Occupying Space

You’ve really gotta enjoy those nights at training where you get to partner up and start putting into practice all those combinations that Shihan James Duggan drills into us up and down the class during Kihon Ido (basics with movements).

In today’s post we are going to explore the thought process required to correctly transition from practicing basic techniques into thin air and executing them on an opponent. The biggest challenge we face in this transition is not speed, accuracy or the strength to endure the pain of repeatedly being used as a crash test dummy.

It is the ability to occupy your own space and control your opponents. There is a reason our instructors constantly refer to the battle that is fought during kumite. This battle occurs because our intent is not just to land the perfect yoko hijiate or execute a mae geri with precision.

Our intent is to maximise our level of control.

As a beginner, this can be as simple as controlling our movements so that we do not harm our opponent more than what is required to practice the techniques correctly. As a black belt our control refers to our ability to maximise the space that we occupy. There are a couple of elements to this level of control; the first is what we actually can control and this is based on our ability, the second is what our opponent perceives us to control. Mr Miyagi is a great example of this (seriously how great is that movie!).

Do not underestimate the old.

Portrayal of Chojun Miyagi in the original "The Karate Kid"

So how do we do this Jay Sempai?

I have three pieces of advice for today that once again have been instilled in me by James Duggan Shihan. The first one is get your basics right, and minimise unnecessary movement. Remember Less is More. When an opponent is trying to attack you and you are completely still yet ready to strike it can be pretty intimidating. I have experienced this in sport karate tournaments where my opponent is jumping around losing all interface with the ground and I’m as still as a fly, perceived as an easy target but confident that my reactions and muscle memory will maintain my defence and counter attack.

The second. Ensure your projection of energy and the end point of your attacks is through your opponent. When you attack someone or someone attacks you it is not a fight for the space that overlaps between us. You want to take the space that is right beneath their feet, unearth them and ensure that they do not feel comfortable when they squaring off against you. James Duggan Shihan dismisses the term ‘bridge the gap’ in favour of ‘take the space’.

And finally, have intent when striking an opponent or defending ourselves. Our intent when practicing on our opponent is not to perfect the movement; it is to keep what is ours and take what is theirs. The movements, techniques and strikes are just tools to accomplish this.

There is only one constant in life, and that is self. The battle is won when your opponent no longer has control of their space and therefore has lost themselves. At that point control is claimed by you and you have the power to decide the final result.

All pretty hefty when we are facing a fellow Karateka in the dojo but remember the dojo is our safe place and how we train is reflected in what we do. That is why the more proficient you become the less people actually try to start trouble with you. They perceive an essence, a danger, and they are less willing to challenge that.

Renshu Owarimasu

About Jay Killeen

I began training in 2004 under the guidance of James Duggan Shihan. I have since achieved my Nidan in Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai. My favourite kata is Sanchin and I enjoy the challenge of kumite against great opponents.


  1. Hello Jay

    Watching my kumite video back I can definitely do with some ‘space occupation’ therapy.
    Excellent blog, once again.



  2. Really well put post, thank you for sharing this knowledge 🙂 I for one will try to put this into practice next session 🙂



    • Hi Greg

      Thanks for the feedback! Let us know how you go in your training and any feedback or tips you have figured out when trying to put it into practice.

      Jay Sempai

  3. Very nicely done Jay. I saw your post on Google + about your blog and decided to check it out – glad I did. While not a Goju-ryu guy, the concepts should all overlap or compliment each other – our techniques will just be different. I look forward to seeing how you progress.

    If you ever need any help or input – at least from the blogging end – please feel free to bug me. Proud of you for taking that leap to put yourself on the world stage in hopes of spreading Karate-do. It is hard for a lot of people.

  4. Hi Theodore

    Thanks for your kind words. I’ll definitely take a look at your blog too and pick your brain. Very new to this sort of thing so all the help is appreciated.

    Like you say, whilst you are not a student of Goju Ryu we are all students of the martial arts and regardless of the names we give to the different styles and their origins there is always something that overlaps. I believe the key is in understanding which unique techniques from each style align with our own skills and character. More and more I am discovering that it is not the style of martial arts that defines what sort of martial artist we will become but how we allow ourselves to be influenced and what we implement into our training.

    Thanks again for joining me on this journey.

  5. I really like the concept of ‘taking their space’. thanks for posting!


  1. […] the pillars of Goju Ryu.  Jamie Shihan then took the group through kumite drills focussing on owning space and projecting energy. All the while I was thinking about the posts on this blog and the mental tips I had given myself […]

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