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How to reach peak cardio-vascular conditioning as a competitor

A modern approach on how to improve conditioning for the Karate competition.

© Marcus Hinschberger Athletic Performance Coach & Personal Trainer www.KarateCoaching.com

How to reach peak Cardio-Vascular Condition as an elite Kata competitor

In this article I will share my experience as a personal trainer coaching athletes on the use of interval training to reach peak performance. Although my discussion will focus on one model and will restrict its application to kata competition only, a similar approach would be used for kumite. However, due to the differences between the two events, a suggestion of interval training for kumite is better saved for its own article.

Conditioning for karate competition is frequently not purpose driven and confused with strength training or endurance training, both of which are very different from the demands of karate competition.

In most martial arts, conditioning is done through endless repetitions. Although this is a great way to strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments and (the only way) to create a strong will and determination, it eventually exhausts itself. The risk of injuries will eventually raise and the time needed to execute more and more kihon techniques will eventually consume all training time without leaving any time to train specifically for the competition.

Therefore conditioning training has to be efficient, absolutely purpose driven and aimed towards one objective – the competition. A competitor needs to perform at his peak in one place and one place only – the tournament.  He does not need to be able to do 500 front kicks in a row.

Coach and athlete need to recognize the phase of training they are in and focus on the specific goal of each phase. The first phase - high and endless repetitions - is the beginning phase, and is needed to build character and muscle (endurance). The second phase – development of strength, power and explosiveness – is a key component of dojo training, but it should also be pursued in a gym, which will be covered in a later and different article. The final phase, achieving peak performance and supplementing the dojo training with cardio-vascular training needed to get there, is the focus of this article.

Cardio-vascular endurance training is done by many athletes by simply running for a certain amount of time on a treadmill with the same speed/intensity. As I will explain, while this type of training has its benefits, it will not achieve the goal we are interested in, namely, preparing to enter a competition at the peak of our performance level. The human body has a great way of adapting to almost any stress and load we place on it (law of adaptation) and very quickly this simplistic way of running will not increase our fitness level any longer – we have adapted. This is a problem we face in our regular karate training as well. Therefore it is important to not only switch up the training but to also focus it towards the goal – in this case the competition.

Here is my approach:

The first step is always to break down the actual event and determine its specific requirements. This is known as the demand-profile.

For the kata competition I would break it down as follows:

  1. Take the time the athlete needs to perform his kata. In my example I will go with 1 minute 30 seconds,  which is the approximate time one needs to perform a Shotokan kata like Kanku Dai, Gojushiho Sho or Gojushiho Dai.
  2. Take the amount of rounds – let’s say there are 3 qualifying rounds and one final round, for a total of 4 rounds.
  3. Take the downtime or pause in between the rounds the athlete has until he performs the next Kata in the next round. In my example I assume that the athlete has 5 minutes to rest between rounds.

Put together:

The athlete performs 4x 1:30 minutes of Kata = 6 minutes of high intensity

The athlete has 4x 5 Minutes waiting time = 20 minutes of low intensity

We are looking at a total of 26 minutes of time and effort, and it is very clear that this time and effort is totally not comparable with running on a treadmill for “x” amount of minutes.

Having developed our demand profile, we can now develop a solution to meet it. In this article I will use a treadmill, but I will put some other solutions up on my website such as using a step box and medicine ball. The next step is to calculate the athlete’s maximum heart beat. There are many formulas out there to calculate the maximum heart rate. I have decided to use the most common one even though I don’t think it is the most accurate method since it does not necessarily consider the individual fitness level of the person. However, it is the easiest and most common method and meets the needs of my model.

The formula is 220 – age = max heart rate.

For example, I am 35 years old, my max heart rate is 220 – 35 = 185.

185 is my max heart rate and considered as 100% (the highest intensity).


  • High intensity training is considered between 85% - 95% of max heart rate and what I will call Phase 3
  • Medium intensity is considered between 75% - 85% = Phase 2
  • Low intensity is between 65%-75% = Phase 1


Now let’s go back to our demand profile:

I have to push the athlete 4 times (4 rounds) for the length of the kata 1:30 min into high intensity (Phase 3) while giving the athlete 5 minutes recovery time in between each round.

