Thursday, March 12, 2009

Theory Fighter: Volume 5: Execution Extravaganza!

A little introduction: Given the amazing success of Street Fighter IV already (it was sold out in Japan on day 1 and is tough to find a launch copy in Canada/USA) and the massive influx of new players, the Street Fighter community is bigger than ever. Even though the game is new, there are already a lot of very good players out there, but for most people, this will be their first Street Fighter in over a decade! To help those people, I welcome you to "Theory Fighter." In each installment I will try to explain some of the concepts that seperate a noob from a pro using practical examples and setups for varying characters. For the most part, these are concepts that can be used in any Street Fighter game, and in some cases, any competitive game period.

Note that this series of articles will very much be geared towards newcomers, so if you're a Street Fighter Veteran the information here may be of limited use. Also note though, that these articles will assume you're at least familiar with the Street Fighter (IV specifically) core mechanics.

Remember, there's a huge difference between a noob and a scrub. A noob knows (s)he's a beginner, but willing to learn. A scrub is convinced he's already good before (s)he's learned anything.

Don't forget to read Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and Volume 4.


Here's a short list of words I'll be using that you need to be familiar with. You can skip this section if you're confident you understand this terminology.


To do the motion for one move while another move is in progress.  Buffers generally (but not always) lead to a chain.


Theory Fighter: Volume 5: Execution Extravaganza

In our first 4 articles we've been focused a lot on playing the game with your brain. Having good habits and understanding tactics is very important, however it leaves out one crucial factor. Although your brain tells you what you want to do, your hands are actually your only link to your fighter. Without good execution, it won't matter how good your tactics are, because you won't be able to do anything with them.

I should note here that I am not the greatest at executing either. If I had to point out my biggest flaw, I'd probably identify it as execution. However, in my struggle to become more consistent, I have learned a few things about Street Fighter (and SF4 in particular) that I think everyone would benefit from knowing. So here is, in no particular order, some execution tips.

Starting out with Bread and Butters / Chaining vs linking with advanced BnBs

As I stated in
Volume 2, bread and butter combos are your life in Street Fighter. This is especially important for new players because it gives them a way to do consistent (keyword) damage and extend their range. Initially, I would suggest looking for a bread and butter that is EASY. Something very simple like c. MK xx Hadoken with Ken/Ryu or c. MK xx Soul Spiral with Rose. Are you detecting a pattern here? Almost universally (almost), all characters can use this c. MK xx some special move bnb. You can add a jumping attack to it (probably j. HK or j. HP) and, again for many characters, you can usually buffer a super to the end when you get a guaranteed hit.

Eventually, you're going to feel you've progressed to a point where you want a fancier, stronger, better bnb combo. In Street Fighter IV, these often come down to link combos.

When you watch video of Street Fighter, you'll probably see a lot of advanced players use combos like c. LP, c. LK, c. LP xx some special move. These are safer than the average beginner bnb combo because you can confirm the special move (see
Volume 2). They also put the opponent into blockstun for longer and push you to a safe distance which makes them hard to counter attack on block. However, DOING them can seem difficult for a beginner. The LPs and LKs might be easy enough, but sometimes it may seem impossible to chain the special move afterward. Why? This is where you need to understand a key difference between chains (see Volume 2) and links (see Volume 4).

In practically all Street Fighter games, LP and LK are chainable into eachother. So by pressing, say, LP very quickly, you can usually rattle off a simple 3 hit combo before you're too far for the punches to reach anymore. It would seem simple enough to chain a special move AFTER this 3 hit chain to extend it to four hits, right? Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. Street Fighter IV has a strange property that does NOT allow you to chain a special after chained LP or LK. However, you CAN chain a special after LINKED LP and LK. Therefore, to perform these new bnb combos, you must make sure to LINK the LP/LKs and not chain them.

Example # 1

Ryu jumps in on Ken and performs a j.MP followed by rapidly tapping LP, c. LK and then performs a Shoryuken. All the hits connect, but the Shoryuken is strangely absent. This is because he chained the hits before it, instead of linking them.

Now say Ryu jumps in on Ken and performs a j. MP followed by a rhythmic tapping of LP, c. LK.  He chains the last c. LK into a Shoryuken. This time he gets all the hits (albeit much slower) followed immediately by a fireball.

