• By: Pedro Candeias
  • Date: 02/26/2017


Agility is a Key-Point for optimal performance in Karate Fighting.


No matter we are talking about WKF Kumite, Kyokushinkai or Traditional Karate!


Kumite is an intermittent and multi-directional activity in nature. It requires rapid changes of direction or movement speed in response to an unpredictable stimulus. You must develop your Karate Kids fighting skills right from the start.


If you follow Karate Science Academy from the beginning you already know WHAT AGILITY REALLY IS!!


According to Young et al, AGILITY is a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus (unpredictable).


Perceptual Decision-Making + Change of Direction or Velocity = AGILITY


If you didn’t read our articles “What the Hell is Agility and Why is so Important to Karate?”, click here.


Agility is a critical ability that can distinguish between levels of athletes not only in Karate but also in several other sports that depend on a quick response to the opponents’ movements.


As you can see in the “Agility in Karate “chart, we can distinguish two principal components in Agility: Perceptual & Decision Making and Change of Direction Speed.


Just a quick note: Remember that in Agility, the first one is more decisive.



Let’s go deeper on both dimensions… (Before we go deeper into the 3 Phases of Agility Training for Young Karateka!)


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Scientific research shows that a repeated exposure to a given stimulus, in children and adolescents,  will result in faster response times and increased cognitive capacity. This happens due to the strengthening of existing synaptic pathways.


ATTENTION: when Science talks about “repeated exposure” it’s not saying your young Karateka should make 500 Gyaku-Zuki per training session. We are talking about Regularity between sessions and in the long-term…


What happens in the long term? Your Karate Kids and Adolescents become faster and better fighters because they anticipate more clearly the opponents’ movements. Even they don’t have that conscience. They can “read” better and earlier the opponent’s movement patterns.


As a practical exercise, for example, you should create drills that teach your Karateka to perceive when their opponent closes the distance. Or how to adapt to their colleague’s free displacements in order to maintain, close or open the distance.


Because if you can’t master the fighting distance you can’t win!! No matter if we are talking about WKF Kumite, Self-Defence, Kyokushinkai or any kind of Martial Art or Combat Sports that want to be known as effective in an open fight. An open fight can be a WKF Kumite bout or a fight in the street…


In another article we’ll give you the teaching method that Science shows us to be the more effective to reach this fighting skills. Stay connected with Karate Science Academy!!


Especially with your younger Karate students is important that you give them the most various drills and stimulus (general and Karate-specific):


  • Generic Movement Pattern Recognition – for example, “Touching Fighting”, where your Little Dragons just try to touch their colleague body while the other one avoids it with Tai Sabaki or defensive blocks


  • Hand-Eye Coordination – for example, “Glove or Ball Touching/Punching/Kicking”, where one student places his Karate gloves or a ball in different positions (randomly) and his colleague has to touch it. In this exercise, you can ask your young Karateka to touch the target as quickly as possible or just defining the hand or foot that touches depending on target position. The Ball has a huge positive effect on motivation… Just use it, ok? You are not offending the “Gods of Karate”… Those who complain about new effective training methods are not truly “Karate Gods/Masters”, but just “Pre-Historic Dinosaurs”.


  • Decision-Making Skills – for example, “Hug the Nearest Colleague”, where you have one Karate Kid with his eyes closed. You tell him that he has to give a hug to the colleague that is closer to him. When he is with his eyes closed, his partners position themselves in a random way. You give a signal and after he opens the eyes he has to decide what partner is closer to him, as quickly as possible.


Be careful with early specialization in very specific Karate movements and techniques!! This guides your students towards two terrible things: INCREASED INJURY RISK and DROPOUT…






First of all, during the pre-adolescent years (before 10-11 years old in girls; before 11-12 years old in boys), boys and girls demonstrate similar capacities when performing Agility tasks.


However, around the onset of the pubertal spurt, sex differences begin to appear. The peak rate of development in Change of Direction Speed occurs at approximately 13-14 years old in boys.


During pre-puberty, the training adaptations to Change of Direction Speed exercises result from nervous system development. Primarily, by improvements in intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. And also general motor control development.


When we look to circumpubertal and post-pubertal adaptations to training, what can we see? Increases in androgen concentrations like testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor. These factorss will lead to increased force-production, along with other factors.