The type of training needed to meet this demand profile is called interval training.

The down time in between the rounds has to serve the athlete as recovery time to get the heart rate back to normal as quickly as possible in order to start recovery as quickly as possible. Therefore we not only have to monitor the maximum heart rate but also the time it takes the athlete to recover. We have to train the athlete in two ways. The first way is focused on enabling the athlete to perform for the needed time (1:30 minutes) at high intensity and the second way is focused on enabling the athlete to recover as quickly as possible in the 5 minutes in between the rounds.

Interval training can be done in many ways and there is no limit to your creativity. However, as mentioned earlier in my model I will use a treadmill.

The treadmill is probably the best way for the athlete to focus just on the cardio-vascular endurance and performance.  My approach using the medicine ball and step box is more challenging since it demands not only cardio-vascular endurance but also muscle endurance and coordination. However, this second approach might be better suited for the more advanced athlete.

Let’s go over the approach using a treadmill:

Before we can start with the program we need to determine the 3 different intensity phases for the individual according to their maximum heart rate derived from using the formula: 220-age= max heart rate

Once this has been done we need to determine how fast the treadmill has to run to push the athlete into the different heart rate zones.

For this I take a heart rate monitor and measure the heart rate of the athlete at different speeds. (You could also measure the pulse by hand, but this might be very difficult while you are running).

For example, at a speed of 7 to 9 mph on a treadmill I push myself into zone 3.

At a speed of 5 to 6.5 mph my heart rate drops into zone 2.

Speeds below 4.5- 5 mph make my heart rate drop into zone 1.


Of course these numbers will change along with the level of your fitness and you should consistently keep track of them as your training progresses. Nutrition, sleep, hydration and any injuries have to be considered as well.

We start now the program:

Phase 1 (low intensity) is considered the warm up phase. I will let my athlete walk on the treadmill for 2 minutes and slowly increase the speed every minute until he goes from a walk to a jog and from there into a light run. The heart rate should now be in phase 2, and the athlete should start to break a light sweat. I hold that speed for another 2 minutes to ensure the athlete is really warmed up and ready (mentally and physically) to switch to the next level of intensity – Phase 3. I have to push the athlete now as fast as possible into phase 3 by immediately increasing the previously determined treadmill speed, and the athlete has to stay in this phase for 1:30 minutes (the length of the Kata). This is then followed by a 5 minute recovery period in Phase 2 where I reduce the speed of the treadmill again.

One can argue that the athlete will actually sit down after the kata performance and not move any longer for the next 5 minutes so there is no need to keep him run on the treadmill. However, my reason to keep the athlete on the treadmill is 1) in a competition situation the athlete will have to fight nervousness and pressure which most likely will keep him at an elevated heart rate; and 2) if the competition is more than 4 weeks away I would still try to increase the overall fitness and endurance of my athlete by continuing the run and therefore prefer to just lower the speed on the treadmill rather than taking him off.

However, if the competition is just 3 to 2 weeks out I would prefer taking the athlete off the treadmill to not only simulate the competition scenario better but to focus more on pushing him higher and higher within phase 3 (from a heart beat at 85% closer to the max of 95%).

This is because I believe that if the athlete has followed the designated fitness program up to this point the 5 minutes downtime in between the rounds should be more than enough time to recover.

I also want to ensure that my athlete is not getting over trained right before the competition.

It is Important that the athlete is able to maintain the high intensity of Phase 3 in all 4 rounds. Especially important are rounds 3 & 4. Nobody has conditioning problems in the first rounds (at least they shouldn't) but they are more likely to in the last, and most important, rounds.

In order to be well prepared for the competition, I want to have my athlete in the closest range of 95% of max heart rate possible around 10 - 8 days (international competition with flight time of over 8h and 1-2 day travel and settle in time) and 6-4 days (domestic competition for travel time less than 4h) before the competition. I will push the athlete from 85% of max heart rate to 95% of max heart rate towards the end of the preparation time for the tournament.

