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Mark B
Mark B's picture
Sucker punch in karate

Motobu Choki Sensei championed the principle of delivering non telegraphed sucker strikes, today we know the as pre emptive striking. Here is a quick recording from tonights session to demonstrate pre emptive striking with a degree of restriction.

All the best


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture


Hi Mark,

Nice video and I agree that, when it comes to the physical self-protection side of karate, pre-emption and power are key. As you say this was emphasised by Motobu:

“There is a saying ‘no first attack in karate’ …To be sure, it is not the budo [martial art] spirit to train for the purpose of striking others without good reason. I assume that you already understand that in karate one's primary goal must be the training of mind and body… But when a situation can't be avoided and the enemy is intent on doing you serious harm, you must fight ferociously. When one does fight, taking control of the enemy is vital, and one must take that control with the very first move. Therefore, in a fight one must attack first. It is very important to remember this.” – Choki Motobu

He was not alone in that view either. Funakoshi also recommended pre-emption and deception as the key way to deal with self-protection situations:

"When there are no avenues of escape or one is caught even before any attempt to escape can be made, then for the first time the use of self-defense techniques should be considered. Even at times like these, do not show any intention of attacking, but first let the attacker become careless. At that time attack him concentrating one's whole strength in one blow to a vital point and in the moment of surprise, escape and seek shelter and help." – Gichin Funakoshi

Mabuni also wrote about his, and again he emphasises pre-emption as way to go:

“When faced with someone who disrupts the peace or who will do one harm, one is as a warrior in battle, and so it only stands to reason that one should seize the initiative and pre-empt the enemy’s use of violence. Such action in no way goes against the precept of ‘no first attack’ …the expression ‘karate ni sente nashi’ [no first attack in karate] should be properly understood to mean that the karateka must never take a hostile attitude, or be the cause of a violent incident; he or she should always have the virtues of calmness, prudence and humility in dealing with others.” – Kenwa Mabuni

Pre-emption in a variety of differing drills and scenarios (including against groups) is to be found at every level of my syllabus because it is the only thing than works relatively consistently. Beyond that, it’s something of a lottery – albeit one where we try to stack the odds in our favour – where even the most skilled person can be dropped by an “unlucky punch”. The old masters knew this and were unequivocal about it. It is a shame this has been dropped from much of modern practise.

One other thing to note is that as part of their advice on pre-emption, the past masters also emphasise awareness and good manners as the preferable form of avoiding conflict. To me, this is best summed up in an Icelandic 1000 year old wisdom poem. It’s called the Havalmal (“words of the high one”) and one line in the poem states:

“Two are your enemies. The tongue can slay the head. Under every cloak look for a fist.”

The poem is telling us there are two things that will lead us in to conflict: Saying the wrong things to the wrong people (“The tongue can slay the head”) and a lack of awareness (“Under every cloak look for a fist”).

The past masters tell us the same thing. In short, keep switched on and don’t be a dick if you want to avoid conflict. And if those primary methods fail, then we can pre-empt from the moral position of knowing there was no other option and we did nothing to cause or add to the situation.

Once again, good video!

All the best,


diadicic's picture

Did you lose number 42?  That's great.  That made me think for a sec.  Now I am thinking of all kinds of stuff to ask before the smash.  :)


Mark B
Mark B's picture

Hi Iain, thanks. 

Hi Dom,  I actually think I said "she lives at 42? " but it doesn't make any difference , as long as it gets the reaction you describe: -)



Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

diadicic wrote:
Now I am thinking of all kinds of stuff to ask before the smash.  :)

For deceptive questions, I say there are two key things it must have:

1 – It must be passive. This is important so witnesses do not mistake you for the instigator, and so the enemy drops his “mental guard” believing he is in charge.

2 – It must be open ended i.e. can’t be answered with a yes or a no. This is important to ensure the enemy’s brain is engaged as fully as possible.

Bad questions:

“What the #### are you looking at?” – Not passive.

“Can we please talk about this?” – Not open ended and quickly dismissed with a simple “No!”

Good questions:

“Why can’t we talk about this?”

“Why are you picking on me?”

As well as ensuring brain engagement, and hence the maximum stunning effect, the question is also there to act as “trigger”. It will get us moving in the same way we would count down doing something like a bungee jump. When 400 ft up, it’s not easy to take that step off the crane (I speak from experience), but the countdown gives you a trigger to move. It’s the same in self-protection. We will be scared and fearful of moving, so we need a trigger to get us to move.

To maximise the effect of the question as a trigger, we need to have rehearsed it tens of thousands of times. We should not make up a question on the spot, but have one we have practised striking after until it’s almost pavlovian i.e. we can’t help but strike on the question mark of that sentence.

So pick an open-ended and passive question and practise pre-emptively striking at the end of that question over and over and over again. The enemy’s actions - trying to enter personal space, touching my arm (which I’ll be using to try and maintain space), primal dialogue (aggressive short sentences or words indicating priming for action), etc. – will trigger the question, the question will trigger the strike, and the strike will trigger the escape that capitalises on the moment of shock. Not very much thinking or decision making going on – because we don’t do either well under stress – but instead a well-practised sequence of events.

I hope that helps?

All the best,