1983 Karate Illustrated Article by Professor King


If you can read your opponent’s rhythms before he reads yours, it’s contact, point, and match

Story and photos by Fred King

Quick. Sharp. Up, down, sideways. Slow, fast. Forward, backward. Dip. Dodge. Slip in, slip out. Faster, faster, and faster still . Passive, explode. The fighter who typifies total erratic behavior can drive you crazy, and you can usually only do two things about it: hit him, or move out of the way before he hits you. In normal society you’d call him a schizophrenic. He never quite knows which way to go. And that is exactly what makes this kind of fighter scary and dangerous.

In today’s analytical fighting circles he is known as someone who uses “broken rhythm.” He’s the one kind of fighter Bruce Lee indicated was the toughest to tangle with . You don ‘t know what his next move will be, and usually you just want him to calm down for a minute so you can get back to the “norm” of fighting. Let’s take a closer look at this type of fighter and see what makes him so dangerous, and worse, so unpredictable.

In basic fighting strategy, you are halfway home if you know what your opponent is going to do. You can plan. You can set him up. You can block. You can attack. The other half is being able to do something to him. Most of the great fighters today meticulously analyze their opponents to find their flaws. Knowing your enemy goes back to Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Musashl Miyamoto’s Book of Five Rings. Smart is the key word. Be tough , yes. But always be smarter. Therein lies the difference between the good, the great, and the greatest.

If you look around in this world you will see there are rhythms for everything. They may be as blatant as a disco beat, or as gentle as a romantic love song. All energy seems to have this sense of rhythm. If you go into a forest, you can feel a type of rhythm/energy. If you go to a raucous boxing match , there is another form of rhythm/energy. One party has one type of rhythm, and the next could be totally different.

Fighting is no different. Each fighter has his or her own rhythm , not just patterns , but actual rhythms. Each rhythm is different. The game is to analyze your opponent, find his beat, and then break it at will. Have you ever been listening to a record or to someone talking when some sound suddenly grabbed your attention? A backfiring car , perhaps, or a scratch on the album? There it is, distraction at its worst – broken rhythm. When you break that rhythm knowingly in the ring, and your opponent hesitates, you’re in. Target hit. Point.

The first step is to know that such things as rhythms exist and that fighters have them. The next step is to find them. This is where it gets tough. But after you have deciphered your opponent’s rhythm, the next step is to duplicate it and break it. This is the hardest step of all.Most people have a hard enough time just confronting an opposing fighter, let alone sensing or seeing his rhythm. But there are drills to help you acquire the ability to read rhythms, and things to do to detect patterns your adversary might establish . (Patterns are the mechanical reactions or actions the fighter has to another ‘s rhythm.) In photos 1-5you see a typical break of target rhythm. One fighter attacks the other ‘s upper torso with a reverse punch. When the defender sees what appears to be the exact kind of attack again on the next exchange, he naturally assumes it will go to exactly the same area. It doesn’t. A nearly imperceptible four inch change downward in the punch is on target. Point.The mental breaking of rhythm is an acting game played with a cool hand and nerves of steel. When it works . It’s like a surgeon systematically cutting up his prey. First a decoy is set up. The fighter might begin by establishing an offensive rhythm with his body and energy of aggression (photos 6-7), then quickly change to one of fear (photos 8-9). This show of timidity is what pulls your increasingly confident opponent to you. He smells your retreat, your apparent apprehension, but more than that, the rhythm has changed from the energy and beat of two opposing gladiators to one of a runaway train racing ahead unimpeded. As the overconfident fighter moves in for the kill, photos 10-11show how his opponent changes from passive to active, scoring with a roundhouse kick.If someone throws a ball high over your head 1,000 times, the 1,001th time you will probably reach high to catch it. The rhythm of high, high, high has been established. Photos 12-15 show one fighter demonstrating to his opponent that he can’t reach him. He pops the backfist out harmlessly a couple of times and his opponent quickly decides his attacker can’t land a blow from that distance. The rhythm is set for photo 16, where the slight extension of the quarter beat now becomes a full beat of extension. Contact. Point.

As you can probably tell by now, broken rhythm is not just unpredictable, bouncing motion, but can also be interpreted as sending numerous techniques repeatedly in one direction, and then just making a slight change in the technique or direction. Or it can be the “feeling” of passive/active roles. It’s deceptiveness at its best.

You can best employ broken rhythm when your opponent, even momentarily, is worried about what you are going to do to him. When an opponent is thinking only about what he is going to do to you, it’s a near-worthless technique set-up. He must believe in what you might do. That belief is what will unhinge him for even a moment – all the time you need to explode and score.

It’s a game of fake and feint. You must be in and out of your opponent’s distance of contact. You must control his intention of scoring on you by making him wonder what you are going to do next. The typical , quick , short, jerky motions characterize this broken rhythm concept , where your body moves in and out, bobs, dips, weaves, and messes up your opponent’s balance (photos 17-22), so that the eventual blow goes in undisturbed (photo 23).

Say a match is two-to-nothing against you. Your opponent has hit you hard twice in only the first 20 seconds of frenzied fighting . The roll is on his side. It looks like a sure Victory for him. Fortunately, your mouth guard flies out and you spend the next 30 seconds looking for it, retrieving it, and adjusting it back into your mouth. Your waiting opponent ‘s energy level diminishes without the actuality of fighting someone. The momentum he had is lost during the interim. He attacks again, but you are quieter, calmer, and the rhythm of the moment is no longer against you. You have called a different beat, your beat, your cadence. You are in charge now. The outcome is In your hands. You pull out the win.

Incidents such as this have happened countless times. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, only the most obvious principles. There are more. Seek them out and you will find that distance, timing, technique, and the mind each have their own rhythm. But remember, you must break the grasp of your opponent’s rhythm before it envelopes you and you are the victim.

There is even a broken broken rhythm. Know what I mean?