Training & Tips from Sensei Darren Stringer

Reprinted from Sensei Darren Stringer’s site, by permission.


Sensei Darren Stringer is one of the few “all rounders” in Kyokushin today. He is as home performing in a kata competition as he is fighting in full contact knockdown tournaments. Sensei Darren began his training in 1990, gained Shodan in 1996, Nidan in 2001 and Sensei 2007.

His accolades and tournament wins are too many to mention here, but he has won World titles in Kata 2002, 2010 and Knockdown 2006.

Below are some tips and training advice for sparring, kata and power.

Sparring/ fighting


Sparring for tournaments, or just when training, is difficult to assess.  What are you trying to get out of this?  There are several things, you as a s student or fighter, should be looking for.  First of all you are trying to learn a base position/ stance to find where you are strong, and able to move, throw techiniques and defend.  You are also trying to condition your body to a point where you don’t fear getting hit.  Once this happens you will become comfortable to throw techiniques and at the same time than receiving blows (as you are guaranteed to get hit).

When you get to a level where your able to throw techniques and move around with effect, you’ll need to start thinking about combinations.  It’s very hard to win a fight with just single shots unless you posses incredible power, training and sparring with combinations will help you understand how to fight.

Once you have the ground stance, a fair condition where you are not afraid of being hit and combinations start flowing. you can start thinking about catching people out with good clean techniques,  without them you are not going to come out victorious.
When you are at the stage where you are able to catch people out, you can then start to “set” the oponent u,p to actaully catch them with a predetermined technique.  In other words, you can position a fighter in a place where you want them to be where you control the outcome and movements they make, to force a mistake.  This is a important attribute to set yourself apart.

To be truely great at sparring and fighting, you’ll need to possess incredible timing.  There has probably only ever been a few fighters with exceptional timing, such at Akiyoshi Matsui, it is a very hard skill to grasp.  To transform fighters techniques (speed, directions, combinations..) into ineffective techniques and even turn them against them is a difficult skill to obtain but extreamly beneficial.

Basic technique Vs Fighting technique


Basic and Fighting techniques are contrary to belief more closely linked that people think.  A basic technique is the foundation to build from and to adapt into the more efficient powerful and faster fighting technique.

Without developing a good basic technique, a fighter is unlikely to get the foundation fitness and strength to build from.  If a Karateka is wanting to perform to the best of their ability its extremely important to bring a good technique and fighting style to be successful.  With these tools a fighter is more likely to be successful in tournaments.

In every training session you should have the attitude to improve and maintain your performance for longer than the previous; be strict with yourself and focus on the techniques asked of you, rather than losing yourself in the repetitive techniques required.  You should always be thinking about what your eventual goal is, either passing your next grading, competing in the next tournament or to improve your fitness….everyone has a goal and nobody likes to fail.

Solid efficient techniques will also reduce the likeliness of injuries and therefore give you the ability to maintain performance throughout the long day of a competition.  The less injuries and bruising you have throughout the day can only be a beneficial aspect to your performance.

Preparing for tournaments


Preparing for a Tournament is a lengthy affair for a fighter, often months of training will go into that single day for a tournament.  Preparation is key for a fighter to perform on the day.  If you do not prepare properly in your training then be prepared to under perform on the day.  In order to suceed your body must be used to exerting itself on a regular basis to be able to put yourself in a similar situation to the tournament.

Your body is unlikely to perform at 100% on the day of the tournament, various factors are the reason for this.  Nerves play a big part of this and drain your energy so trying to stay as calm as possible on the big day focusing your energy on where its needed.  Injuries and bruising could be another factor, lack of food, warming up fighting and warming down also takes its toll on your fitness.

In the early stages of your preparation you should be building up your power and techniques.  This includes a slower pace in your training and trying to push your muscles to exhaustion each time you train leaving them drained and depleted, not necessarily out of breath through cardio work.  By trying to hit the pads at this tempo supplemented with various exercises will build your strength to deliver power where its needed in your technique, not to gain muscle and size

After a few weeks of building power, you will need to focus on building up endurance in your muscles so that you can maintain that power technique for a log period of time.  Performing long rounds and lots of them, will give you the endurance in your muscles required to achieve this.  I personally do 15 x 3 minutes rounds on arms only, and then another night legs only.  Obviously combination work also is required but again round after round of hitting pads is the only thing that will mimic what is required of your body to fight.  You will need to perform endurance training for around  6-8 weeks, depending on the tournament and length of time build up is.

A few weeks before the tournament is vital to get speed and explosiveness in your muscles.  Short explosive rounds is needed to put your body and your lungs through extreme stress.  You cannot perform 100% exertion on your body for long periods of times, so short rounds and short rest periods are needed.  Recovery at this stage should be very good and the short periods your body is resting will be enough for you to perform in the next round.

Following this schedule will give you the power, endurance and explosiveness required to be able to prepare for the tournament.  Most tournaments will need aroud 12 weeks preparation training roughly 5 times a week.  Big tournament like World and Europeans will require more around 16 weeks.



Conditioning for tournaments or for general training is important if you want to be able to push yourself within sessions.  The intensity obviously is at different levels, but its easy to condition yourself to help complement your training at all levels.

