• By: Pedro Candeias
  • Date: 01/31/2017


What the hell is Agility: Do you know how to explain it without hesitations?


When one Karate coach says: “That kid is agile!!”. What exactly is he saying?


Most of the times, what that Karate instructor is saying is: “he is moving quickly in several directions” or “his feet are fast making complex footwork drills”.


But that it’s not Agility if it’s a pre-determined drill or circuit!!


Yes, that’s right… Agility is not that!


According to Young et al. Agility is a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to an external and unexpected stimulus.


Or applying some mathematics (looool):

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


In a practical way, when you have a Karate student that makes pre-determined Speed Ladder Drills, complex Kata sequences or Kumite exercises, in a very fast way he is not necessarily agile.


He has great Change of Direction Speed.


How can you see if your student is not only fast in changing his/her body direction, but also has great levels of Agility?


You must create drills that force him/her to change direction or movement speed, in response to an external stimulus.


For example, in response to a colleague’s movement or to your voice.


This is very important to Kumite, don’t you think?


All Karate Dojos and teams have Karate students that are physically and technically great.


But when they try to show all their qualities in a Kumite bout, they always miss the timing, the reaction time or decision. And sometimes we can also see big fails in their technical execution, even when they do it in the right timing!


This means that Agility is a fundamental skill for Kumite, but is not necessary for Kata.


In Kata your athletes must only develop Change of Direction Speed (CODS) – and many other skills, of course!


But if you want your students and athletes to develop their Kumite skills, you must plan a lot of Decision-Making and Perception exercises.


Kihon and pre-determined drills are not enough!



Human Movement Stimulus


You, as a Karate Coach, should give priority to an external stimulus presented directly by colleagues’ movements.


Different stimuli, like your voice, non-specific gestures, lights or other generic stimuli can be used in games with Kids, for example.


On the developmental ages of Karate training, generic fundamental skills are very important.


But the specificity of the stimulus should be upgraded in each developmental stage.


The exercises should be more specific in a 12-13 years old class when compared to a 7-8 years old class.


When we’re talking about athletes in U18 or Adults levels please stop with generic stimulus!!


Your athletes’ perception must be trained with specific Kumite movements.


If you have Kyokushinkai competitors, you must train Kyokushinkai stimulus. If you have WKF Rules competitors, you must train inside those boundaries.


The anticipation of the opponent’s movements and pattern recognition are crucial cognitive skills to a fighter! We can only have the full picture with real humans and real movements…


Does this mean that Karate training sessions will be boring and repetitive?!?


Of course not! You can organize your exercises with several contents and forms, so your athletes and students can be highly motivated…


And generic stimulus also plays a role in your Dojo. But in specific situations and with specific goals!



Fill in the fields below and receive at your e-mail the full-resolution version of STRENGTH TRAINING CHECKLIST (Stronger Karate)


Influence of Cognitive and Perceptual Factors in Agility


Response Time and Decision-Making Time have more influence on Agility time than morphological characteristics or sprint and speed times!


That’s true… Science doesn’t lie!


And retain the knowledge in the next paragraph…


The importance of superior decision-making and cognitive skills are not related only to performance enhancement.


Poor decision-making ability may also contribute to injuries.


Remember, Science helps you, as a Karate Sensei, to reach your students’ main goals: Health and Performance!!


The Karate students with superior perceptive and decision-making skills can do two things better:

  1. Apoio excessive contact or wrong-timing contact. Your non-competitive athletes will be grateful if they end your class without injuries. In Kyokushinkai, for example, contact is the main goal, but you don’t want a collision between your knee and your opponent’s knee or shin. In WKF Rules, excessive contact is also a matter of winning or losing.


  1. React so you can avoid an ankle sprain, for example. If you make an out-of-time reaction in a leg or whole-body displacement, you can easily miss your body support and injure your ankle or fall.




Influence of Physical Factors in Agility


The main goal of an Agility task is to redirect total body momentum to a new direction/target as quickly as possible. And this requires muscle speed and power, right?


But Science has found much stronger correlations between physical factors, like eccentric strength, body fat percentage, power, maximal strength or reactive strength, and CODS.


Regarding Agility, physical factors have a much smaller effect.


This shows you again the importance of Perceptual, Cognitive and Decision-Making training, right? So your students and athletes can be much more effective in open-tasks like Kumite!




You only need Agility to be good in Kumite?


Of course not…


We said before that physical factors have less influence in Agility than perception and decision-making, right?


But Science also shows us that physical factors have effects in Agility.


And you all know the importance of tenths of a second in a fight!!


Every training method that helps us to move a little bit faster is worthy of our time. If leg power helps us to attack 0.5 seconds faster, we must train our leg power.


Science is just opening our eyes for the importance of open-task training for the development of our fighting skills.


You all know Dojos where 90% of the time the training is based on pre-determined exercises.


Kihon, Kata, Bunkai, etc.


And that’s fine if you don’t want to step into “the next level” of Kumite and Self-Defence.


But if you want to be proud of your students’ fighting skills, your competitors Kumite results or the effectiveness of your classes in street’s real self-defense you must take this knowledge with you.


You must take this knowledge and integrate it in every single training!



Training Recommendations


When you want to help your students to be better fighters, you must take several recommendations into note.


First, introduce in your classes a bunch of perceptual and decision-making exercises, with appropriate stimulus and responses. You must adapt those exercises to the classes you have in your Dojo.


Second, you should focus not only on decision-making speed but also in accuracy/precision. You must stimulate your students to make the right decision, not only the fastest.


Third, opened conditioned exercises that demand a high percentage of decisions are superior to Change of Direction training for developing Agility.





Agility is a multidimensional and complex skill.


Seeing Agility as a simple physical quality limits our understanding of the multiple influences involved in training to increase Agility performance.


Strong correlations between agility and a single individual quality, like leg power or maximal strength, have not been encountered in scientific research.


Agility is the dependence of two dimensions.


First DimensionCognitive Factors. As decision-making, pattern recognition and anticipation.

Second DimensionPhysical Factors. As deceleration, acceleration and reactive strength



If you want to know more about Explosive Karate, click here.

Karate Science Academy has a mission: to take Science into all Dojos in the world.


P.S. – You must learn more about Change of Direction Speed, too! In just a few weeks we’re going to go deeply into Plyometrics. Stay tuned!!