Warming up – Karate specific

Last week I told you about warming up in general.

As promised, this week I’m going to give you an account of one way I warm up a Karate session.  For me, the priorities of Karate training are:

  • Acceleration
  • Reaction/reflexes
  • Body Coordination/balance/agility
  • Limb/eye coordination

My warm ups usually start with basic, generic moves and progress onto more Karate-specific drills of increasing speed and complexity.

Remember, this is just an example of one way I warm up a session…here goes!

  • Easy, gentle shuttle runs back and forth.  Do these forwards, backwards and sideways.
  • Easy punching while jogging.  Punch Jodan, Chudan and Gedan, putting emphasis on BIG shoulders movements.  Do these jogging forwards and backwards.
  • Hopping on one leg.  Do these forwards and backwards.
  • Keep walking, but then do arm swings/rotations.  emphasis on BIG shoulder moves.  These can be swung forwards, backwards, across the chest, as if you are swimming front crawl, back stroke, or any combination of these (this will really get your brain working)
  • Multiple sets of sit-stands (sit down then stand up), lie-stands (lie flat on your back then stand up) and pressup-stands (do a single pressup then stand up).  emphasis should be on BIG movements, progressively getting quicker and more dynamic. 

    Dynamic thigh stretch


  • Dynamic thigh stretches.  Shift your weight from side to side in an easy, controlled manner.  emphasis on constant movement.
  • Exaggerated punches/kicks.  These are done from a relaxed fighting stance and emphasis is put on big, flowing, long range moves.  Don’t bother too much with speed yet, just get the whole body (stance, torso, shoulders and arms) moving BIG.
    • Kizame Tsuki – lunging punch (twist the body and reach)
    • Gyaku Tsuki – reverse punch (twist the body and reach with the arms and legs)
    • Mae Geri, Yoko Geri, Mawashi Geri – front, side and roundhouse kicks (keep it light and go for distance)
    • Any and all combinations of the above basic moves (increase the speed and snappy-ness of the moves as the minutes go by).
  • 1,2,3,4,5 drill.  Do a different move depending on the number called out by the instructor.  As the warm up progresses, the speed and randomness of the counts increases.  This will help wake up your reactions and reflexes and ability to react with different moves in a split second.  You can customise the actual move you use depending on your goals.  The moves and numbers i often use are:
    1. Kizame Tsuki – lunging punch
    2. Gyaku Tsuki – reverse punch
    3. Swap leading legs
    4. Squat and touch floor with both hands
    5. Mae Geri – front kick
  • Tag sparring.  Push numerous flags/tags/handkerchiefs into your belts and pair up with another person of similar level.  On the command, you both start “sparring” and try to grab the tags off your opponent, while defending your own tags.  Use similar rules as normal sparring/kumite.  This is a great stepping stone between a warm up and training proper, it forces the mind/body to work fast, it’s a good drill to learn/improve distance, it’s great fun and its very safe.  For more advanced students, you can not bother with the tags and do “play sparring”.  By altering the rules/goals, you will change the outcome of the drill.  Some examples include:
    • First to 10 points – this makes it more of an endurance/conditioning exercise.
    • First to 1 point – this develops tactics and an explosive body/mind
    • Kicks only – good practice for a weak kicker
    • Punches only – good practice for a weak puncher
    • 1 side can only score with counters – good for someone who gives ground too easily
    • 1 side can only score with an attack – good for someone who is not aggressive/up front enough

As you can see, this warm up started out light, easy and very generic.  But with each step it got faster, bigger and more specific to the training session that was to follow.  The final step being almost indistinguishable from the training session itself, but working on various “skills”.

In fact, the warm up is often a very good time to learn/improve skills.  Skills are often best learned/improved at reduced speed/strength…and a warm up is done at reduced speed/strength.  So take advantage of this time, allowing the rest of the training session to be done fast and furious!

Note the almost total lack of the usual static stretches you usually find at the start of traditional Karate sessions.  This is because Karate is a dynamic, quick game and the body needs dynamic, quick moves to prepare it.  I also found my brain going into auto pilot during many traditional warm ups, and it didn’t wake up for 10-15 minutes into the training session proper.  This is 10-15 minutes training time wasted, where all I was doing was learning how to move like a zombie, not like some ninja in the night! 🙂

There is a time and a place for traditional static stretches.  But that time and place is right at the end of the session, one of the last things you do.  When your body is hot ,bendy and tired.

I hope this has given you something to to think about.  Let me know if you agree/disagree and how you would improve on it!