Kata and the Knockout Game

It is easy to hurt people. It is hard to protect them.

Standing on the corner on a bright sunny day waiting for the bus – this guy never saw it coming. For fun someone snuck up and punched this guy as hard as he could in the side of his head. It landed just under his ear lobe.

The guy waiting for the bus dropped lifeless to the pavement. The friends of the guy who threw the punch thought this was the funniest thing ever. They all walked off having a good laugh.

Someone stopped to help the victim get up. Everyone else got on the bus.

That was called ‘the knockout game’ in the US media. But that type of unprovoked street attack has happened around the world for years, and still does.

To knock someone out is not hard, if they do not see it coming. If their body is relaxed, if they are not alerted, in fight or flight, if they are oblivious, preoccupied, in what is known in tactical training as ‘condition white.’

It takes no talent, training, strength or special skills to do it.

Is an unprovoked surprise attack defendable? It is. If you are experienced you know it is. But some people do not know this. They do not know that awareness is your first line of defense. And they do not know that traditional karate teaches you how to use awareness to defend against this kind of attack.

At the beginning of a kata, in ready position, we adopt a global view – undifferentiated, undivided awareness, taking in the whole field of vision. By using sound, scent, moving air or vibrations, we can get awareness of the whole tactical environment, beyond just what we can see.

This awareness that we practice in kata is critical in real life – in searching a building, yard or rooftop, in backwoods tracking, in moving through any threat environment. It is true in walking down the street.

In fact it is essential to staying alive in any operating environment – essential in locating the subject of a search, and in assuring that you locate him before he finds you.

Being tuned in to our peripheral vision allows us to detect motion. We practice this in yoy position.

Our peripheral vision will tell us very little about the object that is in motion – we cannot see shape, color or patterns very well with it. But it will alert us that something near us is moving. If we are awake we can detect a threat and have a chance to respond to it before it can close the distance.


We use kata to train our response in a real threat environment. Kata teaches us what to do. Following the initial ready position, when the attack has entered our awareness, we move.

We can interpret the first move of our kata as a pre-emptive assault or as a response to a specific technique. Either way we train to place our visual and mental focus directly on the attack vector.

Our center vision is designed to pick up detail – shape, color, pattern. Using center vision we perceive, recognize, interpret and respond to the specific threat dynamic.


At high speed we will not cognize this sequence. We will just act. Because of our training our response will be fast and decisive, without conscious thought.

Although there is debate about the use of the term, this skilled performance without conscious intention or will is sometimes called ‘mushin.’ ‘No mind.’ Any highly trained and skilled person – pilot, musician, athlete or warrior – will recognize this way of performing skillful action, beyond conscious thought.


Any experienced thief, commando, or sparring partner will confirm: an alert target is hard to attack. A passive target is not.

Crime scenes show this.

An unsuspecting victim, who did not anticipate their attack, whose attention was diverted from their attacker, will show no signs of struggle. The crime scene will be simple. A scene like that, a revenge assault or a robbery, stays confined in space, lasts an instant and shows the quick effective attack of a predator against a victim who was easy to approach, deceive or disable, and harm.

An alerted target, someone whose attention was on his or her assailant, whose body was alert and energized, someone who put up a fight, will be harder to hurt. The response of a determined fighter or any defender who won’t back down under pressure will be evident from the scene after the incident is over.

A confrontation – not just an assault – will create a complex crime scene: the place in disarray, with violence moving through the space over time, leaving evidence of chaos and struggle, revealing that the outcome was not foreordained.


To be proud of your self, to refuse to be intimidated, to be alert and strong takes work.

To enable others to do the same takes even more. That is our job. It is worth doing. As you do it – difficult, anonymous, thankless and possibly fruitless as that work may seem – you will change. You become strong. You get a life worth living. And you improve the lives of other people as you do.

People are being taught to take advantage of others. To exploit them and manipulate them, in the name of an ideal, because it’s them or us, to ascend in status, power and prestige, or because it feels good, and the only alternative, it seems to them, is to feel bad.

It is our job to prevent predators from exerting their will on the good people who come to us for training.

Confidence may be enough to discourage attacks before they happen.

Awareness is the next perimeter of defense.

Deploying skill and will effectively would follow, in the extreme case of physical attack.

Kata teaches this.


In the dojo we can train people to thrive. We can help them get the skills they need to keep themselves safe, to protect others, to have the self respect, physical health, mental focus and self confidence that come from real competence, from purpose, and from wholesome character.

We can purify our character in the heat of training, accept obstacles as a part of training, and proceed despite the difficulty. If we can live that we can set an example and help our students and training partners and our teachers to meet their own challenges and prevail.


Be ready.


Post by Jeff Brooks

Photos by OathKeepers and Jeff Brooks

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