What is kumite?
Kumite (fighting) is taught in various formats and levels of difficulty from beginner through to blackbelt. All kumite is practiced with control when working with a fellow student or opponent in competition.
Gohon Kumite / Sanbon Kumite [ Five Step / Three Step Sparring]
Beginners first learn kumite through basic drills, of one, three or five attacks to the head (jodan) or body (chudan) with the defender stepping backwards whilst blocking and only countering on the last defence. These drills use basic (kihon) techniques and develop a sense of timing and distance in defence against a known attack.
Kihon Ippon Kumite [One Step Sparring]
At around purple belt level karateka learn one-step sparring (ippon kumite). Though there is only one step involved, rather than three or five, this exercise is more advanced because it involves a greater variety of attacks and blocks usually the defenders own choice. It also requires the defender to execute a counter-attack faster than in the earlier types of sparring. Counter-attacks may be almost anything, including strikes, grapples, and take-down manoeuvres.
Jiyu Ippon Kumite [Free Step Sparring]
The next level of kumite is freestyle one-step sparring (jiyu ippon kumite). This type of kumite, and its successor, free sparring, have been documented extensively by Nakayama and are expanded upon by the JKA instructor trainee program, for those clubs under the JKA. Freestyle one-step sparring is similar to one-step sparring but requires the karateka to be in motion. Practicing one-step sparring improves free sparring (jiyu kumite) skills, and also provides an opportunity for practicing major counter-attacks (as opposed to minor counter-attacks).One-step sparring is the most realistic practice in JKA Karate, and that it is more realistic than free sparring.
Jiyu Kumite [Free Sparring]
Free sparring (or free style) is the last element of sparring learned. In this exercise, two training partners are free to use any karate technique or combination of attacks, and the defender at any given moment is free to avoid, block, counter, or attack with any karate technique. Training partners are encouraged to make controlled and focused contact with their opponent, but to withdraw their attack as soon as surface contact has been made. This allows attacking a full range of target areas (including punches and kicks to the face, head, throat, and body) with no padding or protective gloves, but maintains a degree of safety for the participants. Throwing one’s partner and performing takedowns are permitted in free sparring, but it is unusual for competition matches to involve extended grappling or ground-wrestling, as Shotokan karateka are encouraged to end an encounter with a single attack (ippon), avoiding extended periods of conflict, or unnecessary contact in situations where there may be more than one attacker.
Dojo Kumite / Competition Kumite
Kumite within the dojo often differs from competition kumite. In dojo kumite any and all techniques, within reason, are valid; punches, knife hand strikes, headbutt, locks, takedowns, kicks, etc. In competition certain regulations apply, certain techniques are valid, and certain target areas, such as the joints or throat, are forbidden. The purpose of competition is to score points through the application of kumite principles while creating an exciting and competitive atmosphere, whereas the purpose of training kumite in the dojo is to be prepared to kill or cripple an opponent in a realistic situation.