Kumite: A fighting Chance.


This week training seems to have been all about kumite. Of course, when you think about, it it is always all about kumite, even when it doesn’t feel like it is….but this week, it was, for me, decidedly and overtly all about kumite…..And, at least at this this end of the week, my body is certainly letting me know that it was kumite; I am experiencing that unique yet satisfying kind of soreness that seems to come with the territory.

Karate is a bit of a conundrum. It is simple and yet complex. It is hard and soft. It is violent but beautiful. Karate means different things to different people. People train for different reasons, like different aspects of it, and get different things out of it. In all probability, like me, they won’t even be able to fully  express exactly what it is they get out of it or why they keep training. There is a fighting chance though, that at least one of the reasons relates to having a “fighting chance” if push literally did come to shove (ie self defence situation).

To be able to defend yourself, you need to be able to react without thinking but firstly consider; ie think without reacting. You need to be able to perform under pressure when there is no pressure to “perform”. You need to be able to have a fighting chance without taking a chance in a fight.

It appears to me that people like to compartmentalise sports kumite (ie point scoring), from dojo sparring, from street fighting / self defence scenarios, but to me it seems like they are all on the same spectrum.

Sports kumite is confined to a “ring” (ok, so it’s generally a square, but you get the idea), and is stopped every time someone scores (or looks like they scored) a point (ie when someone gets hit / tapped, depending on contact rules). It’s timed and the match is over as soon as someone gets the required number of points. Even though it is very “safe” there is still an element of fear which has to be managed. There is still the need to be free flowing and react to a situation which is not entirely within your control. Depending on who you are fighting there is also likely to be some endurance required (of the physical contact, and general perseverance variety).

Dojo sparring (jiyu kumite) is also confined to a greater or lesser space, depending on how many other people are sharing the “dance floor”*. It is continuous (though generally timed) and there are less rules. Techniques that are not allowed in sports kumite are allowed so there appears to be more variation in technique. Also, in a way, it can be more friendly, since the main purpose seems to be to learn and practise, rather than to get points or really nail your opponent.

In both Sports kumite and dojo sparring, we practise important elements for self defence. Things like: how to read a situation, how to manage your response to fear, physical contact or personal space invasion, how to have a clear head under pressure, how to be flexible and react appropriately and quickly to a potential threat, and how to be controlled in your reaction. Obviously the level of contact is going to be way more controlled in sports or dojo kumite, but control is still important, even in a street setting, from a legal standpoint if nothing else.

Street self defence scenarios are obviously about getting out of the situation intact. Therefore, your response goal has to be one of self preservation; if the person is trying to harm you, you do what is needed to get away, even if that means hurting someone. This is where it all hopefully comes together for you, so you have a fighting chance.

Let’s face facts for a minute. Karate isn’t like craft group. People do get bumped and bruised a bit. That is something you need to accept as part of conditioning. Conditioning of the body and the mind are important. In real life it’s important to be able to “roll with the punches” in the fullest sense of the cliché. You don’t have to be addicted to pain or immune to it. You do have to control your reaction to getting a bump, and you do need to learn to control your inner response to a stressful or frightening situation. In a street scenario you don’t want to let any weakness or vulnerability show, lest it be quickly turned against you. By the same token you don’t want to give away your next move lest it be thwarted.

Having said that Karate isn’t like craft group, the injury risk is probably less in Karate, than in other contact sports (and perhaps even in craft group, when it comes down to it, depending on how many Stanley knives aka box cutters and hot glue guns are involved). We often hit our friends; it’s part of training for all the reasons mentioned, but naturally we don’t want to hurt them. However, in the heat of the moment, accidents can and do happen. There has been blood on the “dance floor”* more than once in my training memory, mostly cuts on the feet or hands and blood noses; nothing serious…..and mostly not my blood either….but it still jolts you a bit when it happens as it reveals how vulnerable we actually are. Confronting? Yes, but it certainly puts your little “achievement marks” (one of my “younger sister’s” affectionate terms for bruises) into perspective.

* by dance floor, I am actually referring to the training space. We don’t do dancing…..:) A running joke in our dojo. Please Sensei don’t give me push ups…..I need to recover first 🙂 lol



2 thoughts on “Kumite: A fighting Chance.

  1. LOL, I like the idea of the “dance floor.” Spot on – there are distinct differences among street fighting, tournament fighting, and free sparring. I wish we could practice the tournament fighting more, but that requires a lot of manpower that we don’t have 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our dojo looks like it would make a reasonable dance hall….and then there’s one of my kohai who likes to make jokes about what dance we are doing (in kata)…..I shouldn’t laugh too much. Husband put a Michael Jackson CD on for the kids to dance to tonight and me and my son ended up doing our kata to the beat…..novel way to practice (though the timing was not correct really). I know you have made comparisons about kumite and dancing too. I guess I can see why although there are 2 leaders and 2 followers in that dance….which is why things can get a bit more frenetic and out of hand 😉

      Free sparring is more realistic so unless you want to be the next vet. kumite champion (not an aspiration of mine…and since we don’t have age categories in tournees – other than under or over 18 it won’t happen) then free sparring should be a good friend. Besides if you stand up ok in that, you will probably do ok in tournee kumite!

      I actually was trying to point out the commonalities of different types of kumite rather than the differences. There are differences though sure….it’s just that what I was trying to say was that they are all along the spectrum of being able to defend yourself from an attack and counter as needed.


      Liked by 1 person

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