Kumite – Hand in Hand with Your Opponent

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

Part 2 of 8: The Meaning of the Word “Kumite

Kumite” is a Japanese word composed of the two kanji characters 組手.

組 – “kumi association;  braid;  plait;  construct;  assemble;  unite;  cooperate;  grapple
手 – “te hand; also: way;  trick;  move;  means;  technique;  workmanship

Combined into one word – 組手 – “kumi-te – the meaning is: grappling hands; cooperating hands, working hand in hand.

In sumo, for example, the term kumite refers to grabbing the opponents mawashi (sumo belt) in order to unbalance him. In woodworking kumite means “joinery, the art of interlocking pieces of timber with a bridle joint, tongue and groove or similar techniques.

In the martial context of karate, “kumite “is a rather general term that comprises any fighting exercise with a training partner.

So, sparring” or “partner work” are both appropriate translations.

It does not mean an actual fight.

  • A competition fight or consensual bout would be called shiai (試合) in Japanese.
  • A violent assault would be something like boukou (暴行).
  • The methods of self-defence would be goshin-jutsu (護身術).

Kumite instead is something where people connect to work towards a common goal.

It is partner training, and depending on what we train for, that partner training my take very different shapes.

Our training should be in line with the goal we want to achieve. Different goals mean different ways of working with a partner.

So let's look at some of those distinct types of kumite now.