Marks, get set, GO!

Marks - bird

On your marks; get set; GO! The starters orders as a race is about to begin. These remind me of how to and how not to hold yourself in sparring or when addressing pads or involved in any type of training. The picture illustrates the phases of the start of a sprint quite nicely; preparing, ready, off! If we compare the ‘state’ of a sprinter in each of these three phases to those of a martial artist addressing focus mitts or a sparring partner we can pick the most suitable. You will need a bit of lateral thinking for this post, lose the literal thinking…..

On your marks

During this stage the sprinter is merely getting into the blocks, placing his hands and feet in the correct position. The athlete is not ready to race either biomechanically or psychologically, he is preparing. In the picture above the bird on the red pepper is on his marks.

Get set

Now the sprinter is in his blocks, hands are in position, the body is raised and the optimal posture to drive forward is assumed; biomechanically ready. He is focused, ready to explode; pyschologically ready. The bird on the yellow pepper is ‘set’.


The trigger has been pulled and the sprinter is off, exploding out of the blocks and the race has begun. The third bird has pushed off and is flying.

If we adopt a posture or stance analogous to the ‘on your marks’ position we simply are not ready to move let alone strike. While nobody is likely to adopt a position literally resembling the ‘on your marks’ position of a sprinter, i.e. kneeling on the ground, people do adopt analogous postures which are unprepared for movement. The adoption of ‘on your marks’ postures unsuitable for movement is rife in Kihon training in Karate.

This old clip makes grisly viewing, and it’s not just the blokes on the beach in their thongs that’s unsightly. The protocol of adopting a posture that is difficult to move from and then expecting efficient movement is an oxymoron. The sprinter moves to the ‘get set’ position for a reason, he/she wants to be able to explode into the race. The clip shows no explosion whatsoever, just stiff robotic movement. The Karateka in the clip may be psychologically prepared but they certainly are not prepared for biomechanically efficient movement.


If we reject the ‘on your marks’ position as too static for explosive movement, we may be tempted to opt for the GO! position as there is plenty of explosive movement occurring. The bird is flying while the sprinters have exploded out off the blocks and are off. Obviously, a posture analogous to this is not plausible as we would be too committed to a particular movement and therefore unable to adapt to a changing environment, focus pads being moved for example. We would be fine psychologically but over-committed biomechanically.

Marks - SET1

That just leaves the ‘get set’ position, which of course is ideal. Starting from a posture that supports free movement naturally supports many explosive actions to be made. Being biomechanically set for movement it is possible to express the psychological preparation in a bagwork session. From a fighting posture analogous to the ‘get set’ position we are literally set, ready for action; obvious really.

This logic leaves Sanbon kumite and the like redundant as it attempts the impossible. The old clip shows dynamic movement (moving to strike and avoiding this movement) being attempted from the equivalent of the ‘on your marks’ position, which does not support such movement. The postures adopted fail to ‘set’ the body biomechanically for effective movement, resulting in sub-optimal movement. If the practice is redundant it needs to be binned, that would be a small progressive step.

3 thoughts on “Marks, get set, GO!

  1. I wonder when this type of sambon kumite was introduced into karate ? I suspect post 1900 as part of the sanitization of karate.

  2. I suspect this sort of stuff was introduced as part of the University syllabus, do sanbon kumite 1000 times to beast them. That sort of thing.

  3. Pingback: More on your marks « EPIC martial arts Blog

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