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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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How Valuable is Kumite?

Many of us instructors or those who practice karate often study and create advancements in sports-science in an attempt to enhance our training routines. This study - whether it is based on old methods of karate or martial systems - incorporated into today’s new training methods create this science that affords us the opportunity to better understand how and why our bodies react to various movements, especially in the aspects of Kumite. For example, it’s common knowledge amongst athletes that a proper strength-training program can increase power and speed. Additionally, similar studies have been made regarding nutrition and supplements, its relationship to overall peak performance. However, despite new advancements in training methods, we must not lose site of the most traditional way of practice-Kumite.

How does one train for kumite? To the karate practitioner, will weight training, working the bags, dummies and advanced medicines be enough?  If you are looking at karate as a means of fitness then it may be enough but, what about the other portion of karate? It’s self-defence aspect? Then it may not be enough. As athletes, we start from a general training and move later on towards highly specialized and more specific training as our final objective. For example, suppose you have 4 months to prepare for a major tournament.  The first 3-4 weeks may emphasize conditioning, developing a foundation before focusing on more specific and intense Karate training.

Now once your foundation of fitness is established, your training must reflect the specific competition that you are preparing for. As karate-kas, you are training to fight, training to survive and confront unforeseen situations or belt testing - life threatening or not, your training program must reflect this objective. You are not training for weight lifting or aerobics fitness competition. Kumite should be the backbone of your routine. Again, you must train according to your desired objective. In tournament Karate, as bad as it may sound—your ultimate goal is to win your match, fights…therefore to prepare adequately you must be ready to spar or take part in kumite. This core-training objective that you’ve set will tell you that you must.

General training.

Running and weight lifting are designed to enhance the condition of the karate-ka. 

Specialty training

Bags, Makiwaras, dummy and Kata training are also designed to enhance the awareness and improve the impact of the techniques being delivered.  This training however will not replace kumite, they are simply a supplement to a well-rounded routine. Like it or not, to improve, you must step inside the ring.

Core training

Kumite is the most important aspect of karate training—in my view to say the least.

As a young karate-ka, I was opposed to kumite training. I didn’t believe in it, more so I was afraid that I might get hurt, knowing full well that karate is a contact sport. I just often practiced lots of makiwara training at my backyard. (Made out of truck tires…I also practiced heavy bag drills often and sock on a string training—talk about being creative…) After doing these specialty training exercises for weeks on end…I remember my sensei saying “It’s ok to practice these specialty trainings but, you have to remember the bag, makiwara or sock doesn’t hit back”. This somehow changed my approach to karate.   

And it’s true; these simple words speak volumes for the importance of kumite training. No matter how hard you hit the bag it will never hit back. But, in live kumite training you must apply what you’ve learned. Only through your core training will you be able to analyze and receive IMMEDIATE feedback. There are lots of benefits to good and well supervised kumite training. First, it will improve timing, reactions, and combination punching. Secondly, it’s an immediate feedback. If you don’t block, you’ll get hit. Thirdly, it’s definitely a confidence builder. It teaches you to overcome the nervous energy-“anxiety” feeling you will experience the day of the tournament. Nerves can play a major factor in the outcome of any fight. Nervous feelings can leave a fighter out of gas before the fight begins, their legs tired while walking towards the ring. The only way to overcome these feelings is through experience. The more you fight, the easier it will be to overcome pre-fight anxiety.

All fighters, regardless of any contact sport, have been nervous at some point in their careers. Whether before their first fight or first title bout, all fighters have had to quell their nervous energy before entering the ring. Through experience, you will put your anxiety to rest. You learn to rely on your skills and hard work in the dojo. This is all part of the development process of a fighter. You must first learn the game, and then develop confidence and experience. Karate is not a sport that is mastered over night. It takes several years to learn this sport.

When you train, approach kumite sessions as an opportunity to improve some aspect of your skills. You may choose to work on your tsukis or keris or strictly on self-defence. Spar with different opponents as often as possible. This will provide you with a different perspective on other opponents’ fighting styles as well.

General training (conditioning—i.e running, weight lifting) will always be important to the karate practitioner, but remember that developing fighting skills cannot be mastered in the gym or on the track. It must be mastered inside the ring. Karate is a complex sport. Most will never understand the true complexity. Karate requires physical conditioning, courage, mental toughness, power, speed, and ability. You must integrate several forms of training to truly optimize your performance. You must focus on developing strength, stamina, and karate specialty skills.

Think of karate, not as a fitness activity but, a preservation of life. Enjoy the benefits you get out of kumite training—bruises comes with the territory…

Dutch Farinas, FSKA