Karate: kumite (sparring)


Kumite ( 組手 - "an encounter with hands") or sparring takes a number of forms in Wu-Wei Dao namely:
  • yakusoku (pre-arranged sparring);
  • kakie (push hands);
  • randori (controlled free sparring);
  • tuide (grappling). 

Yakusoku (pre-arranged sparring)

This consists of :
  • kihon kumite (basic standing sparring) including "tanren" (drills) involving deflecting, trapping and countering;

Basic chudan (chest level) kihon kumite

The second in a series of chudan kihon kumite drills
  • sandan/sambon kumite
    (3 step sparring) which expands on kihon kumite by placing into the context of stances;
  • ippon kumite (one step sparring) a forum for isolating kata applications in a predictable environment for initial learning;
  • jiyu ippon kumite (one step sparring from a free stance) - normally performed as bunkai (kata applications);
  • embu (2 person forms comprised of strings of bunkai that can be broken up as ippon kumite).

Note that the above sparring drills can include tuide (grappling), nage waza (throws), gyaku waza (locks), shime waza (chokes), ne waza (groundfighting) and ukemi (breakfalls).
A form of basic yakusoku kumite known as "ude tanren" is used to condition forearms as well as develop parrying and sensitivity to changes in movement.


Common to the internal arts, most Southern Chinese external arts and Okinawan karate is the training method known as "push hands" where partners set up a pushing rhythm which is then broken for the purposes of executing a technique.  The  purposes of this training method are many, but it is principally useful in that it permits the practice of techniques in a partially free-form environment.

Kakie is also important in that it teaches the goju concepts of "muchimi" (heavy sticky hand - an ability to adhere to your opponent and control movement without grabbing but rather through pressure and "friction grip") and "rooting" or grounding (see the Karate: Sanchin page).

A video showing standard muidokan kakie
Aside from this, it is also vital in training what is known as "hand sensitivity".  Clearly the most important sense in combat is sight, but following closely behind is the sense of touch: a good martial practitioner will be able to sense changes of movement in an opponent the moment their bodies are in contact.  Subtle signals are relayed through touch that an experienced practitioner will be able to subconsciously interpret and respond to.

A video showing kakie based on the kata "tensho"

Randori (controlled free sparring)

Randori's function in teaching applied karate

"Randori" is a term borrowed from judo and indicates a kind of "co-operative" sparring.  While it is free sparring, the co-operative element allows students to experiment and develop their skills so that they actually apply their karate techniques.   In this respect the Academy is quite different from other schools in that techniques practised in isolation are later used in sparring (where other schools practise "air techniques" and then revert to a form of "faux boxing" in sparring - never once using their karate techniques.

Randori is a vital tool in learning to apply karate techniques in a dynamic, changing and unpredictable environment, but it is just that - a tool.  It is a drill and is not to be confused with real fighting.
Randori is practised "soft and slow" to begin with but can be practised "hard and fast" by senior grades.

A video of Muidokan randori - the unique "melee" range sparring method used to teach application of real karate techniques in a dynamic, self-defence appropriate context.

Controlling the melee range

Perhaps the most important aspect of randori is that it teaches you to feel comfortable in, and ultimately dominate, the range which Shihan Dan has coined the "melee" range - a mid to close range where real fights begin and end.  This is also where karate techniques such as deflections, tenshin (evasion) and counter attacks work the best.

Free sparring: our policy

In the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts, Jiyu-ippon kumite and Randori are only practised by persons who are graded White 4 and above (in the case of adults) and level White/Blue 4 and above (in the case of juniors (teenagers)). Children do not practise free sparring at all. The reason for these restrictions is 3 fold:

  • Safety is a primary concern in the Academy and students are expected to have gained some expertise in direction, distancing and control before free sparring commences.
  • New beginners gain little from free sparring as they have no repertoire of techniques on which to draw. In fact, beginners who practise free sparring are likely to "groove" mistakes and bad form. The syllabus actually teaches you to apply the basic techniques in free sparring and it is vital that these be correctly assimilated and practised in the different forms of pre-arranged sparring (known collectively as Yaksoku kumite) before restrictions on sparring are removed.
  • It is a mistake to assume that free sparring is similar to real fighting and is therefore indispensable to the new beginner. Even "full contact" fighting has rule restrictions which significantly alter the dynamics from street fighting. After all, real fights are not contested in rounds with rest breaks in between. Street attacks are invariably determined by who lands the first blow and rarely last more than a few minutes.

Accordingly it is most vital for the new beginner to concentrate on "grooving" an effective response to an initial attack. Pre-arranged forms of sparring are ideal for this process. As part of their sparring syllabus White Belts also learn special "self-defence" drills which are easily assimilated and applied. These drills canvass some of the most common attack scenarios with a view to providing the student with an immediate, optimum response.