Kumite – Hand in Hand with Your Opponent

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

Part 3 of 8: Competition Kumite

In the arena of competition sports karate the discipline of duelling is called kumite. The actual match fights are called shiai (see part 3).

It seems that this is what the word kumite is mostly associated with, and if the context is clear then I'm absolutely fine with simply calling it kumite.

However, if we're having a conversation with karate practitioners who do not train exclusively to win competitions, I suggest we should refer to this discipline as ”competition kumite or “sports kumite”.

In fact “competition kumite” is the official term used by the World Karate Federation (WKF) in their karate competition rules.

Competition kumite is an athletic sport in which the competitors use their hands and feet to touch their opponents using punches and kicks. If one competitor manages to touch the other according to the rules, he or she is awarded points by the referee. Fairness and avoiding injury are highly prioritised by the rules. Breaking the rules results in warnings, penalties or disqualification.

The rules prohibit any techniques that are dangerous or in other ways undesirable. Therefore in competition kumite the athletes are practically restricted to only a handful of techniques with which they can score points. The most common scoring techniques being gyaku-zuki and kizami-zuki. The score system favours high kicks to make the fights more appealing to the audience. In fact some kicks like mae-mawashi-geri, mawashi-geri or ura-mawashi-geri have been added to karate through this competition format in the first place. Today they are taught as basic karate techniques.

The goal in competition kumite is to score points according to the rules of the game. and to thereby achieve titles in competitions. Training for competition kumite will reflect this goal.

Kumite in competition style is also being practised by many people who do karate as a leisure sport. In this case the training goal isn't winning titles in competitions. Instead emphasis is put on the fun of playful fighting with a partner and the opportunity for a friendly competition and to learn from one another.