Ok, so how can you possibly compare karate to poker?

The top poker players all have amazing ‘poker faces’. Someone with a good poker face gives nothing away to their opponents, unless its an intentional sign sent to confuse or misdirect, where they try to make their opponents believe something else is happening, that is not!

Well, you need a poker face in karate, as you cannot afford to give anything away to your opponent, or if you do, it needs to be the wrong signal!

Karate and Non Telegraphed Movement

Lets first talk about non telegraphed movement in basic kumite (sparring).

In basic Shotokan Karate sparring, like gohon Kumite (5 step sparring), Sanbon kumite (3 step sparring), or Kihon Ippon Kumite (basic 1 step sparring).

With this sparring, there is no misdirection, you simply attack without sending a signal to your opponent first. This is one of the most important areas to work on in sparring.

If you can hide your attack for as long as possible, the chances of the technique reaching the target increases dramatically, especially compared to someone who telegraphs their attack.

The Pen Analogy

If you think of a pen about two meters away from you, suspended in the air at head height. Now all you have to do is say when you think the pen is moving towards you, sounds easy right? And it is, if it moves as explained in number 1 below, but if it moves as described in number 2, it could get very close before you realize and when you do realize, it’s too late!

  1. As the pen moves towards you, it wobbles from side to side, and moves up and down as it comes towards you.
  2. As the pen moves towards you, there is NO other movement

Which one will you see coming towards you first? Obviously you answered number 1 (hopefully:)).

You karate is exactly the same, lets keep it basic first. If you are attacking from a left gedan barai (downward block) and as you start your attack, your shoulders come up on the gedan barai, or arms move to the side, or you grimace with your face, or you turn your front foot out just before you step! The attack will probably fail.

Be like the stationary pen, no other movement apart from the moving forward. Try and keep the gedan barai position for as long as possible, no extra movements, no grimacing, then by the time your opponent realizes whats happening, it’s too late, you are upon them!

So lets keep it basic and look at some common ways karateka telegraph their techniques when attacking from gedan barai. Master this non telegraphed movement with your basics, then your advanced karate will reach a whole new level.

Common Telegraphing Areas

  1. Lifting the shoulders slightly, just before the attack starts.
  2. Grimacing with the face just as the attack starts.
  3. Turning the front foot out or squeezing the toes, just before the attack starts.
  4. Squeezing and pulling the punching arm slightly back, just before the attack starts.
  5. Taking the body weight very slightly back, just before the attack starts.
  6. Eyes, blinking, looking down, looking up, looking sideways, just before the attack starts.

There are more, but we will leave it there for now.

So really work on non telegraphed movement and of course, this doesn’t just apply to your sparring, but kihon and kata should also have non telegraphed movement.

When you partner up, study your opponent, see if they telegraph and how, see if you can anticipate when they are about to attack and with what. Then when it is your turn to attack, be sure and DO NOT TELEGRAPH!

I hope this helps and I will finish with a quote from one of the most famous martial artists ever!


non telegraphed movement


Linden Huckle

About the author

Linden Huckle has been practicing and teaching karate for over 50 years and believes first and foremost, karateka should enjoy their karate. He says 'there is nothing better than seeing a person develop into a great person through their karate practice, while at the same time enjoying karate.'

Linden Huckle