Watch the combo at 3:14 to see a LP, LK link

This will take practice, and many of the 1st and 2nd stage "Hard Trials" in SFIV teach you these combos. The key in this sequence is to realize you are LINKING the j. MP into the first LP, LINKING the LP, c. LK sequence, and then CHAINING the c. LK into a Shoryuken. In this way, the button sequence would sound something like this.

tap, tap, tap, tap-tap.
j.MP, LP, c. LK-Shoryuken

Where commas indicate slower rhythmic timing and dashes represent quick sequential timing. The hadoken motion is quickly input between the last two taps.

Pre-buffering and Juggling Ultras

The term pre-buffering can mean a couple of things depending on who you ask. One definition is using the motion of a special move as a part of a motion of another special move. Another definition is "queuing up" commands so that they activate when the current action is complete. These are both valid definitions and are both extremely useful.

Definition 1 is most useful when you want to chain a special move into a super move. It allows you to repurpose the motion of the special move as inputs for the super.

Example # 1

Say Ryu wants to chain his Hadoken into a Shinkuu Hadoken super. Your first reaction might be to do

down, down-forward, forward + punch 
down, down-forward, forward, down, down-forward, forward + punch

In actuality, the easiest way to do this combo is.

down, down-forward, forward + punch, down, down-forward, forward + punch

Look at that closely. It looks as though we're omitting an entire motion for the super fireball sequence here! However, if you look even closer, you see that's not the case. The two fireball motions necessary for the super fireball are actually in there, but we used one to activate the normal fireball!

Example # 2

Say I wanted to do Balrog's Dash Punch into Super dash punch. This seems impossible since you have to charge BOTH for a full 2 seconds. But, using the technique we outlined above, we can do it easily. The motion would be.

Charge back, forward + punch, back, forward + punch.

In this case, not only are you repurposing the motion of the Dash Punch in the motion of the Super Dash Punch, but you are using the SAME charge to perform both moves.


Definition 2 means to buffer (that is, perform a motion while an action is in progress) a motion so that you don't have to perform it when a move ends. One of the most obvious forms of pre-buffering in SF4 is when using a focus attack. BEFORE the focus attack even lands, you can tap forward twice to dash. Afte the focus attack connects, your character will dash automatically, even though you did the dash input very very early.

Prebuffering is also useful when confirming. When you are performing a bread and butter combo, you can pre-buffer the motion for your special move, but only press punch/kick to actually activate the special move if you see the initial bnb hit. This gives you a safety net in case your opponent blocks your attack. For an example of this, see the Cammy example in
Volume 1.

Prebuffering moves will make your execution life in SF much easier. However, in Street Fighter IV it also presents a problem in one very specific area. Juggling Ultras. You may have noticed elite players performing awesome stunts like juggling Ryu's Ultra fireball from a Shoryuken or Abel juggling his Ultra from a c. HP. However, when you try to do them, you may find that the Ultra doesn't come out or that you end up with a super instead. This is due to prebuffering.

In Street Fighter IV, you CANNOT prebuffer motions for Ultras in any way. This has a lot to do with the fact that Ultras cannot be chained, but even in situations where chaining does not apply, you still cannot pre-buffer Ultra commands. This was the source of much frustration for me until I figured it out.

Example # 1

One of Rufus easiest setups for his Ultra is from a LK xx HK chain combo followed by an Ultra. However, if you try to prebuffer the Ultra command while the HK is still in progress, 99% of the time you will end up with a super (the other 1% of the time you'll end up with nothing). The correct way to do this sequence is to do the LK xx HK chain combo and then wait until the HK is completely finished. Then quickly do the motion for the Ultra.

Example # 2

One of Ryu's easiest setups (one of MANY) for his Ultra is to anti-air an opponent with a LP Shoryuken into Ultra. However, if you start doing the motion for the Ultra at ANY TIME before Ryu's feet hit the ground, you will get an EX fireball. Again, prebuffering is the culprit here. Do not start performing the motion for the Ultra until after Ryu has landed.

Shortcut motions and Input Leniency

Street Fighter 4 allows you to perform some motions inexactly, which can be a help or hindrance depending on what you're trying to do. I haven't found too many, but the ones I know of are:

Shoryuken motion = forward, down, down-forward + punch : Shortcut = down-forward, down-forward + punch.
Tiger Knee motion = down-back, down, down-forward, forward, up-forward + kick : Shortcut = down-back, up-forward + kick.

Feel free to write me back with anymore you find.

