Kumite – Hand in Hand with Your Opponent

(by Marc Janott, June 2015, revised June 2016)

Part 7 of 8: Kihon Kumite

Many karate associations require some sort of kihon kumite as part of their grading exams.

Kihon kumite is a formalised and standardised form of partner work that utilises basic karate techniques for both the attacker and the defender.

The term kihon kumite comprises forms such as

  • gohon kumite (5-step sparring),
  • sanbon kumite (3-step sparring),
  • kihon ippon kumite (basic one-point sparring),
  • kaeshi ippon kumite (returning one-point sparring),
  • jiyu ippon kumite (free one-point sparring),
  • and arguably jiyu kumite (free sparring).

The development of this type of kumite began in the 1930s at the karate clubs at the Japanese universities. They were adopted by various dojos and associations who included them in their grading requirements. The JKA in particular can be credited for propagating the now widely practised forms.

Historically, 3-step sparring and basic one-point sparring probably emanate from influences of judo and kendo, where we see similar exercise forms which are called kata in those contexts (compare https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nage-no-kata or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendo_Kata ).

Just like the basic techniques of karate (kihon) were systematised, formalised and stylised over the years, so were the kihon kumite forms.

The general procedure is this: As the attacker steps forward, the defender steps backwards and blocks the attack. Finally the defender answers with a counter technique while the attacker remains still in their attacking position.

Nowadays only a few prescribed techniques are commonly used for attack and defence (mainly oi-zuki and mae-geri for attack and age-uke, soto-ude-uke, gedan-nagashi-uke combined with gyaku-zuki for defence). In jiyu ippon kumite some more techniques may be included.

In jiyu kumite both attacker and defender are free to choose their techniques without having to announce them. If both partners are allowed to attack in jiyu kumite then it is often called randori (unordered taking up).

Randori or jiyu kumite kind of resemble competition kumite but the goal is not scoring points but learning from one another.

The other types of kihon kumite have a more choreographed format, usually with long-range techniques. They thus have more in common with kata competition bunkai.

However, kihon kumite forms, although widely practised as they are, do not really prepare the practitioner for either of the two competition disciplines, at least when we consider the common selection of techniques.

Neither are they useful, in their current form, for kata oyo, not to mention self-defence.

So the kihon kumite forms kind of took on a life of their own as partner exercises for gradings.

The training goal of kihon kumite therefore is to pass the next grading exam or simply to master it as a playful, cooperative kihon exercise for its own sake.