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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
What are your golden rules?

Hi All,

I thought it would be fun and beneficial to share combative and kata / bunkai based “golden rules” that we have in our teaching, or that we were taught ourselves.

What I mean by “golden rules” are brief encapsulations of important combative principles – or principles of understanding kata – that are expressed in a sentence or two at most. These are the kind of things I mean (in no particular order):

Don’t be in front of your enemy, but have the enemy in front of you.

Feeling is quicker than seeing.

At close-range, action beats reaction.

Stances are not static, we flow to them and through them.

Move toward what you know, and away from what you don’t (i.e. if you have contact with one of your enemy’s limbs, then angle yourself toward that limb and away from the free one).

Every motion should create, maintain and exploit advantage.

Cheating is always allowed.

Better to be the hammer than the anvil.

It’s always better to hit them than not hit them (i.e. an imperfect punch is better than no punch).

To unbalance, push or pull at ninety-degrees to the line of feet.

The angle in kata is the angle we are attacking the enemy from; it is not the angle the enemy is attacking us from.

To take the enemy to the floor, we need to take the centre of gravity outside the area covered by the feet. To stop the enemy readjusting their feet, we need to disrupt consciousness, block the path of the corrective step, lift the feet, or disrupt posture.

The non-striking hand is either telling us where the enemy is or clearing limbs out of the way.

In a fight, there are only two things that are still: People who are unconscious, and people who are about to be unconscious.

Always end the fight NOW! Flow is the management of a failure to do so.

And so on.

RULE 1: I’d like to avoid the thread getting derailed into detailed conversations on any rule. Brief clarifications are fine, but ideally, I’m after a long list of martial proverbs :-)

RULE 2: While the past masters have loads of these kinds of things in their writings, I am keen to avoid those as I want OURS. In many cases this may be a different way of saying the same thing, but I still want these to be our own or our teacher's.

RULE 3: We don’t have to agree on all of them! I’m not looking for a consensus or “group approved list”. Just a list that we and other readers can ponder over.

So throw some at me! :-)

All the best,


Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Just a few: - 

It’s always my turn!

Efficiency before artistry  

Locate, lock-on and fire

When in doubt, strike the head/neck

Kata tells you what, Kumite tells you when

Kata techniques put the enemy in a bad a postural position

Intent trumps technique

Maintain the dominance

Always be in motion (whether it is footwork, or the hands striking/trapping/grappling, we should never have dead-time or be stationary between our techniques).

Always assume the enemy is armed and not alone


Les Bubka
Les Bubka's picture

Hi all

Iain & Leigh you retty much covered all of the options, we ahve one borowed from one of the best polish boxers, (it sounds better in polish)

"There are no people resistant to punches, only ones who havn't been hit correctly" and in polish " Nie ma odpornych na ciosy, tylko źle trafieni"

 by Jerzy Kulej

Kind regard 


PASmith's picture

Years ago I used to work with a chap from Newcastle. No martial arts training at all but lots of real fight experience ("we had a pagga murst Satdee neets" as I believe he put it). He basically summed up how to fight in two sentences that have stuck with me ever since.

1: Hit them first

2: Don't fall over

PASmith's picture

When it comes to "hands" and "guards" I tend to go with...

Hands are better "up" than "down" but better "busy" than just "up"

Gavin J Poffley
Gavin J Poffley's picture

"People describe fighting like physical chess but It should be more like snooker. If you keep making the right moves in snooker you can clear the table without the other guy getting a look in"

manusg34's picture

Love the Golden Rules sir.

I use Rules with my kids too.

1.Cannot hit what is not there.

2.Never move straight back.

3.Move and attack on angles.

4. Dont think just hit.

5. Closest weapon hits closest target.

6.Kick high and cry (die).

7.You have to earn the right to throw someone. (hit them).

8. Never fight on the ground.

9.Always be using two hands.

10. Dont admire your work. (after a fight run and go somewhere safe).



Leigh Simms
Leigh Simms's picture

Really like number 10 Matt!

manusg34's picture

Thank you .

JWT's picture

Great thread.Here are a few of the ones I stick to.

Always protect your head.

Take and keep the initiative.

Achieve tactile contact as soon as possible and do not lose it.

Close the range and stay close. Long range gives greater exposure.

