top of page

Supress the Enemy's Useful Actions

I’m back to the Book of Five Rings, a small book written by Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi around 1645. The reason I keep going back is that it is full of philosophy and strategy that is timeless and applies to any art or discipline where strategy is required, or where there are opposing forces.

Pictured here is one of Musashi’s simple but concise strategies, “Suppress the enemy’s useful actions, but allow his useless actions.”

In Kumite, for example, if your opponent has a ferocious ushrio geri, you don’t want to allow them to deliver that. Conversely, if your opponent isn’t adept at moving backwards, you want them to do that.

Take Away the Target:

One concept we teach students in the Power Dojo is around a deliberate Kamae and a consistent guard. So, essentially, your posture and stance are defined, your hands and arms are positioned for defense and attack, and your body is not square to the opponent. While not in a formal posture for Kumite, you need a solid stance. Stance is the mechanism through which you generate power.

This concept is simple in that not only do you appear confident, but you are also protecting key areas that the attacker may target. In addition, you are ready to deflect a strike or deliver an attack.  This is an easy concept, but as we get tired we often let our guard drop. A lead hand that is not pointing to your opponent must be adjusted before an attack can be delivered. That’s dead time.

Musashi went on to say this about the guard:

Therefore in my science there is what is called having a guard without a guard, meaning that one has a defense without being defensive.

In my experience, keeping your hands in the correct position while engaging an opponent, or about to, is a method of defense without having to do anything. In Shotokan, we don’t go completely on the defensive: we may appear to be going on the defense (such as backing up), only to facilitate an attack.

More form Musashi:

It is in this sense that I recommend the guard without a guard. Whatever the situation is, you hold the sword so that you can slash your opponent.

The guard then - both hands pointing to your opponent - are done in such a fashion to be just as useful in attacking as in blocking or redirecting you opponent’s attack. Realistically, my guard is up in a fight in preparation for any opening that the opponent gives me; I’m not waiting around to see what they come at me with. Keeping your hands held strategically between your opponent and your vital body parts is one of the simplest fighting advantages that we don’t always do properly.

Suppressing the enemy’s useful actions may simply mean not giving them a target.

Maai (間合い) to Control the Fight

Maai isn’t simply distance. It actually involves space, time and rhythm. Maintaining a proper engagement distance with an opponent means you have time to defend yourself or deliver an attack. Discovering the opponent’s rhythm (timing as they move in and out for example) provides you with the opportunity to engage them when they are least expecting it. On the other hand, if you manage the rhythm of the fight, you manage how the opponent moves: draw them in and then attack. The first moves in Nijushiho (osae-uke and gyaku-zuki) are fantastic examples of this.

Nishiyama Sensei used to do a drill with his students where they pretended to fluidly pass a ‘package’ or ball back and for between them. The idea was to feel the ebb and flow of the opponents’ movements; to get in tune in order to learn to maintain proper Maai.

It is difficult for an opponent to attack cleanly if you are in tune with their movements forward and back.  

Seme 攻め, せめ to Create an Attack

Pressuring your opponent may cause them to deliver an attack they are not fully prepared to deliver.  Merely inching toward your opponent puts pressure on. The term Seme, on a secondary level, also means pressure on a psychological front. I think we have all been in Kumite experiences where the opponent is actually keeping a safe distance, but they seem to be putting on immense pressure. Here, body deportment, gaze, focus, etc., can win a fight. It is as if your mental intention to destroy the opponent becomes physical, and it suppresses the opponent’s own intentions.

Superfluous Movement

Musashi said: “Do nothing that is of no use.” This is clearly a life strategy as well as a Martial Arts one.

There are fighters who like to move around a lot. Sometimes it’s because of insecurities, and sometimes its overconfidence. Either way, self-dance in a fight leads to one thing: exhaustion. Masashi says that excessive movement in battle is useless and costly. After Shodan, we teach Karate people to ‘trim the fat’ as in eliminating excess effort on techniques and on movement. I’ve heard some instructors telling students to ‘exaggerate techniques, make them as big as you can!’ This might work in training, but in a fight, it will get you your lights punched out. If you don’t move efficiently, you can’t attack efficiently.

We see it in amateur boxing matches sometimes where one opponent moves like Fred Astaire and the other lets him go. After a while, the super-mobile fighter tires and the other takes advantage.  Yes, footwork is important, but there is a point of diminishing returns.

At Power Karate we are in the process of readying a team if competitors to attend the US Budo Traditional Karate Championships in Arizona. At the very top of our minds in our teaching is efficiency: sharp, fast techniques delivered with power.  Hesitations, inefficient footwork, and telegraphing, are excess that need to be trimmed. It takes work, but that is second-level Karate: doing more with less.



45 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page