Another interesting note is that motions don't have to be precise when doing moves. There is quite a large Input Leniency in Street Fighter 4 which allows the system to interpret technically incorrect inputs as inputs for special moves. This is a general rule for all characters that is especially beneficial to charge characters.

Example # 1

Consider Ken who wants to combo a Shoryuken into a Shoryureppa super. The motion should be:

forward, down, down-forward + punch xx down, down-forward, forward, down, down-forward, forward + punch.

However, as we learned in the previous section, we would want to apply our skill in prebuffering to make this easier on ourselves. But if we examine this, there is no "common place" to put one motion inside the other (because Ken's super is not a double-shoryuken motion). This would seem to indicate we can't use pre-buffering here. However, due to SF4's Input Leniency, the game WILL actualy accept the initial shoryuken as the first input of the Shoryureppa super. So, we can do this:

forward, down, down-forward + punch, down, down-forward, forward + punch.

In other words, all we need to do is a Shoryuken followed immediately by a fireball, and the game considers that the motion for a Shoryureppa super!  This works because the Shoryuken motion is considered "close enough" to a fireball motion by the game engine.

Check out 3:15 to see Prebuffering and Input Leniency at work!

Keeping your charge (with charge characters)

Charge characters are interesting in that they play fundamentally different from "roll-motion" characters. What some beginners don't realize is that you can charge at ANY time during or even before a match. Thus, when using them, you almost ALWAYS want to maintain a down-back charge (since this charges two directions at once). When I say you can charge ANY time I literally mean ANY time.

Immediately after jumping, charge down-back
Aftering being knocked down, charge down-back
During any move, charge down-back
Before a round starts, charge down-back

You would do well to maintain your charge in all these situations. This takes some mental training, but eventually it becomes an automatic reaction.

You can also use Input Leniency (see above) in conjunction with charging to perform some technically impossible feats!

Example # 1

A common setup for Balrog's Ultra is to juggle it from a Buffalo Headbutt.  Technically the Buffalo Headbutt motion is charge down, up + punch while his Ultra motion is charge back, forward, back, forward + 3 punches. These two motions seem to be at odds since one forces you to lose charge for the other.

Or does it?

To correctly perform this sequence, you can perform the Buffallo Headbutt by charging down-back, up-back + punch. By doing this sequence, the game still reads this as a valid down, up + punch motion, but allows you to maintain your backward charge. Then all you need to do is wait for Balrog to land and then perform his Ultra motion. There you have it, a very simple Ultra setup.

Early attacks and "acting vs reacting" in general

Most beginners start out playing reactively. They see something and then block it or counter it. This usually works fine when playing other beginners, but at high level play it's just too slow. Eventually, you've got to start acting on things you figure "will" happen, but haven't happened yet. This is the concept of "early attacks."

Not surprisingly, an early attack is when you initiate an attack to counter something that hasn't happened yet. In a sense, meaties (see
Volume 4) are a form of Early Attack. Early attacks work because by the time your move has gotten to its active frames, your opponent's move will only be in its startup frames.

Example # 1

One of the best ways to win an air-to-air battle is with an early attack. By jumping and immediately attacking, you can win air-to-air battles in which your opponent's move seems like it should win. Consider Sakura's j. MK versus Ryu's j. HK. Normally, Ryu's j. HK would beat Sakura clean. However, if Sakura anticipates Ryu's jump, jumps herself, and immediately performs a j. MK (so that the MK is already out while she is still on her way up), Sakura will knock Ryu out of his attack before the active frames of his j.HK even start. In a way, Sakura has pre-empted Ryu.

Safe Jumping

Jumping in Street Fighter (SF4 especially) is very dangerous. Since you can't block or focus in the air, you are essentially putting yourself in a defenseless position. If you jump predictably, your weakness will be magnified 10x.

In general, try to only jump when your opponent is already commited to a move. Otherwise, jump when out of range. Don't forget to use your straight-up jump to confuse opponents (especially those that like to throw projectiles a lot). If you want to jump straight onto your opponent to initiate an offense, make sure you lock him/her into blockstun first (or make them feel like they are locked in block stun at least). Time some jumps short of your opponent so that they will miss a few anti-airs (therefore putting doubt in their mind about using it). These will all improve your jumping habits.