Simple exercises like planks, push ups, sit ups… will increase your core stability and therefore improve your ability to maintain techniques. You can generate more power with a strong core and use additional muscles to complement your techniques.

To fight it is very important to have a strong core and stomach muscles and a good resistance to receive blows from your opponent.  With this in mind, a lot of time has to be given to condition your body for the punishment is likely to endure during a tournament.  If you have a strong stomach/core muscles, it becomes easier to control your breathing, especially when exerting yourself.

Every fighter will get hurt at some stage, its just about how you deal with this on the mat, you always have a choice to either go down or try to fight it out, get back your breath and get back into the fight.  Your conditioning will determine which option to take.  If you know you are strong in the body and you can recover, your chances of staying on your feet are obviously higher.

Sit ups are a very important part of training, always finish a session with sit ups and try to do a high volume of them.  If your stomach is used to being held in a tight position for a period of time of say 150+ sit ups, then your stomach can remain tight in the fight too.  Its vital that you remain breathing during core/ stomach exercises as the more you hold your breath the less in control you are plus not breathing and be in constant tension also uses more energy  You have to try to relax and keep your stomach tight within the fight – the same when doing exercises.

Not only your front stomach muscles need to be conditioned but the side oblique muscles too.  There is a variety of sit ups that can be done to strengthen these up.  I will be uploading videos soon showing various different exercises which can be done to improve your conditioning.  But ultimately being hit by training partners is the best way to condition yourself as well as being in the right position when you are doing bag work, using your stomach muscles to compliment your technique and power.

Footwork and Movement


Footwork and movement, are an important aspect of fighting.  Being in the right position is the start for all techniques to be effective and make throwing and evading techniques much easier, more efficient.

There is a number of ladder and hurdle drills that you can do to improve your footwork (videos to be uploaded).  Being able to perform different drills will enable you to make sure you are able to move easier into the correct position when fighting.  Fast footwork will enable you to move around and adjust within the fight.  Most foot movements involves small moves, that are all you need to be in the correct position: big foot movements tend to put you in a weak or poor position.

Being on the balls of your feet is a must, being on you heels will make your  body weight go away from the target and you will need to adjust your weight before moving in a forward motion.  To be able to move around within a fight, you need to make sure that your calf muscles are built up enough to be able to sustain your weight moving around constantly.  If you are able to throw techniques at the correct time within your movement your power will increase, however this can also work against you if the timing is off. It takes a lot of practice to be able to perform consistantly.

Performing Kata


Performing a good Kata and a winning Kata in a tournament comprises of a few subtle differences.  First of all you need a sound technique and knowlegde of performing the Kata you have chosen.  The capability of performing the Kata technically sound and correct positions will achieve average to above average marks.  Power is a further addition which needs to be added in order to increase your marks from the judges.  So far requiring a sound technique of the Kata (stances and strikes) and power, these items will create a good mark from the judges and a eye pleasing Kata to the crowd.

The essence that makes a good Kata a winning Kata, is the pace.  A robotic, mono paced Kata is neat and tidy, but it will not set the judges score cards on fire to score higher marks.  A change of pace is needed to show strong points, fast points and slow points of the Kata in a more exagerated format.  For judges to sit and watch the same Kata 10, 15 or 20 times does not entice them to want to differ their marks…..unless there is a reason to.  For this reason you need to make your Kata stand out above all the others performed on the day – for the right reasons.

How to build and gain power in a fighting technique


A fighter aims to improve and get stronger each time, with added power in a technique you can command the fight easier along with other atributes.  There are a number of ways to increase power, free weights in the gym if done correctly can be a beneficial routine.  However if you dont have the use of a weights gym, there is always your body weight to help gain power.

I myself have done very little weights but i have used my body weight various exercises and also pad work and technique to improve my power each year.  I tend to do 2 rounds on the pads with various punches/ kicks and then a round of exercises.  The idea of the exercises is to do them to the full each time, exhausting the muscles.  The reason for this is twofold:  Firstly to deplete your muslces to a point where they are so tired its an effort to perform the exercises.  The second reason is by having depleted your muscles on the exercises, that when you come to do the pad work, you really have to concentrate on your technique to be able to create power as once your muscles are tired there is only your technique you can rely on.

The various exercises you can include are doing push ups, pull ups, hand stand push ups, squats, jumps.  The idea is to perform these for a 3 minute round, this may mean the whole round for certain things you may have to perform a number of exercises.  So you may do 10 push ups and then rest for the amount of time it takes you to do those 10 exercises and repeat for the round.  If you do the exercises properly, there is no reason why your arms/ legs wont be tired.  You of course will find it easier after time, so you can change the exercises or add a bit of weight either with a weights vest or a partners weight.

Remember theres no point in not concerntrating on your technique when your body is tired after exercises.  You will then lose the focus on what your trying to achieve.  What your trying to do is perform power in your techinque.  The Pace is slower your trying to put every ounce of body weight and power into each punch. kick you perform.  Id say stick to reps of 5 punches on each side before changing.  Any more and you will lose the explosive and power your able to maintain.  Perform different kicks and punches, Oi Tsuki, to the chest. and solar plex, Shita Tsuki and Kake Tshuki also.  With the Kicks your main kicks will include Gedan, Chudan and Jodan Mawashi, add a couple of your favourites to them also.

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