Detailed Drills: Fun and Games Part 2

“Karate is not intended to be used against a single opponent but instead as a way of avoiding injury by using the hands and feet should one by any chance be confronted by a villain or ruffian.” – Anko Itosu

This is one of my favorite quotes about the martial arts. It’s very easy to look at fighting and self defense as the same thing, but this quote reminds us they are very different. I love sparring, it’s exciting and a great workout, but I know it trains you to fight and not to defend yourself. I also love games, they’re fun and a great mental workout! With both of these things in mind, here are a few sparring “games” that try to develop a self defense mindset rather than a fighting one.



This drill is best with a larger area: ideally the size of two standard rings as pictured above. A defender starts on one side of the area while an attacker starts in the middle. The defender’s goal is to get from one side of the area to the other without being scored on. The defender can use strikes to keep the attacker away, but the defender cannot win by scoring a certain number of points, only by escaping.

This helps reinforce a self defense mindset while sparring. It also encourages the defender to use techniques to escape, not to score points. A quick sidekick to the gut will be more useful in escaping than a double roundhouse to the head!

Remember, when you move, move quickly! Do not hesitate – if you see a chance to run for it, run for it! Your goal is to escape, not to “win.” Keep your eyes on the attacker while staying aware of the exit. Use your peripheral vision to make sure you head in the right direction.

Escape! Outnumbered

escape outnumbered.png

Similar to Escape! but even more intense. Once again the defender must cross the area to escape. In a twist, this drill uses multiple attackers! The defender’s strategies must adapt to deal with this added challenge.

The defender must use positioning to keep all the attackers to one side. If the defender can see all the attackers at once it makes the drill easier. Also, if the defender can keep the attackers lined up they will be unable to attack simultaneously. Meanwhile the attackers’ goal is to get on either side of the defender to maximize their advantage.

Escape! Big Sibling/Little Sibling

escape little.png

One participant will be on a team with the defender but they are playing the part of someone unable to defend themselves. The defender must fight off all the attackers while allowing their helpless teammate to escape. The defender’s goal is for both participants to escape, but the top priority is to allow the helpless teammate to escape unharmed. The attackers may attack either defender, but their main goal should be to attack the helpless one. 

I typically just let the drill run until either the helpless teammate escapes or until they’re scored on. However if you’d If you’d like to formally score this drill and allow teams to compete for a high score, I recommend the following system:

Defenders score 3 points if the defenseless teammate escapes without being scored on, and an additional 2 points if the defender escapes while being scored on less than 5 times. No points are awarded if the defender escapes and the helpless teammate does not. Maximum score of 5.

Attackers score 1 point for each strike they land on the defender and win after 5 points OR they immediately win if they score a strike on the helpless teammate. Either win counts as 5 points.

The defender should keep themselves in between the attackers and the helpless teammate. Communication is very important! If the defender can yell “go!” to the helpless teammate when it’s time to run, they increase their chances of victory. Additionally, the helpless teammate can keep a hand on the defender’s shoulder. This allows the defender to watch the attackers while still being aware of the helpless teammate’s position.

Fun and Self Defense All Rolled Into One!

Doing the same drills every class can get repetitive, so more variety means more fun! Not only do these drills offer that variety, but they also teach self defense through sparring. When your goal switches from winning to escaping (or helping someone else escape), you begin to train with self defense in mind!

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