Kumite – Hand in Hand with Your Opponent

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

Part 6 of 8: Self-Defence Kumite

Self-defence is the legal use of force to protect oneself or others from an imminent threat or act of violence.

So ”self-defence kumite is a kind of partner work or sparring to prepare the karate practitioner for real-life self-defence situations.

There is a large overlap with kata oyo bunkai kumite because they both are about effective self-defence against realistic attacks. But there are also some major differences:

  1. The first difference is the goal:
    The goal of self-defence kumite training is to find and instil methods and techniques that actually work for the individual practitioner. The practitioner's capability, physique, capacity and personality must be taken into account. In kata oyo bunkai kumite on the other hand the intention is to identify the methods and tactics that worked for the past masters.

    So self-defence kumite may build on the ideas found in kata but really anything that works is fine, no matter where it comes from.
  2. The second difference is context:
    Of course the nature of physical violence in general has probably not changed much in the last few thousand years. However, the social environments have. This is true for weapons (less swords, more guns), and it is especially true for the law.

    Most katas where created in the historical context of Okinawa in the 19th century and earlier. But present-day self-defence training has to consider the law in your country today. People who train for self-defence should be aware of their rights and of possible legal repercussions of their action.
  3. The third difference is scope:
    Kata oyo bunkai kumite teaches ways to overcome an assailant once they attack you. But that is your last resort. It's what you do when everything else prior to the attack has failed, namely manners, awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, escape. Those skills can also be practised with a partner. Moreover, self-defence training should also consider different kinds of violence (social, asocial) and the different appropriate strategies to handle them.

A good way to pressure test the full range of self-defence skills is scenario training – a kind of role play in which you have to deal with aggressive situations that can lead to violence. The setup should often allow for the option of avoiding the fight, depending on your behaviour.

Anyway, in self-defence kumite, as in every other type of kumite, safety of all the participants is of utmost importance.

In karate training we obviously focus on the physical aspects of self-defence. But ideally the training methods of self-defence kumite and scenario training would be embedded in general instruction of self-protection in a broader sense.