Kumite is where the techniques practiced in kihon and kata are applied against an opponent. There are different formats of kumite designed for developing different skills, and appropriate for karate-ka of different levels. In the most basic and controlled forms (kihon kumite), everything is predetermined and the attacker and defender each know exactly which techniques will be used and when. Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum is jiyu kumite (freestyle sparring), where techniques are exchanged freely. This jiyu kumite forms the basis for competition karate.
The relationship between kihon, kata and kumite cannot be overemphasised.
Types of Kumite:
Gohon kumite – five step sparring
Sanbon Kumite – three step sparring
Ippon kumite - one step sparring
Jiyu kumite - free sparring
There are three main concepts when attacking in karate:
Go no sen - meaning “late attack” involves a defensive or counterattack in response to an opponent’s attack.
Sen no sen – involves a defensive or counterattack launched simultaneously with the attack of the opponent.
ensen no sen - an initiative launched in anticipation of an attack where the opponent is fully committed to their attack and thus psychologically beyond the point of no return.
Gohon Kumite (five-step sparring) is the basic form of training fundamental techniques that teaches Migamae (physical readiness to perform Zuki and Uke techniques), Kigamae (mental preparation like fighting spirit, attitude, concentration and confidence.), Kokyu Ho (breathing) and Unsuku (moving and stepping) and Kime (physical power). In Gohon Kumite targets remain the same for all consecutive attacks, practiced at both Jodan and Chudan levels. The goal is to drill the two main components of kumite - attack and defense. Karate-ka must learn to be in tune with one another and move together in their attacks and defenses rather than one at a time.
As a basic training method, Sanbon Kumite (Three-step sparring) is only a little more advanced than Gohon Kumite in terms of the benefits it offers with regard to the development of Migamae, Kigamae, Unsuku, Kokyu Ho and Kime. The attacks are performed consecutively with a different technique at a different level - Jodan Oie Zuki, Chudan Oie Zuki and Mae Geri. The defender, each time, uses an adequate blocking technique and counters on the third Uke.
Kihon Ippon Kumite
Kihon Ippon Kumite (basic one step sparring) is a training method designed to help Karate-ka learn correctly a range of basic technical skills such as Tai sabaki (body evasion), proper stances and basic techniques of attack and defense. When practicing this type of Kumite it is important that all techniques be performed correctly with proper breathing and correct postures. This training also helps with the development of Zanshin.
Jiyu Ippon Kumite
Jiyu Ippon Kumite (free style one-step sparring) prepares the Karate-ka for Jiyu Kumite (free-style kumite). Jiyu Ippon Kumite closely approximates the conditions of Jiyu Kumite. In addition to the development of Migamae and Kigamae it also helps to develop and understand the importance of Tai Sabaki (body evasion), Tenshin (body rotation) and Maai (distance maintained between opponents during sparring). The attacker must deliver his attack with the force and spirit intended to end the fight with a single blow. The defender must carefully observe his opponent's movement and must wait until the last possible moment before instantaneously blocking and countering.