There is one more technique for jumping, which is called a
Safe Jump. In general, it is a very, VERY bad idea to jump in on a downed opponent, especially those with an anti-air move that has startup invincibility. However, safe jumping allows you to mitigate this risk. A safe jump occurs when you jump in and attack your opponent VERY late in the jump. If your opponent stands or blocks, the late attack will just barely hit them. However, if the opponent goes for wakeup reversal move, you will land in time and block! This works because your active frames are intersecting their startup frames. Even though they are invincible during those startup frames, they are still not HITTING you in those frames. Safe jumping takes very precise timing, but with it, you can very easily bait anti-air moves.

Negative Edge

One tidbit that is not commonly known is that special and super moves in Street Fighter can be activated when a button is pressed OR when a button is released. The latter is called a Negative Edge.

Negative edge is most useful in combos and complex sequences where pressing a button twice would be way too slow. How you apply it and how often you use it is strictly up to you. Personally, find I only Negative Edge about 5% of my moves, and only in combos.

Example # 1

One of Ryu's basic Focus combos is HP Shoryuken, EX Focus Cancel, MP Shoryuken. An EX Focus Cancel lets you cancel the recovery time of certain moves (in this case the HP Shoryuken) by performing an immediate Focus Attack. You can further cancel a Focus Attack with a dash. Thus, this entire sequence looks like:

forward, down, down-forward + HP xx hold MP + MK xx forward, forward xx release MP + MK, forward, down, down-forward + MP.

This is a lot of buttons to press in a short time. However, you can use Negative Edge to make this sequence a bit easier.

forward, down, down-forward + HP xx hold MP + MK xx forward, forward xx forward, down, down-forward + release MP + MK.

You probably have to look pretty hard to spot the difference, but notice we reuse the "release" of MP + MK (the EX Focus Cancel) as the input for Ryu's MP shoryuken. This eliminates one MP button press. It may not seem like much, but in the heat of battle, remembering less is often better. In fact, we can use input leniency AND a shortcut motion (see above) for the Shoryuken to make this even simpler.

down-forward, down-forward + HP xx hold MP + MK xx down-forward, down-forward xx release MP + MK.

In this case we use input leniency to interpret the down-forward, down-forward as a dash (after the EX Focus Cancel) and a shortcut motion to use that same motion for the Shoryuken! Suddenly, by combining these three techniques together, this combo becomes very easy to do!


Option-selecting is a technique employed to perform a motion a certain way so that if it fails, you are still left relatively safe. Although this technique was used a lot in previous Street Fighters, it isn't too prominent in Street Fighter IV. However, there is one very specific (and easy) use that can greatly heighten your game. Teching throws.

A tech throw is the primary counter for a throw. It occurs when you perform a throw very quickly after your opponent performs one, and results in neither of you taking damage. However, if you guess an opponent's throw incorrectly, you often end up with an embarrassing throw whiff animation which can leave you vulnerable long enough to eat a bad counterattack.

To avoid this, you can crouch tech. Rather than pressing LP + LK to tech a throw, get in the habit of pressing down + LP + LK. If you end up missing a tech throw, you will end up with a c. LP. This happens because you cannot throw while crouching, but you CAN tech a throw while crouching. Thus, with this technique, the computer selects the appropriate option (hence the name, Option Select).


Phew, there's an absolute ton of info in there. The key takeaway is that, just like life, you can't play Street Fighter on good intentions alone. All the mind games in the world mean nothing if you lack the tools to act on them. For some, practicing execution is a grueling task, for others it is greatly enjoyable and rewarding. Irregardless, if you want to be good at the game it's something you HAVE to do. My advice is to start in training mode, just to make sure you can do them, but quickly move to arcade mode. The computer isn't the smartest, but it is excellent for training mechanical techniques in real-game scenarios. Once you feel some of these things have become second nature, take your game online or in person and I guarantee you'll see the improvement.

Before I leave you today (for the sunny, hopefully-snow-covered mountains of Whistler, BC), I'd like to point you to an excellent tutorial video I found recently.

It is an excellent beginner's guide to the execution skills you need to perform bread and butters.


mbmonk said...

THANK YOU!!!!!! I was having a horrible time with Ryu doing jab shoryukent into Ultra. NOW it makes sense :).

Nick said...

Hi MC,

I just wanted to thank you for embedding my tutorial video! And also wanted to invite you to check out episode 2 which I uploaded yesterday about the Focus system. :)

Thanks again.

Munky Shyan

SEiMEi said...

Hey, these tutorials are a wonderful resource. I have linked to them on my blog. Sorry the blog looks shit, but I am working on it (slowly).


aisu_kuriimu said...


Thanks for the information. Can you please verify to me what is linking and chaining difference between the two.