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Iron Fist 101: The Competitors Guide to Playing Tekken

This is the first in a series of articles written to help tournament ready fighting game players compete in Tekken. Though this article is written primarily for newer Tekken players, following the concepts presented here can help even veteran Tekken players who are aspiring to improve on a fundamental level.


I’m not going to sit here and bullshit you about how you can make Tekken fun at a casual level because I couldn’t care less about Tekken at a casual level. I’m also not going to try to convince you that tekken is worth playing, I will assume that you already know this. Tekken is a hard game, and being a competitor is hard work. But with the correct attitude, that work can be extremely fun and satisfying.

That being said...


How to have fun playing Tekken.


Many of today's fighting games are designed from the ground up to entertain players even when they are losing. Tekken however, has yet to adopt this style of game design. Entry level Tekken players often feel completely overwhelmed in the first few phases of the learning process. This is the turning point in which most new players quit, and is much earlier than the point in which the game starts to become fun.


Set Small Goals.


The first step to having fun when playing Tekken is, forget about winning. If your primary goal in Tekken is winning, you will most certainly quit far before that happens. Instead, set small goals for yourself with the purpose of obtaining a win. Be very specific. Focus on players who you have offline access to and make rivalries. Even if you aren’t vocal about them, treat them as your rival.  This will let you focus your goals towards your rival’s character.


Good examples of small goals.


- Low parry the second hit of Law’s Junk Yard combo and follow up with the correct low parry combo.

- Break out of a double over stun. 

- Block seeable lows like Bryan’s Snake Edge and punish correctly.

- Don’t get thrown by King’s Giant Swing when his back is to the wall for an entire match, or day, or week.


Bad examples of small goals.


- Place top 3 in a local tournament.

- Place top 5 in a local tournament.

- Win a match in a local tournament. (Yes this goal is too big.)

- Be able to beat the asshole that works at Super Arcade. (Way too big).


Every time you accomplish one of your small goals, you should feel like you placed top 3 in a tournament. If you approach the game this way, you will focus more on your own personal improvements. This is where you can begin to have fun playing Tekken. The more small goals you set, the faster you will improve, and this type of improvement will be extremely satisfying because it is literally quantifiable by your own goals. Think of these goals as pieces of a puzzle. When this puzzle nears completion, winning will occur naturally.


With the right mindset,  it is very hard to not improve when losing in Tekken, and usually, improving in a game you want to compete in is fun.

Step one accomplished.


Selecting a character.


You may be wondering why I didn’t start with this topic. The reason is that character choice  matters far less at the beginners level than the concept of learning the fundamentals. For a fundamentally solid player, switching characters can be very easy once you understand the core defensive concepts of Tekken. Unlike in most fighting games, in Tekken, You don’t have to worry too much about wasting time with a character that doesn’t fit your style.


Though every character in Tekken is very unique, most have similar punishers and launchers. If you get tired of a character you thought you liked, it isn’t hard to switch. Especially if you were able to learn the game system with your initial character. Focus more on learning things like how to get off the ground safely when you get knocked down, how to break throws, or even simply how to punish correctly. That being said, I would personally recommend selecting one character you really like, and another that requires very low execution. If you are an aspiring Mishima player, do not play two Mishima characters. Tekken is hard enough, there is no need to create even more obstacles for yourself. I will list a few characters below which I believe to require minimal left hand execution and are relatively straight forward.


Jack 6 







Which fighting game related skills are most valuable in Tekken?



It may seem a bit obvious, but in Tekken, experience is extremely valuable. Knowing when your opponent is likely to attempt a low is far more valuable than seeing a low and reacting to it. Especially when it’s a low you have never seen before. This explains how players like Tomhilfiger, Arario, or even Ricky Ortiz can return after not playing for such a long time and still win. They understand the psychology of Tekken.



Knowledge is a natural byproduct of gaining experience and is also extremely valuable in Tekken. Ducking the second or third hit of a string and punishing correctly can literally change an entire match. The best way to gain knowledge is to ask questions. Lot’s of people know how to play Tekken and are dying to talk about it with other smart competitors. Try to find a mentor, or even two. Almost every top level Tekken player was trained by someone.


Reflexes/Reaction time

Reflexes are also a very important part of Tekken. The entire throw breaking system, whiff punishing, block punishing, and just about everything else in Tekken revolves around reaction time. If this is one of your strong points as a player, you will succeed playing Tekken. You will also have a lot of fun in the process because good reaction times allow you to set and accomplish more complex small goals. For example, break five throws in a row. Serious Tekken players should definitely focus on reaction time when practicing. Especially in regards to throw breaking. Not being able to break throws is one of the worst weaknesses a player can have.



