“Make adjustments according to your opponent” (敵に因って轉化せよ, Teki ni yotte tenka seyo) is the thirteenth of the twenty precepts of karate written by Gichin Funakoshi.

In a fighting context, “making adjustments according to your opponent” refers to the strategic and tactical changes you make during a fight based on your observations of your opponent’s physique, behavior, strengths, weaknesses, and patterns.

In this article, I won’t address how you might adjust your fighting style towards an unknown opponent because it really depends who you are, your self-perceived strengths, weaknesses and preferences. Instead, I will cover what you may want to look out for when facing a new opponent or when watching them fighting another opponent.

Opponent Assessment

The Physique

Observe the opponent’s body type including:

  • Height and reach. A taller opponent will have a longer reach and can strike from a distance whereas a shorter opponent will need to rely on close-quarter techniques
  • Build and strength. An opponent with a stocky physique can potentially have extreme power and you may want to think twice about deploying sweeping, grappling or takedown techniques on this opponent if you have a much smaller build
  • Body composition. The opponent’s body composition can tell you a lot about their strength and endurance levels, for example, a lean and fit body indicates good endurance and speed while someone with excess weight may have limited mobility.

The Eyes

The opponent’s eyes can reveal a lot about themself, for example:

  • Whether they show intense focus and determination or they wander around
  • Whether they show traces of fear, confidence, aggression, nervousness, or anxiety
  • Where their eyes fix on because people tend to look where they plan to launch an attack
  • Whether they want to trick you, for example, looking at one direction while striking from another
  • Whether they show signs of doubt, hesitation, giving up or determination.

Fighting Stance

Observe how your opponent stands and positions their guard. This can give you insights into their preferred fighting style. Do they have a long and deep rooted stance or a more natural stance? Are they adopting a traditional karate fighting stance, a boxing-style stance, or something else entirely?


Watch how your opponent moves around the mat. Are they light on their feet, bouncing around, or more grounded? Footwork can indicate their mobility, agility, and readiness to attack or defend. It can also tell you about their potential fighting styles. Stationary fighters tend to be more passive and they want to wait for your attacks and immediately counterattack. Bouncing fighters tend to be more aggressive and look for opportunities to launch surprise attacks.


Pay attention to how your opponent initiates exchanges. Are they offensive fighters or passive fighters? Do they come forward aggressively and initiate attacks or wait for you to make a move and counter-attack? Understanding their tendencies at the beginning of the fight can help you anticipate their moves.

Attack Patterns

Note their preferred techniques. Do they tend to use mostly kicks or punches? Do they favor any specific kicks, punches, or grappling techniques? Are they throwing certain combinations frequently? This can help you anticipate their attacks and plan your defenses accordingly.

Defensive Reactions

Study how your opponent reacts when being chased around. Do they stand their ground and fight back, cover up, evade, retreat, or clinch? This information can guide you in finding gaps in their defense or predicting how they’ll respond to your attacks.


Observe how your opponent handles grappling and clinching situations. Do they use grappling techniques? How do they deal with take-down and grappling techniques? Are they comfortable in close-quarter combat, or do they struggle when the fight gets physical?


Take note of your opponent’s pacing and timing. Are they fast and aggressive, or do they prefer a slower, more methodical approach? Understanding their timing can aid in disrupting their rhythm or finding openings.


Throughout the match, observe your opponent’s energy level. Do they seem to tire quickly, or do they have good stamina? Do they breathe fast, shallow and audible or slow and deep? Do they slow down or maintain consistent speed?

Mental Strength

Pay attention to your opponent’s body language and facial expressions and how they change throughout the fight. Do they show frustration, confidence, or uncertainty or do they show a consistent intensity and determination throughout the fight? Understanding their mental state can give you insight into their mindset during the match.

Previous Experience

In tournaments, it is possible to obtain statistics of your opponents’ track records and watch their past matches. This can provide you with valuable information about their strengths, weaknesses, and overall fighting style.


As the match progresses, see if your opponent adjusts their tactics based on your actions. This can reveal their ability to adapt and how resilient they are.

Make Adjustments According to Your Opponent

If you are participating in a tournament and have the opportunity to observe and assess your opponents through videos of their previous matches or public records, you can formulate strategies that capitalize on your strengths while exploiting the opponents’ weaknesses. You will also need to practice a lot in advance so that you can implement those strategies effectively when facing the opponents. Lyoto Machida reportedly practiced a flying kick for six months before he used it to knock out Randy Couture in an UFC match.

However, if you meet an unfamiliar opponent, you will need to gauge and adapt as the fight progresses. In such a situation, you will most likely need to fight instinctively and rely on your subconscious to do the assessment for you.

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee


Remember that the ability to analyze and adapt to your opponent’s actions is a skill that develops over time through a lot of training. By gathering information before and during the match and using it to formulate an effective strategy, you increase your chances of success in karate competitions as well as in street fight scenarios.

Over time, with a lot of fighting experience, you will be able to develop the ability to naturally read your opponents without the need to consciously observe and analyse them during actual fights. This will free up a lot of mental bandwidth, increase your speed, allow you to react timely and instinctively and fight more effectively.

All Posts in the Series:

Precept 1: Do Not Forget that Karate-do Begins and Ends with Rei

Precept 2: There Is No First Strike in Karate

Precept 3: Karate Stands on the Side of Justice

Precept 4: First Know Yourself Then Know Others

Precept 5: Mentality Over Technique

Precept 6: The Mind Must Be Set Free

Precept 7: Calamity Springs from Carelessness

Precept 8: Karate Goes Beyond the Dojo

Precept 9: Karate Is a Lifelong Pursuit

Precept 10: Apply the Way of Karate to All Things, Therein Lies Its Beauty

Precept 11: Karate Is Like Boiling Water: Without Heat, It Returns to Its Tepid State

Precept 12: Do Not Think of Winning, Think, Rather, of Not Losing

Precept 13: Make Adjustments According to Your Opponent

Precept 14: The Outcome of a Battle Depends on How One Controls Truth and Fiction

Precept 15: Think of the Opponent’s Hands and Feet as Swords

Precept 16: When You Step Beyond Your Own Gate, You Face a Million Enemies

Precept 17: Kamae Is For Beginners; Later, One Stands In Shizentai

Precept 18 – Perform Kata Exactly; Actual Combat Is Another Matter

Precept 19: Do Not Forget the Employment or Withdrawal of Power, the Extension or Contraction of the Body, the Swift or Leisurely Application of Technique

Precept 20: Be Constantly Mindful, Diligent, and Resourceful in Your Pursuit of the Way


Gichin Funakoshi (1938) The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

Karate: The Mental Edge by Rod Kuratomi