Always have a back up.

Select Active Strategy and apply with Speed, Aggression and Sustain (thank you William Coyle)

Strike to control and control to strike.

If you don’t see the first attack, assume it was with a weapon.

The quicker you finish it, the lower the risk to everyone.

Bent is better. (legs)

Do not rely on pain.

Correct angle is better than brute force.

Unbalancing and disorientation creates opportunities.

Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them. (thank you Obiwan Kenobi)

We do not rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our expectations. (thank you Archilochus)

Sweat saves blood, blood saves lives and brains save both. (thank you Erwin Rommel)

Your drills should be bloodless battles, and your battles bloody drills. (thank you Josephus)

Rest is a weapon.

All the best

John Titchen

Jeremy McLean
Jeremy McLean's picture


Some random ones

1. "Behind" is always the safest place to be.

2. Once you start, don't stop.

3. Avoidance is best.

4. Even when you are "on"(mindset for protection) you are still vulnerable.

5. Punches in bunches.

6. Assume the worst case scenario...(plan for the worst, hope for the best)

PASmith's picture

Of course there's this golden rule...

Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line

DanRotnem's picture

Lots of good ones so far! I'll try not to be too repetitive, but here are some of the things I often find myself saying during practices:

Always protect your head.

Once you hit, keep hitting.  - or - Apply overwhelming force through continuous attack. 

Maintain your posture and break your opponent's/enemy's. 

Explode into your attack. 

Stick to your opponent/enemy. 

Hands above or inside your opponent's/enemy's.

Relax! Breathe! Move!

Stay aware of your surroundings.

If you're in "kicking range" you don't need to fight. 

Be decisive. 

Looking forward to seeing more!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Oh, these are so good! Please keep them coming!

All the best,


Quick2Kick's picture

In no particular order these are my "catchphrases"

1. If you have to fight hit first and keep hitting till they stop moving. 

2. Close enough to bite, close enough to fight. 

3. The only thing that beats violence is more violent violence. 

4. Be careful what you practice because that's what you'll do. 

5. Hit them THEN knock them down. (When teaching sweeps, trips, or throws) 

6. Practice makes perfect is a lie. Perfect practice makes perfect.

7. The secret to martial arts (getting good) is repetition. 

Phattkev's picture

 My Sensei has instilled these rules into me. 

1: It takes a bigger man to walk away than stand and fight. 

2: If you have to, get your retaliation in first.               

3: In the arena where there are no rules, there are no rules. You have to do what you have to do to survive. 

They've served him well and hopefully they will do the same for me. 

Cataphract's picture

Deny him a fight. Fighting is stupid.

Ground and pound him. Don't go to the ground yourself.

The moment your opponent lays hands on you somebody gets thrown.

Always assume the opponent has a blade.

You want to be on the outside.

The chambering motion is where the interesting things happen.

There is never just a block.

Apply Occam's razor. Movements have to work in different situations.

Act on several levels. Mind your feet and knees.

Pit your large muscles against small.

The body follows its head.

Hit hard targets with soft weapons.

Guiding is better than jamming force.

Sink your shoulders. Relax. Be like water, my friend. ;-)

Raise his center of gravity.

Learn to switch on cold anger. Be corrosive. Kiai often.

Don't get hectic.

Be respectful and detached but quite dogged.

Samurai never retreat (but maybe you can get away with a step or two max).

sarflondonboydonewell's picture

The best defence is a good offence

Be first with the most

Even if you are physically on the back foot be psychologically  on the front foot.

When dealing with people always try and be at a distance that they have to step one foot forward to hit you.

Marc's picture

What a great thread. :)

Hey, everything you guys said,

and here are some more...

Reading Kata

Katas demonstrate principles through representative examples.

Learn the application of each technique. But moreover, seek to understand the principle behind it.

Where variations occur in kata versions of other styles, we see that the principles can be exemplified in different ways.

Most kata techniques are gross motor movements. (i.e. applicable under the influence of adrenaline, when fine motor skills and precision are reduced.)

Your opponent is right in front of you. (i.e. if they'd attack from the side of from behind, you'd turn to face them!)

The attacker does not know the kata. (i.e. the kata's applications do not rely on certain follow-up attacks by the opponent, instead we take full control over the opponent with our first technique.)

