Positional Setup

Positional Setup

Win More Fights by Recognizing What Your Opponent Will Do Next — Let "Super" Dan Anderson Show You the Way!

How many times have you entered the ring at a martial arts competition and faced your opponent — and had no idea what he or she was about to throw at you? If you're like most martial artists, you probably haven't seen this particular opponent fight before. And because of the fleeting nature of most kumite matches, you probably won't have time to "feel out" the person.

The result: In short order, you find yourself behind on points and on the brink of losing.

What if I told you that there's a way to hack into the mind of your adversary and figure out what he or she is going to do next? Would you want to know? Of course you would.

The key to doing this is to use a methodology known as "positional setup." It's a system that was developed by "Super" Dan Anderson. In short, PSU is a prediction tool that examines how opponents position themselves and lets you know which techniques they're most likely to deploy. Developing such a skill can put the odds in your favor almost immediately.

At this point, you might be asking yourself why you should listen to this Anderson guy and what makes him so "Super." Well, I could tell you that he's a four-time national karate champion who won more than 70 grand championships and was rated a top-10 fighter by Black Belt. Or I could mention that his book American Freestyle Karate: A Guide to Sparring has been a go-to manual for fighters for the past four decades. Or I could note that after five decades as a black belt — he's now a 10th degree — he still kicks butt in tournaments against fighters who are one-third his age.

If you still need convincing, this should do the trick: When he teaches seminars across the country, Anderson routinely shocks attendees by predicting 97 percent of the time which techniques an opponent will use. Based on a quick scan of how a volunteer positions himself on the firing line, Anderson can divine which guns will be used when the battle begins.

"He's telling you with his body position," Anderson said. "He might as well write you a letter and mail you a check. If you learn how to read his position, it's that easy. And anytime you can tell that much about what your opponent is going to do, you have quite an advantage."

Skill Development

Never the biggest, fastest or strongest fighter on the circuit, Anderson developed PSU to gain the upper hand on the martial artists he faced in tournaments. Instinctively, he knew that he had to outthink his adversaries to offset their superior physicality and eke out the win. The concept came from an unlikely source, he said.

"Back in 1977, I was at home watching my favorite boxer Muhammad Ali against the ropes doing his rope-a-dope, a favorite tactic of his since the George Foreman fight," Anderson said. "Most people thought he was covering up against the oncoming punches. He was actually watching the punches coming in. He was watching his opponent's hands! He would either pick off the blows or cover up at the very last instant.

"I went back to the karate school the next day and began to experiment. I watched the hands of my sparring partner, and to my surprise, I could see everything he was going to do. It was from there that I developed my method of attack recognition."

Weight distribution that favors the lead foot indicates that the person is probably an offensive fighter, Dan Anderson says.

​Four Factors

Anderson said the success of PSU hinges on four factors that are based on information every martial artist reveals.

No. 1 is weight distribution.

Most martial artists unwittingly tip you off as to whether they're offensive, defensive or neutral, and they do this by the way they distribute their weight.

If more weight is on the front foot, chances are they're an offensive fighter. If more weight is on the rear foot, likely they're a defensive fighter. If their weight is balanced 50-50, they're probably a balanced fighter who's comfortable being offensive or defensive.

"The nice thing about watching weight distribution is that a lot of fighters do not closely hide this aspect, and they present you with a tip on what they're going to do," Anderson said.

He went on to explain that weight distribution is a tool that provides valuable feedback against less-experienced fighters and those who are set in their ways. However, he noted that an experienced fighter can mask his real intentions. For example, he might rest his weight on his rear foot so he can throw a lead-leg kick.

No. 2 is the distance between the feet.

According to PSU, the distance between an opponent's feet is a good indicator of whether he's going to kick with his front foot without any other type of pre-kick preparation. If his feet are one to one-and-a-quarter shoulder-widths apart, count on a lead-leg kick coming at you.

If his feet are wider than one-and-a-quarter shoulder widths, your opponent will need some sort of step before he can execute a front-leg kick. However, he might throw a rear-leg kick offensively. A defensive kick is a possibility, but from a wider stance, the person's weight will need to be on his rear foot.

No. 3 is hand and foot position in relation to the positional centerline.

Key to PSU is reading the clues an opponent gives by the way he holds his hands. How they are positioned in relation to his centerline will tell you what he plans to throw.

Are they up in a boxer's position? If so, that's useful information.

If he moves a hand away from the centerline, it's likely to come back at you in a hook punch or an angled strike. If it crosses the centerline, it's probably coming at you as a backfist. If the arm is parallel to the centerline, chances are the fist will be used to deliver a straight shot.

Does he have only one hand aimed at you? It's likely he's a one-handed fighter. Pay more attention to the hand that's pointed at you and less to the other one.

No. 4 is where the feet are pointing.

Knowledge of human anatomy and the natural function of body parts is key here. The foot, ankle, knee and hip are all connected. None moves independently of the other. As you turn your foot, you turn your shin, knee, thigh and hip, as well. The leg always functions as a unit.

The direction your opponent's lead foot is pointing forms the basis of the PSU premise that a person normally won't make things hard for himself. If his foot is pointed forward, the easiest kick will be a lead-leg front kick. If his foot is pointed inward at an angle, the easiest kick will be a lead-leg roundhouse. If his foot is pointed sideways, the easiest kick will be a lead-leg side kick. If he's standing with his lead foot pigeon-toed, the easiest kick will be a lead-leg hook kick.

lead-leg kicks

When an opponent positions his feet one to one-and-a-quarter shoulder-widths apart, he's more likely to use lead-leg kicks, Dan Anderson says.