My model can (and must) be adjusted if the kata(s) performed are shorter or longer, and we must also take into consideration that the number of rounds at the particular tournament may vary. The possibility of a draw has to be considered as well. In case of a draw the down time of 5 minutes might decrease dramatically and the athlete may only have 1 or 2 minutes for recovery. A draw can now be put into the model after round 1, 2, 3 or even 4. If you really want to plan for the worst-case scenario you might even consider two draws - be creative  your athlete will thank you, at least later on.

My graphic shows what a possible interval-training program for an athlete would look like.

The first line on top is the time line and shows how over the period of a little over 30 minutes a kata competition can be simulated (as mentioned depending on the length of the kata and rounds).

The second line is the time period the athlete must stays in the intensity zone

The graphic shows yellow, green and red phases with the treadmill speeds

(yellow =Phase 1, green=Phase 2, red=Phase 3).

In my model the first green phase is only 2 minutes long These 2 minutes are just an add on to the warm up phase since I want to make sure the athlete is physically and mentally able and focused enough to handle the increased speed. Therefore these 2 minutes do not show up in my demand profile but do show in the graphic.

The treadmill speed depends on the maximum heart rate of the athlete that was measured and determined prior. The speeds shown in my model are my

own personal numbers I calculated when I made my test run to write this model. (1:30 Minutes sprinting at a speed of 9 mph do push my heart rate into phase 3 (95% of

my max heart rate).

Kata Conditioning mph

All these numbers have to be customized to the individual. The numbers will change depending on the fitness level and therefore have to be constantly adjusted during the preparation (I suggest a re-evaluation every 1-2 weeks).

Another great way to increase the intensity without increasing the speed is to incline the treadmill. Most modern treadmills offer an incline option. Increasing the speed might increase the risk of injury and this risk can partially be avoided by using incline. An even greater benefit is that running on an incline very quickly makes your legs heavy – something every competitor fears. Increased speed however, makes you out of breath before heavy legs set in. Therefore using incline to simulate heavy legs is a great conditioning tool to prepare an athlete for the realities of competition. At the maximum speeds of 6 to 7 mph for a woman and 8-10 mph for a man I would prefer to use an incline rather than speed for my simulation. As a coach you need to get a feeling for when speed should no longer be increased and incline should be used instead.

Last but not least I want to mention that my model is based on the fact that an athlete must previously be conditioned in running and must be capable of running for at least 30 minutes in phase 2 prior to beginning this kind of program. If this is not the case then the athlete has to be brought up to that level of fitness first. (Consult with a physician or health care provider prior beginning any exercise program).

I hope that my model and suggestion inspires instructors, coaches and athletes, to not only give it a try but also to make changes in their approach to conditioning for competition.

Many other great ideas and approaches can be found on my website www.KarateCoaching.com I will also offer a solution for kumite very soon that I will explain in detail with video instruction on my website.

I am more than happy to discuss any suggestions or questions you may have. Feel free to email me at: info@KarateCoaching.com

Enjoy and all the best


Marcus Hinschberger

Personal Trainer certified with the National Academy of Sports Medicine

Certified Biomechanics Specialist with the National Exercise & Trainer Association

Athletes Performance Mentorship 1

FMS Certified

Founder & President of www.KarateCoaching.com



The Shotokan Tiger

The Shotokan Tiger

Sports competition, although spectacular and with great appeal for spectators, represents only a small aspect of Karate, because it is not the competition with its victories and defeats that is at the forefront of our efforts, but the intense and consistent training, the analysis of the intricate and complex movements in Karate with the goal not only to command mind and body, but also to bring them in harmony. Time and again, the great old karate masters, and not only the Japanese, focus on the educational value of our martial art when insisting on having Karate taught as “Do” (path).
The term “Do” means something like “path through life” or “path to shaping one’s life” and includes the path to self-perfection.
Thus, Karate is closely associated with the spirit of Zen and influenced by the Bushido - the code of honor of the Samurai warrior.
The goal of all martial arts of the Samurai is to incapacitate the enemy with lightning speed and preferably in one move (Ikken Hissatsu). Even today, this objective is still at the basis of Karate.
First of all, this is an inhumane and destructive objective which demands without fail a commitment to the moral value system of a mature personality.
Thus, Karate instruction has the great task and challenge to teach the student to recognize and understand his responsibility and to teach him to always keep one’s emotions under control.
Strength and superiority should manifest themselves in assertiveness and confidence. To avoid hubris and arrogance, the karate student must learn respect, courteousness, modesty, yes, even humility: as a sign of absolute respect towards others and as proof of his self-control.
The tiger crest – the Shotokan Karate emblem we all know – illustrates very well the goals and intentions of Karate-do. We see a tiger depicted within a circle. (Design by the Japanese artist Hoan Kosugi, a friend and student of Funakoshi Gichin).

