Soke Kanazawa - KUMITE 組手(Sparring)


In karate, through the practice of kata – the prearranged forms comprising a series of offensive and defensive techniques that are performed individually against imaginary opponents – we are able to learn essential body movements and a wide array of attacks and blocks . In short, kata represent a veritable storehouse of diverse karate techniques.

Through kumite, or sparring, we learn how to employ the varied techniques that are contained within kata against one or more actual opponents. Accordingly, kumite represents the application of kata, and could be thought of as kata that requires the use of maai( the distance maintained between opponents during kumite).

In karate-do(the way of karate), kata and kumite share equal importance, comparable to the two wheels of a cart.

Long ago, when karate was originally practiced on the island of Okinawa, the focus was mainly on kata, with occasional “ tests of strength” , called kake-dameshi, for tsuki (punching) and uke(blocking) techniques. It was only after Master Funakoshi introduced karate to Japan proper that an elementary form of kumite began to be practiced and the same level of importance was given to the training of both kata and kumite. Following many years of research, this gradually evolved into the tournament-style karate that we know today.

Kumite comprises two general categories: 1) Yakusoku kumite, or promise sparring, in which the attacking technique and target are predetermined ; and 2) Jiyu kumite , or free sparring, in which practitioners are free to test their abilities by employing the attacking and blocking techniques of their choice.

Yakusoku-kumite can be further broken down into three sub-categories: 1) kumite for building strength and endurance, 2) kumite for learning the proper execution of techniques, and 3) kumite for mastering the essential components of actual combat, including timing, proper maai(distance), tenshin(body rotation) , and tai-sabaki(body shifting).

To elaborate further, the first sub-category, called tanren kumite(training kumite), is for building physical strength, developing physical and mental preparedness, and learning stepping techniques and proper breathing in accordance with the level of the practitioner.

The second sub-category, called kihon kumite(basic kumite), emphasizes the proper execution of basic techniques and various stances. In both tanren kumite and kihon kumite, attacker and defender face each other from a set distance and alternate techniques in turn as pre-agreed. The third sub-category, called yakusoku jiyu-kumite(promise free sparring), approaches free sparring as there is no set distance maintained between attacker and defender, and techniques are exchanged as fast and as strongly as abilities will permit. Yakusoku jiyu kumite enables practitioners to study maai, develop a sense for sparring , and learn about such aspects as tenshin and tai-sabaki.

And lastly, representing the final stage of kumite, there is jiyu kumite, in which practitioners exchange attacks and blocks without prior consultation or warning, competing on a mental level as well as a physical level.

During jiyu kumite, the punches, strikes, and kicks used when attacking must be controlled , stopping a single sun 寸(approx. 3 cm, or 1 ¼ inches) before the intended target( a practice called sun-dome寸止). Making physical contact with an opponent is forbidden. Regardless of the speed and ferocity with which they may be delivered, attacking techniques must be brought to an immediate halt just before reaching the target.

Jiyu kumite can be divided into two categories: shiai kumite(match-style kumite), which presupposes actual combat; and the sports-oriented kyogi kumite(tournament kumite).

The following lists the various types of kumite and shows how they are related:

Kumite –

1. Yakusoku kumite( promise sparring)
1.1 Tanren kumite(training sparring)
1.1.1 Gohon kumite(five step sparring)
1.1.2 Sanbon kumite(three step sparring)

1.2. Kihon kumite(basic sparring)
1.2.1 Kihon ippon-kumite(basic one step sparring)
1.2.2 Kaeshi ippon-kumite(attack & counter one-step sparring)

1.3 Yakushoku jiyu-kumite(promise free sparring)
1.3.1 Jiyu ippon-kumite(free-style one-step sparring)
1.3.2 Okuri jiyu ippon-kumite(follow-through free-style one-step sparring)

1.4 Oyo kumite(applied sparring)
1.4.1 Happo kumite(eight-direction sparring)
1.4.2 Kumite Gata(sparring form)

2. Jiyu Kumite(free sparring)
2.1 Kyogi kumite(sport, tournament)
2.2 Shiai kumite(budo, match-style sparring)

(Selected from the book : Karate Fighting Techniques – by Soke Kanazawa)