Kumite – Hand in Hand with Your Opponent

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

Part 4 of 8: Kata competition bunkai kumite

The other competition discipline in karate alongside competition kumite is kata.

Solo kata matches are all about a convincing performance of karate katas. In team kata matches the three team members must also synchronise their movements.

Additionally, in the team kata medal matches, the team has to perform a choreographed fighting show based on the kata's sequence of techniques. This is the kumite part of their kata performance.

The official term for this sort of kumite used by the World Karate Federation (WKF) in their karate competition rules is bunkai.

This term kind of makes sense within that context, and if the context is clear then I'm absolutely fine with simply calling it bunkai.

However, if we're having a conversation with karate practitioners who do not train kata exclusively for competition, I suggest we should refer to this discipline as kata competition bunkai kumite – or “competition bunkai” for short.

Why? – Because the word bunkai (分解) actually means “analysis”, so it's a process of gaining insight by taking apart and learning about structure and meaning. The goal of which is the acquisition of knowledge.

The spectacular athletic fighting stunts that are the contemporary fashion of the sport have the radically different goal of scoring points and appealing to the audience. They are fun to watch and make for a fascinating show.

Although the rules state that “Kata is not a dance or theatrical performance. […] It must be realistic in fighting terms”, this criterion is all but completely neglected. More emphasis is put on the other, more athletic criteria:

  • Kata performance must ”display concentration, power, and potential impact in its techniques.
  • It must demonstrate strength, power, and speed —
  • as well as grace, rhythm, and balance.”

This is reflected in the popular flashy long-range techniques, high kicks or jumping double kicks which are added for effect, while the actual kata moves are more often than not used only to structure the performance.

Anyway, kata competition bunkai is a fighting exercise in which the partners are working together. So by definition it is a type of kumite.

In the leisure sports environment of karate we would not expect the practitioners to perform spectacular stunts like the top athletes do. Nevertheless “kata bunkai” is frequently taught following the concepts of competition bunkai kumite:

  • Individual sections from the kata serve as templates for partner exercises (kumite).
  • Attackers remain still after executing their long-range attacks with neat karate techniques, so that the
  • defender may perform their equally long-range block/counter combinations on them both neatly and precisely.

This kind of training provides a great opportunity of practising sometimes very demanding motor-coordinative tasks together with a training partner. They can often be performed very energetically without any risk of injury.