You can increase Change of Direction Speed with strength training, plyometrics. Ideally, a combination of both!


And don’t forget to add Fundamental Movement Skills…






Lloyd et al (2013) developed a model that includes 3 Components:


  • Fundamental Movement Skills (where you can add Kihon, Unsoku Ho, etc.)
  • Change of Direction Speed
  • Reactive Agility Training (Perceptual & Decision Making – more opened drills)




“Children and Adolescents must be exposed to all 3 Components, but in different proportions”


Primary Training Emphasis







Girls: until 9 years old / Boys: until 10 years old (these are just average ages)


In this phase, the primary training focus should be Fundamental Movement Skills. As we said before, you shoul, of course, add Kihon, Unsoku Ho, etc.


But remembering that your little Karateka need Creativity, Enjoyment, Socialization and Variability!! It’s our obligation as Karate Teachers give them the most correct training methods, no matter how laborious it is…


Don’t worry, Karate Science Academy was created to give you the best Tools and most practical Methods to your classes. We just need time, because we are just beggining!!!


Fundamental Movement Skills and Basic Kihon development are vital during the early years to ensure that the correct movement patterns are mastered in a safe and fun environment. Only after that you should test these movements in more complex and specific-Karate situations.


When we talk about “more complex” and “specific-Karate situations” we are talking about Avanced Kihon, Kata or Kumite.


For example, scientific research shows that ligament loading at the knee joint increases during unplanned cutting maneuvers (sudden, unpredictable and quick changes of direction). This happens all the time during Fighting. This predisposes the knee to a greater risk of injury.


This will be specially true to adolescent girls!!


For this reason, it’s important to teach your young students proper alignment and body positioning and movement.

Fundamental Movement Skills also helps your Karate Kids to increase their Strength. To know more about Strength Training for Kids, please read these articles:

7 Principles of Strength Training for Karate Kids

Destroy the Myth: Strength Training is Bad for Children and Young Karateka


But don’t forget the FUN dimension in your Dojo! Don’t make technique perfection an obsession… 


Give your Kids Perception & Decision-Making drills, to take advantage of neural plasticity associated with pre-puberty.







Girls: 10-11 years old until 15-17 years old / Boys: 11-12 years old until 16-17 years old (these are just average ages)


In this phase, you should put a greater emphasis on Change of Direction Speed (40%). Here, we’re are talking about physical qualities.


But Perceptual & Decision-Making training also increases.


This is the most balanced period between the 3 components of Agility Training for Young Karateka!


Organize and balance training drills of three types:


  1. Controlled and pre-planned exercises that help your students and athletes to accelerate, decelerate and reaccelerate. They should know the direction and its magnitude.


  1. Open Drills that teach them to adapt to their opponents actions and reactions. Because our speed and power in fighting is very conditioned by our timing (perception and decision-making speed)


  1. Fundamental Movement Skills and Basic Kihon. Important to reinforce proper body alignment and to compensate what it’s called “adolescent awkwardness”. This is a phenomenon that affects the motor control of many teenagers. And it’s due to rapid changes in legs’ and arms’ length.


Note about “adolescent awkwardness”: we all have those students that were always motivated to train and full of energy. And when they get in adolescence, suddenly, they become “lazy”. This can happen for several reasons – it’s your work as a responsible and professional Sensei to be aware of those reasons. One of those reasons can be a descending on their self-esteem and self-confidence. Why? Because they feel uncoordinated and that leads to frustration. Frustration takes to demotivation. In this phase, you should expl to in them what’s happening to their body and give them the correct training stimulus that help them to overcome this difficulties as quickly as possible.







Girls: after 15-17 years ols / Boys: after 16-17 years old (these are just average ages)


In this phase, Change of Direction Speed and Fundamental Movement Skills/Basic Kihon continue to be part of Kumite training, but most of the time (60%) must be dedicated to Open Drills.


The type of exercises that develop Perception and Decision-Making Skills!!


Fundamental Movement Skills/Basic Kihon can be incorporated as a part of Warm-up, for example.


Change of Direction Speed training may be integrated in Physical Conditioning.


But the main component a Kumite / Fightinig training session must be what Lloyd et al (2013) call Reactive Agility Training!



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