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Four Playful Animals: Strategy For Kumite

By Kate Barrett Stewart

Freefighting in karate (kumite) can be intimidating, especially if students are new, relatively small, or women. Often these students feel that they are easily bullied by larger, stronger opponents or those with a longer reach.

I learned about the Four Playful Animals Model while attending a National Women's Martial Arts Seminar a number of years ago. Since then I have had a lot of fun using it with my students. It has also helped my own fighting skills.

In this model the bear and crane represent two typical adversaries while the snake and the praying mantis represent opposing strategies. The model prompts students to analyze the relative reach, strengths and weakness of opponents and to adjust their own fighting strategies accordingly.

The model is helpful for all students. If they are small, have a short reach or are not very strong, the model teaches a strategy that can be used against bigger, stronger opponents or those with a longer reach. Bigger, stronger students can benefit too. Often they fight the same group of students in their dojo and adopt a single fighting style that seems to work. They get stuck in a strategy. They don't recognize that there are opponents bigger, or more powerful than themselves who could use their own strategy against them. Thus the model teaches these students also to analyze, think and be more flexible in approach. Learning the model actually makes freefighting more fun too, because if you always fight the same way you get stale. If, on the other hand, you try different techniques, different combinations, different attitudes, then freefighting stays fresh.

The Bear versus the Snake. This analogy is used to demonstrate how size and strength can be countered by speed and agility. The bear has many advantages -- size, weight, strength and reach -- but they are not impervious. Bears move straight forward. They intimidate, try to overpower and maul you, but also try to maintain a distance in order to use their strength and reach. Their techniques are often straight attacks -- jabs, straight punches and front kicks. Bear limitations include lack of agility and a need to maintain a distance so as to continue to attack you effectively.

Strategy for fighting a bear is to become a snake. Snakes are smaller, weaker and have a shorter reach than bears, but they have advantage of speed and agility. Against a bear, snakes should avoid frontal attacks and use their speed, to move in from angles to get close to attack or counter, to move side to side, or to move to the bears backside if he tries to turn to catch you. A snake should keep close to a bear because as soon as the distance between them increases the bear again has the advantage. The bear can hit you going in or away, so if you manage to get in, stay in and fight side to side and don't get caught. Good snake techniques include the roundhouse kick (targets including the shins if allowed), hook punch to the body and short punches to the opponent's side.

The Crane versus the Praying Mantis. This analogy is used to illustrate how a person with shorter reach but who is stronger can effectively fight a person with a longer reach. Picture a crane standing on one leg using the other to kick at you to keep you away. They have a longer reach but are weaker. Cranes uses their advantage, reach, to kick, pushing you away. They also use attacks on angles and circles around the opponent to neutralize their strength. Cranes use quick, powerful side kicks or back kicks to push you away, or they attack from angles with roundhouse kicks, hook kicks and spinning back kicks. Others use front hand jabs too. They are not going to use the reverse arm as much because with the front arm they maximize reach with their arm and their torso.

If you fight a crane, become a praying mantis. The praying mantis is the stronger of the two opponents but has the shorter reach. Its strategy is to get in close to the crane to attack the front, the crane's torso. This is especially effective if the crane is leaning back, off balance, on one leg. Even if the crane punches, the techniques won't be very effective since he is weaker. So the praying mantis doesn't have to move side to side very much. Good techniques for the praying mantis include short punches and hooks to the body, elbows (if permitted), and roundhouse kicks (including shin kicks, if allowed).

Summary. "The Four Playful Animals model is a starting point for developing strategy. It provides a way for everyone to approach free-fighting. I have found it personally helpful too because I'm small, pretty strong, but definitely not the strongest or biggest. So sometimes I'm a praying mantis, sometimes a snake, and when I'm freefighting my children students I'm sometimes a bear. While there are many other techniques and strategies which may be developed outside this model, this model teaches one essential thing: "The bear does not always win."

For Teachers

Non-Contact Competition Drills

These Drills use no contact. They are fun and useful at all belt levels and ages.

Non-Contact Competition Drill 1 - Bears versus Snakes

Form two lines of people facing each other. Tell one side to be bears. Tell the other side to be snakes. Let them fight with no contact for one minute. Then reverse roles. Have the bears become snakes and the snakes become bears. Let them continue to fight with no contact for one minute. Ask them what techniques they chose to use. Rotate the lines to get different partners and repeat.

Non-Contact Competition Drill 1 - Cranes versus Praying Mantises

Form two lines of people facing each other. Tell one side to be cranes. Tell the other side to be praying mantises. Let them fight with no contact for one minute. Then reverse roles. Have the cranes become praying mantises and the praying mantises become cranes. Let them fight without contact for one minute. Ask them what techniques they chose to use. Rotate the lines to get different partners and repeat.

Non-Contact Competition Drill 3 - Play Acting

Let one side secretly pick an animal to emulate. Tell the other side to observe and try to identify the animal. Fight without contact for one minute. See if the observers were right and how they reached their conclusion. Change sides and repeat.

Contact Fighting Drills

These are contact drills. These drills should be light contact only. People will be assigned animals without regard to relative reach or strength.

Contact Fighting Drill 1 - Bears versus Snakes

This drill is the same as the above non-contact drill but permits light contact.

Contact Fighting Drill 2 - Cranes versus Praying Mantises

This drill is the same as the above non-contact drill but permits light contact.

Contact Fighting Drill 3- Fun Drill

Do the above fighting drills but add the appropriate animal noises and gestures!


To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

kumite, freefighting, fighting strategy, budo strategy, strategy


Read more articles by Kate Barrett Stewart

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