Every movement/sequence leads to an advantage on our side and at the very least puts our opponent in a disadvantageous position.

All kata applications have the potential to end the fight there and then. The katas therefore do not contain mere blocks.

There are no unnecessary movements in kata. "Preparation/chambering movements" are active parts of the application.

Both hands are always working.

The end position of a movement indicates the end of the follow-through action. The actual application happens half way through the movement, mostly in front of one's trunk. - The follow-through movement creates the appropriate vector (direction and velocity). Often the end position can not even be attained because the movement ends on the opponent's body. The kinetic energy is then tranferred into the opponent.

Stances have meaning. (ZK forward pressure, KK pulling into your own center, KB downward pressure, a jump means upward pressure or a throw, HS neutral position, KS move your center "into" your opponent.)

Open hands are either a striking weapon, or they indicate grabbing the elbow, the chin or the neck.

Closed hands are either a striking weapon, or they indicate grabbing the opponent (wrist, hair, face, etc.), or the technique is actually applied with the arm (strike, lock).

Whenever there is a gap between your trunk and your arms (e.g. kagi-zuki) you may find that your opponent fits in there nicely (e.g. their head).

A triple repitition of a technique shows you the transitions between the postures: Once from right to left, and once from left to right.



Use your natural, instinctive movements and channel them into effective techniques.

Enter, do damage, escape. / Receive-Rattle-Run! (My German version of this is "Rein-Rumms-Raus!")

Hit to unbalance, unbalance to hit.

All kicks hit below the reach of the opponent's hands. We only kick when we have the opponent under control with our hands.

When you control the opponents head, you control the opponent altogether.

Controlling the opponent's elbow is a good way to break their balance.

If you take them down through all three axes you will be irresistable.

Strike hard targets with a soft weapon and soft targets with a hard weapon.

Move to an angle, but in a way that your belly still faces the opponent.

Once you've made contact, stay in contact until your opponent is down on the floor.

Strikes with the lower arm can be delivered with gross motor movements and have a higher chance of hitting the target as well as a lower risk of injuring yourself than strikes with the hand.

Make the attacker face away from you.

Technical Advice

Relaxed is faster than tense. Heaviness has more impact with less effort.

Stand upright. If we apply a lock or a takedown only one person should bend, and that's not us.

The knees are designed for bending in only one direction. (Important when practicing stances. It also makes them an effective target.)

Be sticky.

Separate shifting and turning (of your body) to avoid tailspinning: (But keep it a fluid movement.)

What little mass you have, you want everything to go into the technique.

If your attacker has a stick (or similar) there are only two safe distances: far away (safest) or zero distance (crash in and replace the attacker).


Training Advice

Students shall leave class at least as healthy as they entered it. (We all have resonsibilities like family, jobs, or school the next day.)

He who trains slowly learns faster.

In partner work, when you disengage, make it a habit to raise your open hands and look around.

In partner work, if something fails, don't just stop. Do something else, anything really, then back away.

In partner work, honor the technique. (As a training partner, dont't stand still as a rock when elbowed in the face or kneed in the groin.)

Context is paramount.


Real Life Advice

Have your decision stick ready. Whittle away the twigs well in advance. (Think about your value system now, to be prepared when a situation demands an immediate decision of a moral dilemma. Decisions are branches and they make you hesitate.)

Use and be aware of "unfair" options, like spitting, biting, pulling a weapon.

Most violence comes with instruction on how to avoid it. (Get out or I'll break your face!) Listen!

The word 'Mother****er' plays no part in de-escalation.

Do something. Don't waste time deciding which technique to apply to which target next.

There's always somebody with a camera. (So behave well, show open hands, and refrain from using excessive force.)


Almost every aspect of kihon-kumite (aka. 3K-kumite or 3-step sparring) is the opposite of what makes sense in self-defence.

People are different. Find out what works for you and what does not.

They might start a fight, but we're the ones who end it.

First know yourself, [only] then know others. (Funakoshi)

Calamity is [often] the result of carelessness. (Funakoshi)


Kevin Webb
Kevin Webb's picture

Many of my favorites are already on the list with some minor paraphrasing.

