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A Matter of Accuracy

Anyone can pick up a pistol and fire it. Some can fire it consistently accurately: hit a tight spot on a target several times from a predetermined distance. There are factors, of course,  that weigh in on being a good shooter such as training, experience, breathing, technique, and composure.


Success in shooting is somewhat environmental. For example, on the shooting range, a shooter may hit small target consistently that is 200 yards away - or more. This same shooter, while out hunting big game, may be much less accurate due to influences like heightened adrenalin, uncontrolled breathing, and unlevel footing, factoring in.


The environmental and psychological changes experienced between the range and the hunting ground dictate outcomes.


This, of course, is exactly like Karate: Kumite in the dojo is a hundred miles apart from getting accosted on the street, and this brings me to the topic for this article: the target.


In a nutshell, in a fight, you don’t get many chances to make your strikes count.


I have a small self-made Makiwara on a wall in my basement. Its about 1.5 times as wide as my fist, and about 2 times as high. It has one sweet spot that is not much larger than my fist: miss the sweet spot and you hit wood. Why? As Hanshi Don Owens would say: ‘Train the Body. Train the Mind.’


In my younger years, I used a heavy bag to train my punches and kicks on - pretty big target. I still love the heavy bag because it offers such a variety of ‘targets’ for both feet


and fists, but the reason I use the Makiwara is to practice hitting a small target consistently.  Quite frankly, if you can’t hit the target, your fast, well-trained punch or kick, is somewhat useless. This is no different than being able to hit a golf ball 300 years but having no control over its direction – not good for your golf (and its expensive)!


In teaching new students, I think talking about targets is crucial. And teaching about targets means two things: what to hit, and what to hit it with.


So, what is the target?


Well, we can talk first about what it is not. The target isn’t simply whatever part of your opponent  that presents itself. For example, if you’re on the street and your opponent keeps shoving his hand in your face, an attempt to grab or break the arm might not be the best idea.  We see street fighters sometimes throwing a flurry of punches and yet the opponent is still standing there rather unscathed. If your attacks aren’t hitting the nail on the head, they aren’t working.


Yes, it can be said that an experienced Martial Artist can hit pretty much of the body and do damage. But, if the entire concept of Todome Waza is to dispatch the opponent with as few attacks as possible, it makes sense to maximize your effect with landing your attack on a vulnerable spot. It only takes 8-9 lbs of pressure to break a jaw…if you hit the jaw correctly.


In the Bubishi, Partick McCarty passed on to us 36 vital points on the body. These were taken from ancient Chinses writings, and it aligns pretty closely to Kenwa Mabuni’s own drawing indicating these points on the body that can be attacked. Now, to suggest that in a fight we should concern ourselves with tiny, vital pressure points or weaknesses on our opponent’s body isn’t realistic. But, if we don’t train in hitting vulnerable places, we have no chance of quickly ending a fight.


For example, the temple is a small spot on the skull just behind the eyes, and we often mention in class a ‘strike to the temple.’ A ‘snapping’ backfist to the temple or lower jaw using the leading two knuckles of the fist can be a devastating blow, but it takes practice, and it takes proper technique. I recall using masking tape to mark an X on my heavy bag and then springing at the bag from different angles to see how good my focus was; at first it wasn’t good. I thought I had a pretty good Uraken, and used it often in competition, but I was missing the target. I had to ‘slow my roll’ as they now say, and train precision as opposed to speed and power.

Get good, and then get fast.


Precision in Karate strikes isn’t optional. If we are teaching students Karate and having them expect that it works in a fight, we have to teach them what to hit and what to hit it with.  I think that in their partner drills and Kihon they have to be aiming for a target: the solar plexus, throat, ribs, groin, etc.  The attacker has to be working on target, and the defender has to realize that if they don’t defend, there are consequences, especially as we rise in rank. The essence of traditional karate is in its simplicity: the attacker attacks with purpose, and the defender attacks the attacking body part with precision.  


As alluded to earlier, part two of the target/precision equation is the weapon.  Punching a person will hurt you as much as it will hurt your attacker if you haven’t trained yourself in hitting something. There are a dozen ways to make a fist the wrong way, and one to do it the right way. Wrist and hand alignment are critical. This is simple enough for those of us who are hitting pads, makiwara, and heavy bags, but for someone who is punching an invisible opponent, it’s not obvious.


The shuto strike is similar. Using a cupped hand with sprawled fingers to attack your opponent’s collar bone or neck will leave you with a bad hand and your opponent enraged. Conversely, using a properly positioned hand to strike your attackers brachial plexus will leave them with little or no feeling in their arm and hand for a while.  

Punching someone in the cheekbone is one thing, punching them just under the nose is quite another. And, in either case, if your two leading knuckles (Seiken) aren’t lined up with your wrist and arm, and your fist isn’t aligned horizontally, neither will do much damage.


Perhaps a topic for another time, but control is another issue. If we’re not learning to control our techniques to within a CM of the target, we will also have trouble with impact when required. Proper impact is precise: if your attack is shallow when you make contact (you come us short), or if you make contact with the target too soon (your own body isn’t yet positioned properly for Kime), the result won’t be what it needs to be. In essence, students who are freely striking each other in the dojo, or stopping their attacks far short of each other, are on different sides of the same coin of ineffectiveness.


I recall as a green belt in my late teens practicing my kumite in my mom’s living room against the curtains. I was trying to train myself to ‘pop’ the curtain but not put my fist or foot through the window. High stakes but it helped. In classes we would pull our Gi jackets off from our stomachs an inch or so and have your drill partners punch or kick it. The idea being that attacking a target required precision and control.


At 80+, my father ready for another hunting trip

In conclusion I’ll say that I hunted big game with my father for years and he rarely ever missed.  Dad’s reasons for hunting had a lot to do with this: it was multi-generational tradition, and big game was appreciated food. His intention was to harvest an animal quickly and cleanly, and every season before hunting time, he cleaned his rifle and ‘sighted it in’ on the range.


Time and effort made dad a great marksman, and they are just as important to the Karate journey.

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Vlastimil Masek
Vlastimil Masek
Mar 28

Sensei, what literature or online links should one follow to practice for precision/repeatability as well as the accuracy? Also, how to test for any progress, any quantitative measurement tools or methods?

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