Front-Leg Kick

When an opponent's feet are more than one-and-a-quarter shoulder-widths apart, he will need to step or jump before executing a front-leg kick, Dan Anderson says. He can, however, elect to use a rear-leg kick.


While anyone can learn a new skill, that doesn't mean you'll be able to immediately use it with success. Just because you can hit a baseball doesn't mean you'll be able to knock one out of the park in a major-league game. Like any other physical skill, PSU must be practiced for it to flourish. Gaining proficiency is best accomplished by following this sequence, Anderson said.

"First, you learn about the positional centerline. This is different from the centerline that everyone uses. The PCL is the exact horizontal split down the body in whatever position [a person is] in. Your PCL will be different if you are in a horse stance than if you are in a boxer's stance.

"Second, you learn to recognize what an attack will do in the first 4 inches in relation to the PCL. Very simply stated, it will a) cross the centerline, b) move away from the center line or c) do neither and simply travel straight toward you.

"Third is recognizing the types of blows that will follow this movement regarding the centerline. An easy example is that a backfist strike crosses the centerline before launching. A hook punch moves away from the centerline before it comes at you. A straight punch just comes at you. So you drill [while] spotting the telegraph of a strike in its first 4 inches of delivery until you can recognize them easily. From there, you learn how to defend against them with blocking, moving, etc.

"Fourth is finding out what attack a person can throw when his body is in a certain position. Here is a maxim I go by: No fighter knowingly puts himself in a position that makes it difficult for him to attack from. Every fighter I have faced or seen follows this maxim. So what is the easiest attack to throw from any particular position is what I go by."

Straight Punch

Dan Anderson demonstrates the setup for a straight punch,


Anderson had additional helpful words regarding how to cultivate your PSU ability through dojo sparring:

"Developing this skill takes time, and at first, you need to go quite slowly in your sparring. Why? Because most people do not spar. Why? Because most people do not know the difference between sparring and fighting.

"Sparring is working together on the development of moves, tactics and strategies to later utilize in fighting. Fighting is win or lose. When you collapse sparring and fighting into a semi-fight, way too many factors get in the way. Flinching, wanting to win or [seeking to avoid] pain are the most prevalent.

"So how do you develop your skill at PSU? Start by understanding what sparring really is, then get a partner you trust, he said. Pay attention to how your partner is telegraphing his attacks. Go slowly so you have time to analyze what he's doing. When you're able to respond appropriately, increase the tempo slightly.

If you're diligent and have a partner who works with you instead of against you, it should take two to three weeks to learn the basics of PSU, Anderson said. Once you understand the PCL, it's easy.

The beauty of this concept is that it's not style-specific, Anderson explained. It's based on perception of the body and how it moves, so it doesn't matter if your opponent does Japanese karate, Thai kickboxing or mixed martial arts. The concept works across the board because it's based on clues he gives you.

Other Uses

Knowing that martial arts skills are not intended just for competition, I quizzed Anderson on how this methodology can be used on the street. He said that when grappling and takedowns are added to the mix, the only modification you need to make to PSU is to learn how a person might position or shift his arms if he's going to grapple.\

For use in self-defense situations, he said, "Positional setup is even simpler. Go to YouTube and search for 'street fights' or 'one-punch knockouts,' and you will see the most prevalent types of attacks. They are mostly hook or arcing straight punches — easy to see. However, the closer your attacker gets, the higher you should hold up your hands. The most glaring error in nearly all these videos is that the guy getting punched has his hands down."

Effort Required

Much to the chagrin of some martial artists, there are no "secret deadly techniques" that will render any opponent helpless in seconds, Anderson said. Tournament success and self-defense proficiency are achieved through quality instruction and by having the grit to endure hours of rigorous training.

That said, Anderson's PSU methodology is a golden nugget of mind hacking that can accelerate your progress. And the best part is you now know how to begin training.

Practice PSU in dojo sparring, then try it in competition. The next time you're facing a fighter who may be faster, stronger and more experienced, see how well Anderson's brainchild serves you. It just might take you to the podium. That's where it took me when I competed at the 2017 World Police and Fire Games in Los Angeles — and won a gold medal.

Perry William Kelly has a sixth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu and is an instructor in four other martial arts. He's the former national coordinator for use of force for the Correctional Service of Canada. In 2018 he received the Joe Lewis Eternal Warrior Award. His website is perrywkelly.com.

Full Circle

Dan Anderson said that being afforded the opportunity to offer an instructional article to Black Belt readers is gratifying, to say the least. That's because as a youth, he regularly added to his repertoire of tournament techniques by studying the moves described in the magazine. Back then, getting a copy of Black Belt every month wasn't easy. The teenager had to walk several miles to downtown Vancouver, Washington, pick up the mag and then walk home, where he would read it from cover to cover.

From the pages of Black Belt, Anderson said he learned Chuck Norris' spinning back kick, John Natividad's low-high round kick and Joe Lewis' backfist-side-kick combination.

"I am glad that Black Belt is still around," he said. "Having my moves or concepts in an article 53 years down the road is amazing. It's almost like what goes around comes around."

To share his PSU methodology with an even larger audience, Anderson recently set up the Super Dan Online Academy. Referring to it as "the virtual dojo for the 21st century," he said that students can simply visit the site and type in the skills they want to learn to receive a private lesson no matter where they live.


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