Shotokan Tiger 1

Both elements of the image – the tiger and the circle – are of particular importance.

For that matter, the tiger represents the animalism, ferocity, courage, unrestrained combativeness, primal power and absolute determination.
To fight successfully requires learning to fight like the tiger.
However, the tiger is not depicted unrestricted, but shown in a circle and thus constrained. In turn, the circle represents reason and the human spirit.
To fight victoriously and honorably requires control of one’s emotions and calmness.
The circle (i. e. the mind) encloses the tiger thereby taming it.
Reason and the human spirit prevail over the animalistic powers, rule and control them, in order to harness them if needed.
In my opinion, the nature and the objectives of Karate-do can hardly be more clearly illustrated than with the example of this small emblem.
However, it also becomes transparent, how closely very genuine karate instruction remains tied to the spirit and the atmosphere at the dojo. These, in turn, are determined and decisively shaped by the paragon and the example of the karate instructor teaching there.

Bernd Hinschberger
Karate instructor


translated from German into English by Sabine Becker

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World Karate Federation’s Continuous Efforts & Poker

World Karate Federation’s Continuous Efforts

The World Karate Federation has been steadfast in not just promoting Karate as a sport but also an essential tool for the development and increased performance of many individuals. In a recent report in WKF.net, “For the first time, a German Sports Federation (the German Karate Federation), will sign an agreement to cooperate with 16 000 youth fire-brigade bases in Germany.” It is also ongoing in its efforts to include Karate as a competition sport for the 2020 Olympics. “At the next IOC Executive meeting in late May in St. Petersburg, our martial art is given the opportunity to reapply with the rings as well as other applicants sports squash, baseball / softball, rock climbing, roller sports, wakeboard and wushu. A final decision on which sport is the future at the Olympics, then falls during the vote at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September,” reports Karate.de, the official website for the German Karate Association.

Sports is already something inculcated in humanity, and the more we develop, the more different sports get re-evaluated, reinvented, and even recurring in the popularity spotlight. The International Olympic Committee has been having both commendations and criticisms for their recent decisions regarding many sports as can be seen in the report by the German Karate Association and other Karate-themed news sites. Along with Karate aiming to be part of the next Olympic line-up of events, already well-respected sports like baseball and squash are in competing bids to join the world’s biggest competition of brawn and skills. On another side, aspiring sports like poker, which have been gaining vast momentum in European countries like Germany, France, and the UK, have been gaining ground being recently recognized by the International Mind Sports Association which is highly regarded by the IOC. “I am delighted to welcome the International Federation of Poker into membership of IMSA,” said IMSA President Jose Damiani in a report by PokerNewsDaily.com. “Poker’s participation alongside bridge, chess and other mind sports in the annual IMSA events will demonstrate to the world that poker is indeed a mind sport of strategic skill.” Efforts by many community sites like de.partypoker.com/ are certainly paying off, since it’s them who mostly provide easier yet safer access to poker competitions online and conducting internationally recognized tournaments in Berlin, Paris, Cannes, and almost all parts of the world.

In more recent positive developments, Tom Degun of InsideTheGames.biz reports, “The World Karate Federation (WKF) campaign to join the 2020 Olympics programme has received a boost after the national teams of Turkey, Japan and Spain, the three countries bidding to host the 2020 Games, pledged their support.” Germany, through it’s Karate Association website, is also asking for support so to help Karate’s bid to be considered as an Olympic sport. If that’s not active enough for karate in Germany, WKF reports, “With the slogan ‘Fit for fire - through Karate’, the Coaches of the German Karate Federation will instruct the 260 000 members of the youth fire fighters and will prepare them for tasks in the future as fire fighters.”

