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Kumite is one of the three main sections of karate training, together with kata and kihon. Literally translated kumite means grappling hands, or more commonly referred to as sparring (executing techniques of offence and defence), with one or more partners using the techniques learned from kata and kihon.

Kumite is the only aspect of karate that requires a partner to practice with and as such a strict rule exists in which karateka must always maintain self-control regardless of what happens in the exchange of techniques, and refrain from becoming emotional or seeking to hurt their opponent.


Yakusoku-Kumite is sparring with announcement of intent:

Yakusoku-Kumite includes:

  1. Gohon Kumite (basic five-step sparring; normally taught at beginner and intermediate levels):
    • the attacker steps forward with jodan oi tsuki five times in succession,
    • the defender must step backwards five times using the appropriate block, usually jodan age uke, followed by a counter-attack, usually chudan gyaku tsuki,
    • the defender then takes on the role of attacker, stepping forward five times with jodan oi tsuki,
    • the sequence is then repeated with chudan oi tsuki as the attack and chudan-soto-uke as the defence,
    • all stances, attacks, and blocks are performed in basic style, i.e. no free-style techniques are allowed.
  2. Sanbon Kumite (basic three-step sparring; normally taught at beginner and intermediate levels):
    • similar to five-step sparring except that the number of steps has been reduced to three.
  3. Kihon Ippon Kumite (basic one-step sparring; normally taught at beginner and intermediate levels):
    • the attacker may use only one attack with one step (any attack can be used, e.g. punch, strikes or kick, but only one at a time),
    • after each single attack, both opponents must restart.
  4. Jiyu Ippon Kumite (freestyle one-step sparring or semi-free sparring; normally taught to intermediate and advanced levels):
    • similar to basic-one step sparring, except that in jiyu-ippon, both participants start in jiyu-kamae (freestyle position),
    • after each attack and counter-attack is made, the participants return to jiyu-kamae position,
    • sometimes, more than one counter-attack is executed.

"If a strong technique fights a strong body, technique wins".

Jiyu Kumite

Jiyu Kumite is free sparring or practice fighting where attacks and combinations are thrown at will by both partners, without announcement. Control is of utmost importance.

"If a strong technique fights a strong mind, the mind wins".

Shiai Kumite

Shiai Kumite is competition sparring performed at competitions with rules, regulations, a winner and a loser. In Shotokan karate, shiai-kumite is either shobu ippon kumite or sanbon shobu kumite.

Shobu ippon kumite is the same as jiyu kumite except the fighting is done for points whereby one competitor will be declared the victor (the winner is the person who scores an ippon (one point) with a perfect technique or 2 waza ari (half-point)).

Sanbon shobu kumite  is the same as shobu-ippon kumite except that it refers to a three point match (best 2 out of 3 or simply the majority of points).

"If it doesn't work, stop doing it".

Oyo Kumite

Oyo kumite is application sparring and can be practiced yakusoku style or freestyle using movements of the kata to defend and counter-attack. Each movement in a kata has a self-defence meaning or application, called bunkai (means to "analyze" the movements to find combat ideas) or oyo (means to "apply" those ideas using different variations).

Applications range from simple punching and striking counter-attacks to more complex joint locks, throws, etc.

Each movement of a kata may have several different meanings or applications.

"If you feel pain, it is a physical confirmation that you are still living".

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