I have always liked, "kill the head, the body dies"

Axel's picture

Yeah, most of mine are already on the list too, but ...:

If you can move backward, you can move forward! (meaning: don't move backward!)

Training is always imperfectness. (helps when students desperately try to learn new movements)

Tau's picture

Don't go looking for a fight / keep the ego under control

Protect the head

Stay on your feet

Assume they're armed

Fight or flight. Decide and  f***ing do it!

deltabluesman's picture

I don't teach the martial arts, but I'll share a few rules that I apply to myself:

When you are striking, worry more about hitting hard and less about telegraphing.  (This rule does not apply when point sparring.)

When in doubt, the answer is "hips."  (My instructor taught me that one.)

Physical strength is good.  If you make yourself stronger, you will be a better athlete and a better martial artist.

Don't train through injury; train around it.

With bunkai, context matters.  Your application should fit the move in question and should also make sense when viewed in light of the whole kata.

. . . and "Haters gonna hate."  (Source:  unknown.)  

Marc's picture

Just do what the kata does. (When people struggle practicing an application as soon as they are engaging with a partner.)

With correct breathing you can improve all of your techniques at once.  

Jr cook
Jr cook's picture

I'm familiar with a lot of these ideas, even if the phrasing is slightly different. Some great stuff on here so far!

One that I haven't seen and often catch myself saying is, "Blocking (in the reactive sense) is just a slower way to die."

The main idea being that you can't passively prevail. Usually it comes up when someone is backpedaling and holding their arms up or when they are trying to block a volley of punches with individual defensive techniques. 

Marc's picture

Jr cook wrote:

"Blocking (in the reactive sense) is just a slower way to die."


(Oh, sorry, forum rules: I was laughing out loud when I read this.)

I like it a lot.

Marc's picture

Youtube recently suggested a video series on "kata principles" to me. There are some nice ideas in there (and some I disagree with). I personally would call them "kihon principles". Neverless, here they are:

P1: Everything must work within physics. A non-karate-ka with a physics degree should be able observe your kata and give every move the tick of approval. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCyCKeiCLtE )

P2: One Syllable movements MUST be one syllable movements. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCyCKeiCLtE )

P3: Two syllable movements MUST be kept as two syllable movements. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSPOpuUmGpM )

P4: Understanding 'Curves' In Kata ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joaegP2tzdk )

P5: Circles NEVER Stop ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tjg8lnRfHNE )

P6: Small Circles Drive Big Circles ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLyEqSJ0tEo )

P7: Every Time You Change Directions, You Protect Yourself. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URw6_3XntTU )

P8: Each Hip Must Know Its Role ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ei--92xl8M )

P9: Breathing Must Work In Synch With The Body ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rplYohJxqZs )

P10: The Serenity Prayer ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10RNUKYim2M )

P11: The Balance Between Bunkai And Technique ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H6mEMLkQUs )

P12: Ignorance Does NOT Equal Bliss ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udpo1xj-624 )

Refer to the videos for explanations of each of the statements. (I don't think they need to be embedded. The links are just for reference.)  

Dale Parker
Dale Parker's picture

Some of mine:

All things Karate-Do tuck your thumbs.

Elbows down not out.

Press your tounge to the roof of your mouth.  This one is so you don't bite your tounge if you get hit in the jaw, and it keeps kids quiet.

Dillon's picture

Fighting is chaos management. 

Ian H
Ian H's picture

General self-preservation & self-defence:

1.  Your mission today is return home safely ... not "kick the @$$ of the guy who cut in line" or "defend your honour".

2.   Do nothing out of anger.  ( Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content.  But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.  Hence the enlightened ruler is heedful, and the good general full of caution. This is the way to keep a country at peace and an army intact.   -- Sun Tzu)

3.  Be nice.  (Roadhouse & Peyton Quinn)

4.  Not going somewhere stupid is a lot better than being able to fight your way back out.

5.  You. Down. Now.  (if memory serves, Marc MacYoung)


Knife Rules

1.   Run away.

2.  Don't get cut.

3.   Make him forget he's got a knife.

4.   End it fast.

5.  Why the firetruck didn't you just run away?


Kata bunkai rules

1.  What's the nastiest, dirtiest, most devastating use for this kata move that I can think of?

Ian H
Ian H's picture

Better to be neither judged by 12 nor carried by 6.