Karate Chess

Karate chess is a fun game that gets students thinking about how they might attack/defend against each other.  In some ways, it is like a slow-motion sparring match where the participants get to see and analyze each attach before defending against it.  Please note that chess should be reserved for near the end of class (as it is easy to lose track of time and not get to anything else) and must be supervised by an adult Green Belt / Junior Brown Belt or above.

Suggested Minimum Rank

  • Jukyu (Purple Belt) & Above

Prerequisite Knowledge – Students must already know…

  • Kihon
  • Stances
    • Zenkutsu Sho (Fighting Posture)

Rules of the Game

  • Set-Up
    • Students stand in a circle in fighting posture, facing in.
    • Decide who will go first.  After that, play proceeds around the circle in order.  (Remember the order, as players will be moving and may change positions.  You might assign each player a number to help keep it straight.)
  • Play
    • Each player gets a turn to be the attacker.  The attacker selects a target person, and throws an attack three times.  On the third repetition of the attack, the defender blocks.
      • The first two attacks should be light contact only, as the defender does not block them.  Only the attacker moves during the first two repetitions of the attack – everyone else remains still (including the defender).  On the third attack, the defender moves to defend – everyone else remains still.
    • If the attacker is successful in hitting their target (legal kumite targets), or if the defender falls down during their defense, then the defender is “out”.  If the attacker is not successful, then everyone freezes in place and the next player becomes the attacker.
    • Play continues until only one player remains.
  • Rules
    • The attacker must do the same attack, from the same starting position, all three times.
    • The attacker should count, “1, 2, 3” as they attack, for clarity.
    • The defender may not move until the attacker launches the third repetition of the attack.  If the defender moves early, the turn is restarted – the attacker has the option to change attacks.  If a defender repeatedly moves early, he/she may become “out”.  Limits on this should be decided ahead of time.
    • The three attacks must be given in a consistent rhythm.  The attacker may not speed up/slow down the count to try to trick the defender.
    • The first two attacks must be light contact.  The third can be slightly harder/faster, as long as a rhythm of the count is consistent.
    • The attacker is allowed one step, hop, skip, jump, forward roll per turn.  This is part of his/her turn and he/she must perform it on all three repetitions.  (This rule may also be applied to defenders, if excessive running away warrants it.  This should be decided at the beginning of the game.)


  • Two-Count Chess – The same as regular Karate Chess, but attacks are given in two repetitions instead of three.
  • One-Count Chess – Similar to regular, but attacks are not repeated.  (This is one step away form kumite.)
  • Team Chess – Players are grouped into teams of two.  (If there is an odd number, the highest rank in the game can be a team of one.)  Special rules for this variation…
    • A team shares their turn to attack.  They have two options for this…
      • The players on the team each attack separate defenders.  Each attacker counts for themselves, and they need to be synchronized.
      • The players on the team both attack the same defender.  One of the attackers counts, and both move on the same count.
    • If one member of a team is being attacked and the other is not, the free team members may step in to help defend his/her partner.
    • If one member of a team is eliminated, the other continues playing.  A team is considered “out” when all members are eliminated.
  • Battle Chess
    • Similar to regular chess, but the attacker must select three different attacks.  This involves a higher level of strategy and is best reserved for higher belts.

Things to Remember

  • Just as Kumite must be supervised by an Adult Black Belt, for safety, Chess must be supervised by an Adult Green / Junior Brown Belt or above.
  • It is easy to spend an entire class playing chess and not get to any other material.  For this reason, chess should be saved until after you have covered the material you need to cover in class.  It can also be done on the side during Kumite classes for those students who don’t spar yet.

Good Luck & Have Fun!

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