Whatever idea you have, nine times out of ten, it’s a bad idea.Tekken is all about good defense. But I don’t want offense oriented players to think that it’s impossible to be aggressive. You simply have to pick your spots, and at the entry level, those spots are  few and far between. When you are presented with a long move list that has tons of cool looking moves, you want to use them as much as possible. This is the first thing a veteran player looks for in a new competitor when testing their level of skill. Remember that no matter what move you do, a strong opponent can turn it into a mistake. Be patient and focus on absorbing and retaining as much defensive knowledge as possible to then use that knowledge to apply offense.



One of the most interesting and unique parts of Tekken is its depth in movement execution. Tekken grants players with exceptional left hand execution the ability to move faster. Movement is generally the most complex execution related part of the game because it applies to every character. For entry level players, this can seem very intimidating. I’ve heard players say they think it’s unfair that I can move faster than they can just because I’ve practiced moving. Just remember that there are several top players who have relatively weak or limited movement, and there are also players who can move very fast, but can not win. Great movement is simply a bonus. It is not essential to move like a top level Korean player to win. Though it certainly will help.


The good news is, all these fighting game related skills will improve very fast if you focus on setting small goals for yourself, and follow a solid game plan.


Part two of this article will focus on topics like formulating a game plan, dealing with move lists for 50 characters, and overcoming personal obstacles. If there are any specific questions you have that you would like to see covered in future articles, feel free to comment.

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Reader Comments (50)

Time to start making small goals Superb! article btw

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterHotTwin

Great idea! I'd love to see a list of 3-5 moves for each character that you think new players HAVE to know about in order to avoid being a total scrub.

Like knowing the plus frames strings you have to duck, or the strings you have to parry.

I hope I'm not alone...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Troll

Well timed with upcoming TTT2, thanks for sharing your experiences with us again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 3:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterDuLLSoN

God i just love the picture. hehe

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterTEKKENLOVER

yeah and how to create your own strategy? in my case i use a lot counter analyze but to use it efficiently you need to know the basic thinks first and this what this article its all about can't wait to read the next process and analyze your philosophy of the art of tekken lol good stuff aris.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered Commentersamagatsu

Not breaking Giant Swing for a week? That's a huge goal that even top players wouldn't handle.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered Commenterk30

Edited, I meant when his back is to the wall.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 4:38 PM | Registered CommenterAris

good work man

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterVenzo

Thanks for this! Not enough beginner guides give you good psychological help like the "small goal strategy".

I look forward to more!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterHuber

good stuff. i hope this helps a lot of people. i think you should also put in that they should learn from their, because there will be many. Not try to make excuses like 'hes a masher' or "i only lost because hes a spammer" or things like that. i think when you are able to understand why you are winning/losing is when true progress can be made./

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 5:59 PM | Unregistered Commenterjackoffbot

Aris, after you get through all the technical aspects, I think you should try to include some of the more psychological aspects when it comes to actually playing in a match. I think that would help out new players as well. I feel like not enough newer players realize that it's more than just pushing buttons and trying to ko your opponent, if you get what I'm trying to say.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterK-Keo

I was asked to add examples of low execution characters. Will edit soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 6:08 PM | Registered CommenterAris

Very good advice.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 6:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterScorpian_88

Can you please cover several ways of how to "come back" ?
How to reduce the pressure if the wall behinds you?
And when to play poking game?is it any good?

I loved the idea about small goals

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterjin

Amazing article Aris, I especially loved the small goals part - I remember you once saying somewhere in your podcasts that whenever you go to the arcades you should ALWAYS go for a reason i.e. practicing a new BnB, practicing backdash/wavedash, whiff punishing, etc... so that you feel you accomplished something during your time, i think having small goals is a great way for people who feel "stuck" in skill level to gauge themselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7:22 PM | Unregistered Commentergaiabulbanix

As a low/mid level player, I could really use some tips on practicing your timings and execution in Tekken. I'm a Bryan player and I've been trying to learn his magic 4 combo on and off for months.

I don't know how to make progress because I can only land the 4 f, f1 link every 30 or so tries. By that time my eyes have glazed over and I don't learn anything. Is there any better way to learn something like this other then just doing it over and over until it works?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterCausus

i'd like to know if there's an arcade where some tekken players go that's not in walnut. anyone from like huntington beach?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterlili4eva

my another idea is to form a tekken school, lol. id totally pay for it. learn face-to-face and test it out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered Commenterlili4eva

This was a really great read, especially for someone like me, who has never had a mentor, or offline friend to play Tekken with... Can't wait for the rest, and thanks for sharing your wisdom!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 9:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterYoshimattsu

I still cant beat that asshole at super arcade. Your article has not helped me in any way.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterCypeMonster

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