He has been at the top of everyone’s tier lists since the game came out, and for good reason. Ken’s got amazing tools for almost every matchup under the sun, fantastic frame data, obscene corner carry — you name it, he has it. The only thing he really struggles against is hard zoning, as he doesn’t have any risk-free options against fireballs and long-reaching attacks.
But above all else, Ken’s intricately layered pressure can really frustrate opponents. Between the guessing games built into his Jinrai Kick and the “get in for free” nature of heavy Dragonlash Kick, Ken’s adversaries will find it difficult to take their turn. It’s a real struggle going up against him — but we’re here to show you the cracks in his toolkit, however small they may be.
Need a helping hand against Ken Masters? Read on to find out how to deal with him in this anti-Ken guide.
Drive Away the Dragon
Out of everything that Ken has in his arsenal, the first “scrub killer” is Dragonlash Kick — specifically the heavy kick version. This is an advancing, plus on block move that has a rather slow startup at 28 frames, so reacting to it is definitely possible. The problem with it is that reacting to it consistently throughout a match can be a real burden on your mental stack, especially when you’re also looking out for Drive Rush and Drive Impact.
If Ken manages to get you to block with this, you’re in for a real headache. At +1 on block, he can safely start his strike/throw game, which is deadly in the corner due to the fact that he has a true throw loop. He doesn’t have to spend any resources to put you in a sticky situation this way, either.
Dragonlash Kick is exceptionally dangerous against crouching opponents too. It becomes +4 on hit if it lands on someone crouching, which allows Ken to link directly into his crouching light punch for a full combo. Coupled with his ability to Super Art cancel his Thunder Kick overhead, this means that his foes can’t just crouch block all day.
But Dragonlash Kick does have two big weaknesses. It happens to be interruptible due to its long startup, and it’s susceptible to Drive Impact. The former rewards you with a Forced Knockdown state if done with a fast normal move, which you can convert into a full combo depending on your character. You can also opt for an invincible anti-air special move like Ryu’s Shoryuken on reaction, but this doesn’t give you a full combo.
The latter is way more rewarding, but there’s a catch: throw out the Drive Impact too late, and Ken can land and recover in time to DI you back. So, your reactions will have to be on point for this method to work.
The Jin-ride of a Lifetime
The second of the scrub killers in Ken’s kit is his Jinrai Kick — specifically the medium version. You will generally see Ken players cancelling one of their normals into this, as it allows them to frame trap you with the Kazekama Shin Kick (light kick) followup. Doing anything other than an invincible reversal in between the medium Jinrai Kick and the followup will get you tagged, leaving Ken at +3 after it hits.
Kazekama Shin Kick is actually punishable at -5, but it depends on how far Ken is from you after you block it. In some instances, you just won’t be able to punish him for it at all. If he is up in your face, though, make sure to make him pay the price! That much frame disadvantage leaves him open to full combos from certain characters.
Things get really tricky when Ken adds his Gorai Axe Kick (medium kick) follow up to the mix. This move is an overhead and must be blocked standing, and can be cancelled into either Lv. 2 or Lv. 3 Super Art for huge damage. For some reason, it’s also completely unscaled damage, meaning Ken gets a massive reward for landing this sequence.
This basically forces you to react to the overhead, as it has a long startup at 18 frames and can be interrupted. But of course, this is much easier said than done in the heat of battle, and Ken can simply go into the low followup instead to catch you pressing buttons. There isn’t really an easy answer to any of this, especially when you add Ken’s throw loop, Drive Impact, and Drive Rush to the pile.
The only reliable answer is to use an invincible reversal in between the Jinrai Kick and whatever followup comes after. Medium Jinrai is -7 on block, so cranking out a fast enough Super Art or something like Luke’s OD Rising Uppercut will both punish the Jinrai itself or blow through the followup.
Now, the problem here is that Ken can go into heavy Jinrai Kick instead, which has a longer startup but is only -2 on block. This means that you cannot interrupt him in between Jinrai and the followup, and you have no choice but to keep blocking. However, you can still punish him after the low followup here if you’re close enough.
Thankfully, there is an audio cue that you can rely on against heavy Jinrai. It is the only version of the move where Ken shouts, “Jinrai!” upon executing it, so if you hear this voice line, you’ll know you blocked the heavy version. Thus, you can take this as your cue to block it out until Ken does the followup.
All in all, Jinrai Kicks are very difficult to deal with and add to an already high amount of mental strain when going up against Ken. But there are some gaps you can exploit here, so we recommend going over what we’ve mentioned here in training mode.
Lame Him Out
As mentioned in the introduction to this guide, Ken doesn’t really like fighting hard zoners — particularly those with good fireballs like Guile and JP.
He doesn’t have any tools that can get him through projectiles safely, as his most reliable option in this scenario is to use the Quick Dash version of his Shoryuken. This will blow through fireballs cleanly, but will be blocked if done too late — thus opening him up for a big punish combo. If you play a character that has ways of keeping Ken away, you might find it a bit easier to deal with him.
Of course, he can still jump over fireballs and punish you for throwing them out recklessly, so you’ll need to check your opponent’s tendencies and adjust accordingly. Mix up your gameplan to throw him off guard; force Ken to get impatient and careless so you can capitalize on his mistakes.
Characters with long-reaching normals also work well here. Ken’s only reliable punish option from outside of his preferred range is standing medium kick (and the target combo that follows) — which is quite unsafe at -5 and very vulnerable to Drive Impact.