a note on feinting

a basic takedown following a feint

feinting, the principle of engaging your opponent to responding to a suggested but withheld attack, is a useful if not vital part of competition karate, but there are difficulties with feinting that become apparent during free sparring, and these revolve around the way some karateka misunderstand the role of the feint. this, surely, is a failure of the way feinting is taught, or even the degree to which it is taught.

feinting is not, as some people tend to use it, in place of technique. this is such a self-evident point that it bears repeating, in case it is missed: feinting is not technique. points are not awarded for feints, regardless how effectively or elegant they are performed. if an analogy helps, it might be to say that feints are like fonts: correctly - and sparingly - used, different fonts can provide emphasis and impact to what you are attempting to convey, but they cannot help you if you have nothing to say. and so we come back to technique, and the fact that if your technique is lousy, no amount of feinting is going to help.

feinting is not technique, and learning to feint is of much less importance than developing fast, sharp, penetrating attacks. though few of us are ever close, in theory if you move fast enough, you can beat anyone (in competition; while feinting has its place in self-defense too, feinting is generally taught in the context of competition). is there an argument for not teaching feints at all, instead spendng the time working on the speed of basic punches? without going that far, although i am tempted, i would certainly argue that far too much emphasis is placed on feinting against quality of simple technique. i often specify 'no feinting' for sparring drills, and i recommend that as standard practice. consider this: against different fighters, you have no idea how (or even whether) they will respond to the feint; perhaps they habitually block late and don't respond at all, making the feint pointless, or perhaps they do not block at all but immediately counterattack, hitting you before you have even begun your technique proper? to rely on the feint is to rely on knowing how your opponent will respond, but to rely on your technique is relying only on your own ability. of course you still don't know what your opponent will do, and maybe they beat you, but you will never find yourself in the embarrassing position of saying 'but they didn't do what they were supposed to do'. assume your opponent is better than you and will make no mistakes. you can't outwit them, you have to be better.

it is common, when teaching gyaku-tsuki, to see that many people have a tendency to twitch the front hand forward before beginning the technique in full. i was guilty of it myself for many years, and was glad to see it go when i finally figured out it wasn't helping. the twitch is a classic telegraph, and one that is difficult to overcome, and there can be a tendency (among intermediate fighters particularly) to dismiss it as being 'a feint', to excuse the fact that it precedes the actual attacking motion in which the front hand is drawn back. but since, as is now our mantra, feinting is not technique, anything that precedes every technique is in fact part of your version of that technique, and most likely is actually a telegraph. it can be extremely useful to use that front hand to feint jodan and open up the chudan target, but the feint must i) be totally convincing, and ii) be optional. and if your attacking techniques are slow, your feint is too; if the front hand does not pose a genuine threat of scoring with kizami-tsuki, the feint is no threat either and is therefore useless. every feint should be capable of scoring in speed and targeting and distancing; it should only lack completion. in theory, anyway! if you actually could score with that feint then surely you would, but i mean to convey that feints should have the same commitment as genuine attacks, and crucially that those attacks should not care about whether there was a preceding feint.

but please don't think i am against feinting per se; i use feints, and i do even teach feints, and they are a required skill for serious competition. against an unknown fighter, they are invaluable in taking a measure of your opponent before engaging in full attacks. putting a series of varied feints together can be useful in opening up inexperienced or reactive fighters. attack-feint-attack combinations are great. but technique comes first, it has to. no points are ever awarded for feints. and after all, let's say it together, feinting is not technique.

-neil jerome, 2009


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