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SimonSutherland's picture
Principles of Combat - Examples & Explaining

Our group is back to reviewing the principles of combat behind the Heian series of kata. In addition, I wanted to be able to explain better, to people who don't understand kata yet, what its all about.

Being a concept, you can't go out and buy a « Principle », you have to understand them through examples.

I really liked the example given recently for the principle of « lines of attack / angles » : two people pointing their fingers (guns) at each other to simply show the effect of changing positions.

Since then my memory has been jerked back to films I had seen in my youth, specifically « The Battle of Britain » and, after further research ...

In 1916, Oswald Boelcke, a German pilot of the First World War, wrote the « Dicta Boelcke » (Boelcke 1916) about aerial combat. His 5th dictum

In any form of attack it is essential to assail your enemy from behind.

was later presented as :

Always try to secure an advantageous position before attacking. Climb before and during the approach in order to surprise the enemy from above, and dive on him swiftly from the rear when the moment to attack is at hand.

Another dictum was :

Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.

later presented as :

Try to place yourself between the sun and the enemy. This puts the glare of the sun in the enemy's eyes and makes it difficult to see you and impossible for him to shoot with any accuracy.

The first version presents the basic principle and the second gives « how-to » and explanations to back up the principle.

My understanding is that a given kata provides a « how-to » and then Iain's method, step 3, suggests exploring other variations to learn about these principles.

Both of these are further examples of the principle of « lines of attack / angles ». But there are earlier examples.

In Sun Tzu's « The Art of War ». (Tzu 5th century BC), in the section on «Terrain » :

Ground which can be freely traversed by both sides is called accessible.

With regard to ground of this nature, be before the enemy in occupying the raised and sunny spots, and carefully guard your line of supplies. Then you will be able to fight with advantage.

This has obviously been transformed over the years into « take the high ground ». But again, it gives an example of positionning yourself with regard to your enemy.

Has anyone got any other examples - from outside of karate - of the principles that we apply, please ?

Thanks and regards,



Boelcke, Oswald (1916) Dicta Boelcke in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Boelcke (Accessed: 29/11/2019)

Tzu, Sun (5th century BC) in James Clavell (ed.) The Art of War 1981 Hodder & Stoughton, London

Maik Lutterklas
Maik Lutterklas's picture

Thanks for sharing!

There are lots of interesting thoughts sometimes applicable to the martial arts, drawn from aerial combat.

Sailor malan's 10 rules


• For example: #6: Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.

Colonel Boyd's OODA loop


• Most interesting here to "stick your head into the enemies cockpit", so to always be ahead of the enemy regarding decision making

Some general thoughts applicable to both aerial and "martial arts" combat

• Don't be where the enemy could hit you: Ideally behind him

• Continuously try to better your position, if no other actions seem applyable

• If you strike, try to strike decisively

In air combat, there is often the distinguation between "angles fight" and "energy fight", best imagines between a light and nimble fighter combating a fast, heavy, better climbing fighter. So here, the angles fighter would try to always get behind his prey by means of turning, a faster and tighter turn, while the energy fighter would try to outclimb his prey, by depleting the angles fighter of his energy reserves, so at some time the angles fighter would no longer be able to stay in his turns, not to stall. Then, the energy fighter would move in for the kill, fast and from above.

This reminds me of Onaga Sensei's teachings, (my interpretation, from what i learned): Ti should not depend on being the stronger fighter. Someone always may be stronger than you. You will get older, but still should be able to defend yourself. Ti needs to work for women as well. So if someone charges at you, big and strong, step aside, do not stay in line! Move out of the way, using tenshin, then seek your advantage, continuously using tenshin. Behind your enemy is always best.

One "problem" i see here is that air fighting usually has to be aggressive in it's initial intention, so it's not about "peace without incident" being the goal, but to actively destroy any enemy and gain dominance of the air space. This may alter some of the pre conditions the combatant has to assure for himself from the start.

Hope that does not sound stupid...



(btw, anyone noted the text editor here is kinda meh and not WYSIWYG?)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Mark,

Maik Lutterklas wrote:
(btw, anyone noted the text editor here is kinda meh and not WYSIWYG?)

It’s because it’s set to plain text only. Any HTML coding will be lost. The facility is there for that to be enabled, but the advice is not to allow users the ability to “code” anything in order to ensure no nefarious actions by illegitimate members. So, it’s a security thing. As moderator, I have the ability use coding, which is why I come along and embed all the images, videos, correct layouts etc after the fact (see your reinstated bullet points above).

All the best,


PS Fascinating post by the way!