Justin Or­tiz will tell you his whole mar­tial arts ca­reer has been based on “kick­ing with a pur­pose.”


Justin Or­tiz says his whole mar­tial arts ca­reer has been based on "kick­ing with a pur­pose.” The world­cham­pion karateka — al­though known for his flashy kicks — likes to think of him­self first and fore­most as a pur­pose­ful, think­ing man’s fighter.

T he op­er­a­tive word there is “pur­pose.” The Bos­ton-bred world-cham­pion karateka — al­though known for his flashy kick­ing skills — likes to think of him­self first and fore­most as a pur­pose­ful, think­ing man’s fighter who out­smarts his op­po­nents.

“They like to say fight­ing is 90-per­cent men­tal, but you don’t see many peo­ple re­ally prac­tic­ing that,” says Or­tiz, 24. “You go to most schools, and they fol­low the old method of train­ing faster and harder. My slo­gan is ‘train harder but train smarter.’”

OR­TIZ EX­PLAINS that his state­ment refers to em­ploy­ing a strate­gic out­look that has you adapt how you fight to your op­po­nent’s style. If, for ex­am­ple, you’re go­ing against an ag­gres­sive, of­fen­sive-minded fighter, you should try to at­tack and put him on the de­fen­sive — a con­di­tion that’s likely to make him un­com­fort­able. If you’re fac­ing a de­fen­sive fighter, you should stay on the move and re­main pa­tient be­cause such an ad­ver­sary tends to be­come im­pa­tient.

It’s all about ad­just­ing to whomever you’re fight­ing to force that per­son to ad­just to you, he adds be­fore launch­ing into an ex­am­ple.

“Say I’m fight­ing [fel­low Team Paul Mitchell Karate mem­ber] Zsolt Mórádi,” he says. “We’re both kick­ers, but he’s taller. Know­ing he has a Euro­pean style, which is very lin­ear, I’ll try to use an­gles to bait him into com­ing in. I’ll make him en­ter, and it’s harder for him to ad­just his kicks. Mean­while, even though I’m pri­mar­ily a kicker, I’ll use more hand tech­niques against him be­cause I know he’s a kicker.”

WITH A BACK­GROUND in tra­di­tional sho­tokan karate taught to him by his fa­ther, Or­tiz con­sid­ers him­self an all-around fighter rather than some­one who can throw only kicks. He’s proved he has those all-around skills by suc­ceed­ing in sev­eral forms of com­pe­ti­tion. The first of his three WAKO world ti­tles came not in point fight­ing, which he’s best-known for, but in con­tin­u­ous fight­ing. Or­tiz re­cently made a suc­cess­ful de­but in kick­box­ing, and he said that with karate now an Olympic sport, he’s work­ing on tra­di­tional-style spar­ring to com­pete in that venue.

“It doesn’t mat­ter what style you do — ev­ery­thing comes down to tim­ing and dis­tance,” Or­tiz says. “In point fight­ing, you have to be a real mas­ter of that. You’ve seen karateka like Lyoto Machida and Stephen Thomp­son even suc­ceed in MMA be­cause they’ve mas­tered those things, and it makes them so hard to gauge.”

OR­TIZ SAYS move­ment, a key com­po­nent of mod­ern point fight­ing, is cru­cial for be­ing able to con­trol tim­ing and dis­tance. Stay­ing on the balls of your feet — so you can in­stantly change di­rec­tion or push off and quickly launch an at­tack — is vi­tal for this.

“Tim­ing and dis­tance are dif­fer­ent, but they’re the same,” he says. “If you want to get there faster, what you have to do is get closer. If you’re far­ther away, you have to get there faster. The im­por­tant thing is spa­tial tim­ing. You have to mas­ter the op­po­nent’s space and how much space you need to cover.”

One ex­er­cise he rec­om­mends for de­vel­op­ing spa­tial mas­tery is what he refers to as the “red light/ green light drill.” To do it, you should have a part­ner. If none is avail­able, a heavy bag will suf­fice. As­sum­ing you have a hu­man part­ner, start the drill by just lean­ing in to touch him on the shoul­der while stay­ing on the balls of your feet. Make sure you don’t lift your rear foot off the ground. Your goal is to find the dis­tance at which you can just barely touch the per­son. This rep­re­sents what Or­tiz has dubbed the “red zone.”

He calls it that be­cause it’s the dan­ger zone, mean­ing if you can touch your op­po­nent, he can prob­a­bly touch you. Take a small step back from there, to a point at which you can no longer touch the per­son, and you’re in the “green zone,” with green de­not­ing safety. That’s the zone in which you gen­er­ally want to be bounc­ing and mov­ing. Or­tiz says play­ing around with your part­ner at the bor­der of the red zone and the green zone will de­velop a sense of dis­tance that al­lows you to dis­tin­guish where you need to be to hit or avoid be­ing hit.

“It’s re­ally just a cen­time­ter or an inch of dif­fer­ence that de­ter­mines if you can hit, but that’s what makes it so mas­ter­ful,” he says. “It makes it dif­fi­cult for your op­po­nents to read you, and they don’t rec­og­nize that with just a lit­tle bounce, you’re in range to hit them.”

OR­TIZ CLAIMS you can ap­ply the skills you learn from this drill in any kind of mar­tial arts com­bat, from point fight­ing to kick­box­ing and MMA. “It’s just about ad­just­ing to the type of tech­niques needed for that style of fight­ing,” he says. “But what’s al­ways im­por­tant are the tim­ing and the dis­tance. And of course, you need clean tech­nique. You’ll need that to suc­ceed no mat­ter what style you’re do­ing.”

ABOUT THE AU­THOR: Mark Ja­cobs’ most re­cent book is The Prin­ci­ples of Un­armed Com­bat. His web­site is writ­ing­fight­ing.word­

Justin Or­tiz (left) says the “red zone” is the dis­tance at which you can touch your op­po­nent. It’s red to rep­re­sent dan­ger be­cause your op­po­nent also can reach you. He rec­om­mends spend­ing time at the bor­der of the red zone and the more dis­tant — and safer — “green zone” to get a bet­ter feel for the func­tional range of your tech­niques.

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