Kung Fu dojo, and the class was conducted by a young instructor from Malaysia. This was the first encounter with martial arts at a young age.

Why did you begin karate?

In early 1970, when I was in Secondary 2, my classmate was learning Goju-ryu Karate at Metropolitan YMCA from a Japanese Sensei by the name Sensei H. Maekawa. One day, I approached my classmate and asked him to bring me along to MYMCA to watch him train. The class had about 50 students, although I was learning Kung Fu, I was really impressed by the training and I registered for the next enrollment that evening.

Do you remember your first karate lesson? What did you learn?

In my first karate lesson, it was taught by one of the senior black belts, the instructor taught us the normal basic movement such as an introduction to the Goju-ryu style, basic knowledge of Rei, karate etiquette, basic blocks, strikes, punching and kicking techniques, different types of stances etc.

Please describe your shodan grading.

I took my first Dan in April 1973. There were are about six of us. I was quite nervous and excited, because I had been looking forward to this day. When my name was called, I performed the kihon, idoshiki and 3 katas followed by free sparring, breaking of wooden planks with roundhouse kicks and jumping high kicks. Lastly I had to break two bricks either with a shuto uchi or punch. It was a tough grading and I managed to pass my first Dan.

You now hold the rank of 6th Dan in Goju Ryu as recognized by the World Karate Federation and many other associations. When did you receive your grade and who awarded it to you?

I received my 6th Dan from All Japan Karate-do Federation Goju-Kai in 1996. And in year 2000, I received my National Dan from the Singapore Karate-do Federation and WKF Homologated 6th Dan.

What is the worst thing about karate today in your opinion?

My opinion is that there are too many politics in the karate circles and many of them disregard the meaning of the true spirits of karate. Because of political play, some of the good players and good organizations were not given a fair opportunity to compete or involve in the development of the sport.


“…there are too many politics in the karate circles and many of them disregard the meaning of the true spirits of karate.”

What is the best thing about karate today in your opinion?

My opinion of the best thing in Karate is it helps a person in the character building, self-esteem, self-confidence.

What’s been the most difficult part of your training?

My most difficult part of my training was Kata. In the early days of my karate training, I did not like to train Kata. It was boring, and I had to practice kata because of gradings. Through the encouragement of my Sensei I gradually learned to appreciate and became interested in kata training. Since then I enjoy practicing kata.

When were you appointed to be the Singapore National Karate Coach? Please tell us how you reached this position.

I was appointed in 2001 for a 2 year term. Before me we had a local senior Japanese instructor as National Coach. Because of the new requirement by the Singapore Sport Council that all Coaches in National level must possess a level 2 or 3 Coaching Accreditation Certificate by the Singapore Sport Council, I achieved my Level 3 National Coaching Accreditation.

Do you coach kumite, kata or both?

I coach both the Kumite and Kata players but later in the intermediate stage, Shihan Richard Ng took over the coaching of kata.

Aren’t you also a National Referee? Please tell us how you became a referee.

I was a qualified APUKO referee and kata judge from 1987 till 1992, but because of politics, I missed my renewal and the license expired. I took up refereeing again in 2001.

Please tell us about a little about your karate club and where you train.

Zen Shin Ren Karate-do was formed in 1987, after our dojo in YMCA was shut down. We needed a new identity and the name Zen Shin Ren came into the picture. The main objective of Zen Shin Ren is to promote Goju-ryu in Singapore and at the same time to liaise with the neighboring countries which practices Goju-ryu. I took over the Club as its Chief Instructor in 1998.

Where would you like Zen Shin Ren to be in 5 years?

In 5 year’s time, I would like my students to compete in Sea Games and Asian Games. Zen Shin Ren membership to reach 500 and to be one of the top karate clubs in Singapore.

Thank you Francis. I think I speak for all KarateTips members when I say that we appreciate you taking the time for this interview. Good luck with your dojo!

Editor’s Note: If you’re wondering about the “weird little story” behind how I met Sensei Francis this is what happened. In 2002 Sensei Francis became a one of my KarateTips customers. I forget now which product he bought, but I checked in with him about his purchase and we chatted back and forth a couple of times regarding that, to make sure his download went ok, etc. Anyway, I really didn’t know anything more about him other than his name, email and location.

In 2003 I attended the Kobe Osaka International World Cup in Greece, and at one of the official’s dinners I found myself sitting right next to the delegates from Singapore, who I’d never met. We talked about the gasshuku, the tournament, and karate in general. At the end of the evening we exchanged contact information. When I got back home to the United States I thought I’d flick the Singapore delegates a quick email following up about what we talked about.

Lo and behold as I typed in the email address, Outlook resolved the email address to a “Francis Hong”… from my previous customer records. Of course I added a “P.S.” telling Francis about my discovery. He too realized at that point that we’d previously “met”, but only after he had returned to Singapore!

Ritualized Combat

by guest author, Darren Laur

Ritualized Combat was termed by a police trainer by the name of Roland Ouellette. Basically, these “body language signs” are rituals that the human body will, in most cases, go through just prior, during, and after a physical confrontation ( not so different from the animal kingdom).

These signs are important, why? Because they are really good warning signals to let you know what your potential attacker may be contemplating, even though he may not be “verbally” communicating this fact to you. Ritualized Combative signs have been both scientifically and empirically researched in such fields as “Human Performance” and “Neuro Linguistic Psychology.”

Here in Canada, I have used “Ritualized Combative Signs” successfully in the Courts during expert testimony in Self-Defense cases. I also possess hundreds of hours of videotape of actual street fights, and when reviewed both in real time and in slow motion, everyone of the Ritualized Combative signs that I share in my articles and training, are seen prior, during, and after these fights. This is why I believe that all in the self-protection field should know about “Ritualized Combat”. So what are these signs?

Assault Not Imminent But Possible:

  • Head, neck, shoulders go back (person making themselves look bigger)

  • Face is red, twitching, jerking

  • Lips pushed forward bearing teeth (you see the same things in dogs before attack)

  • Breathing is fast and shallow (oxygenating the body preparing for fight, flight, hyper vigilance)

  • Beads of sweat appear about the face/neck

  • Thousand mile glare

  • Exaggerated movements

  • Finger pointing/ head pecking

  • Totally ignores you

  • Gives you excessive attention during normal conversation such as direct uninterrupted eye contact

  • Goes from totally uncooperative to totally cooperative ( people do not go from hot to cold they de-escalate over time)

  • Acts stoned or drunk

  • Directs anger towards other inanimate items such as tables, chairs, walls

If you find yourself confronted by a subject presenting these signs, awareness/self protection strategies should go up, and distance should be created. Your body language should be assertive but not threatening and don’t be afraid to allow the person to vent verbally.

I’m gonna knock your head off… you ready?

Assault Is Imminent:

  • Face goes from red to white ( during a physical confrontation the blood will leave the surface of the body and pool to the big muscles and internal organs of the body needed for survival) In my job as a police officer I see this all the time and when I do one of two things are going to happen, the suspect is either going to fight or run

  • Lips tighten over teeth

  • Breathing is fast and deep

  • Change of stance, their body blades and shoulder drops

  • Hands closed into a fist (not uncommon to see the whites of knuckles due to hands being so tight)

  • Bobbing up and down or rocking back and forth on feet (this is the bodies way to hide/ mask the initial movement of a first strike)

  • Target glance (here you will see your opponent look to where he is going to hit, or where he is going to run/escape)

  • Putting head and chin down (body wants to protect the airway, this action does so to a degree)

  • Eye brows brought forward into a frown( again the body wants to naturally protect the visual system, this action does so to a degree)

  • Stops all movements/ freezes in place

  • Dropping center or lowering of body (no different that a cat or dog getting ready to pounce)

  • Shedding clothes ( very common, you will see your attacker take his hat, coat, shirt, or bag off just prior to the assault)

  • One syllable replies ( go from full sentences to one syllable replies….. reptilian brain is clicking in)

In this group of signs, you have about 1-1.5 seconds to act before your attacker either attacks or runs. If walking and talking your way out is inappropriate or unreasonable, then I teach “First Strike” philosophy, and continue on with a compound attack until your attacker is no longer a risk.

In both the Assault not Imminent and Assault Imminent phases, I do teach my students ( in some situations) to bring to the attention of the attacker what they are seeing why:

1) The attacker may not know what they are doing. A lot of these signs are autonomic in nature, meaning they happen without conscious thought.

2) The bigger reason, I believe, is for this purpose; most attackers will only attack you when they believe that they have the element of surprise. By sharing with them what you see, you take this primary tactic away from them.


If you have been able to de-escalate the situation you have found yourself in, non-verbally, verbally or physically, also look for these Ritualized Combat signs that are good indicators to let you know that your opponent is no longer thinking about fighting:

Signs Of Submission:

  • Putting hands up in front of body with palms facing out…. ( universal sign for stop stay back)

  • Face returns to normal skin tone and color

  • Shaking hand. (almost as if the person has Alzheimer’s disease…. This shaking can be slight to extreme ….. bodies natural way to burn out the adrenaline, nor-adrenalin, epinephrine that it dumped into the body for fight, flight, hypervigilance but was not used)

  • Turning of back with their hands covering their head ( ensure you can see their hands if not create distance NOW)

  • Backing off

  • Bowing of head and lowering of eyes

  • Verbal tone, volume, rate, slows back to normal / full sentences once again

  • Falling to the ground almost in a fetal position

  • Grooming gestures ( this one is weird but you will see it time and time again… person will adjust their clothing, play with their hair/mustache/beard, pick lint of their body….. you see this in cat and dogs after they fight and then groom themselves)

In all of the above noted signs, don’t just look for one, but rather clusters of two or more. If you see one and know what to look for, you will see others guaranteed. As a police officer who has been involved in many physical encounters, I can share with you and others that “Ritualized Combat” is a tool that you can use to your advantage.

Many of my students , who are not police officers, who have found themselves in ‘situations” have also echoed the tactical benefit of such knowledge. One should also remember that a skilled attacker “may” be able to mask some of these signs, so never drop you guard and fall into a false sense of confidence ! Also remember that if the voice and body don’t match, always believe the body because the voice can LIE!

If your attacker is verbalizing the fact that he doesn’t want to fight, but yet he is showing Ritualized Combative signs that show otherwise, he’s a LLPOF ( liar, liar pants on fire)

Some people who don’t know about Ritualized Combat, call it “gut instinct/intuition” They are right! The reason it is a “gut instinct/intuition” rather than a known empirical thing, is because no one has explained to them what “Ritualized Combat” is. What is happening in the “gut/ instinct” group, is that their “subconscious/reptilian brain” is picking up on these signs (rather than the conscious critical mind), thus turning on the warning bells. Some listen (the more experience), but most do not. Why can I say this? I am also a certified hypnotherapist and working towards my masters in Neuro Linguistic Psychology.

Considering the amount of knowledge out there, are there any other Ritualized Combative signs, that can be added to one of these three categories ?

Knowledge and the understanding of that knowledge is power!

Strength and Honor

Darren Laur
Personal Protection Systems
Victoria, BC