Shotokan Myth #6 Makiwara Training

Makiwara is a true tradition of karate and its training is a must for all karate-ka.

The makiwara has been a fixture in karate dojos since its introduction to mainland Japan in the early 20th century. We have seen pictures of Funakoshi sensei punching one with his geta (wooden clogs) on. I have even heard that some of the modern day sensei would carry portable makiwara in their suitcases with them when they travel.

The makiwara had been an important training tool in my karate life as well. Let me explain how I got introduced to this traditional equipment in my first days of karate training. At the first dojo I joined in the early 60’s (Kobe Shotokan Karate Club), I remember there were several makiwara posts, some were wrapped with straw ropes and some with softer pads. I also remember that those pads were no longer white or have their original colors, whatever they were. The pads I saw were reddish black, covered in dried blood. It was obvious that my senpai punched these posts over and over again even when their fists were bleeding. My senpai, Kato-san once said, “Now look. My fist is so strong I can punch like this.” He punched straight into a wooden 4 x 4 beam of the dojo. Bang! Bang! The beam shook but he felt no pain. (At least he did not show it.) Wow! I was very impressed. If he could punch that beam like that, he could easily kill me. Honestly, it really made me scared of this senpai and he won unconditional respect from me. So as soon as I was allowed to punch a makiwara I started the tradition with full might. My dohai (student who started at the same time) Nakai and I punched the makiwara hundreds of times every day. In a year Nakai had developed some very respectable calluses but I couldn’t. I was frustrated and thought I was not punching hard enough. No matter how hard I punched the makiwara, the calluses on my fists did not get larger. ( Later, I realized that this was due to my skin’s very rubbery and soft characteristics. Actually, these characteristics are very good for they also allow me to be flexible as well. ) Despite not developing any respectable calluses, I kept the makiwara habit for more than 15 years. I must admit that the resonating sound made by hitting a makiwara in a dojo was euphoric, especially when the rhythm is so close to that of my own heartbeat.

I wondered if makiwara training is a true tradition and whether it was handed down for many centuries.We knew that the makiwara came from Okinawa but we have little documentation to support its history. I discovered, to my surprise, that this tradition is only 100 years old since its invention. It is believed that Matsumura Sokon (1809 – 1899) initially invented the makiwara and Itosu Anko (Master Funakoshi’s sensei, 1830 -1915) popularized it in the early 1900’s. Matusmura sensei took kenjutsu called Jigenryu of Satsuma. Jigenryu is a very unique style and their main practice is (read more...)

Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Shotokan Myth # 5 Kime

Kime – Trademark of Shotokan karate


The readers will agree that perfect kime is what we dream of when we do the oi zuki or gyaku zuki. Bang boom! Look at Enoeda sensei’s tsuki (photo on below)  Yes, this is Shotokan.

Indeed, the powerful punches and kicks are trademarks of Shotokan karate.   When you look at Shitoryu kata, their performances look smooth and fluid but their techniques look “weak.”  The Gojuryu kata have a lot of neko ashi dachi and sanchin dachi, and although their arm movements are circular, these movements, just like their stances, look short and do not have enough kime. (Note: I want to emphasize that I am in no way trying to bash any styles at all.  I am simply comparing the general impressions of shotokan and other styles.)  If the impressions above coincide with yours, then you want to ask, “OK, so what?”  Hold your breath, here is a shocking statement: Kime (more precisely, encouraging it) is probably the most harmful action for most Shotokan practitioners while training, particularly for beginners. I am aware of the graveness and controversial nature of my statement.  However, I am convinced that all instructors and serious practitioners must be aware of and understand well this prevalent problem in Shotokan training.  Despite the risk of being misunderstood, I dare to write this article as I believe this knowledge must be expressed publicly.  So, please read on to catch the true essence of my statement.

I want to emphatically state that I am NOT identifying kime itself or having a correct kime in your techniques as a problem.  If you are capable of producing a good and correct kime and you feel your overall movements are fluid, then this may not be an issue.  What I wish to convey is that the overly tensed body that kime creates is the problem. (read more...)

Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Shotokan Myth #4 Returning to the starting point in Kata

Must we really return to the starting point in our kata?

When we do kata is it really mandatory that we come back to the exact spot where we started?  I can almost hear your reply; “Yes. Nakayama sensei said so in Best Karate.“  You are absolutely correct.  He listed 6 important points for kata in that famous book:

1. Correct Order

2. Beginning and End

3. Meaning of each movement

4. Awareness of target

5. Rhythm and timing

6. Proper breathing

For item 2 above, he clearly stated that “Kata must begin and end at the same spot on the embusen.  This requires practice.”

If you are in a tournament this is absolutely a requirement, isn‘t it?  If you are off by, say, one meter, I am sure those careful judges will take some points off of your performance.

Have you ever wondered why there is such a requirement?  Nakayama sensei did not explain why in his book.  Maybe it is such a natural thing and you may think I am wasting my time asking this.  But, I have wondered about this and foolishly investigated why for many years.  I was curious to know if the creators of kata (Itosu for Heian kata for an example) really designed all kata in such a way a performer will always return to the starting point.  After much investigation and direct questioning I concluded that this was not the case.  Someone changed the rule and created this new requirement of coming back to the exact starting point.  I wanted to find who was behind this and for what reasons.  This is a mystery and I wish to share my findings and my theory on this mystery with you today.

If you are a Nidan and above, you must have learned Chinte and this kata could be your tournament kata, especially if you are a female practitioner.  We know this is a very unique kata (Chinte literally means “unique or strange hand”,) but do you realize it also has a very unique (strange) ending (three hops backward)?  I have researched for many years and asked many sensei about these ending steps.  For the longest time, no one could give me a believable bunkai for these “unique” moves with the feet in heisoku dachi and hands clasped together.  It had been a big mystery to me, as I could not figure out the meaning of these strange hops.

The following is what I have found in the process of investigation.  One Japanese sensei, whose name I cannot reveal, told me it was for balance training.  Yes, it is indeed difficult to keep the balance with your feet and hands put together.  But if you think it through, it just does not make any sense as you wonder why they were put at the end of the kata.  After the final delivery of a kime technique (right gyaku zuki to chudan with ki-ai), we can expect a zanshin move as seen with the last step in Enpi.  However, why would anyone put three backward hopping steps that are not stable as a zanshin move?  Even if you buy this idea of having this balancing move there, why hop with two feet together?  Hopping with only one foot is more of a martial art move (like a tsuru ashi dachi in gankaku.)  No matter how much I considered the possibility, I cannot buy into this theory. (read more...)


Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books:

Are we practicing Bujutsu or Budo? Does it matter?

Are you practicing karate as Bujutsu or Budo?  Do you care?  I hope you do.  I believe it does matter and we must ask this question to all karate practitioners and instructors.  Unfortunately, many of them do not care.  Even if they do, they either fail to understand the differences or they are too lazy to research about these concepts.

Let’s look at the popular reasons for the people to pick up karate and practice:

• Self defense

• Health/physical conditioning

• Stress reduction/mental wellness

• Competition/tournaments

All these reasons are good and respectable ones.  We must not pass the judgment on any of the reasons and to regard any of them is better than the others.  Though I am glad to see the people practicing karate for whatever the reasons, I have a strong concern with the current trend of tremendous amount of participation in the tournament activities, especially by the children and the youths.  In fact too much emphasis is put on winning.  The participants are told to do whatever necessary to win the matches.  The things they are encouraged to do are to use only the certain techniques that are easier to score, to bend the rules, to do illegal things (by hiding them from the judges), to change kata moves to look “fancy”, etc.  Their ultimate goal is to win without paying much attention to anything else and that is the essence of Bujutsu, martial arts.  The 16th century Japan was in a war period and they cared only the best swordsmanship in order to survive in a battle.

Well then, what is different between Bujutsu and Budo?   I believe a half of the problem comes from many of us not having clear understanding of the differences between the two terms and concepts.  Most of us consider them as same or believe that they are inter-changeable.  This is the gravest misconception and it is where the serious problem begins. (read more...)



Shihan Yokota has published numerous articles and books: