組手 Kumi Te or the meeting of hands is in many ways a more modern interpretation of an old Okinawan training practise called Ti Gumi (Te Kumi) the characters have been reversed and for many the characteristics have changed too.

What I have noticed over the years is that very few Karate Ka in the West fully understand the basis of the teachings of Kumite in a way that they tend to in the East. Many Karate Ka just see Kumite as sparring, I’d say free fighting but much of that to be seen these days is far from anything to do with fighting. Most may practise the fundamental Kumite’s too, like Ippon, Sanbon, Gohon, however many still do them all with the same feeling, body dynamics and timing, regardless of believing or saying otherwise, the only main difference really is in the numbering or stepping. Or, everything is about blocking and countering. Now don’t see this as a critique of these Kumite drills, as I actually endorse them as they have many benefits. A workman shouldn’t be blaming his tools as the old saying goes.

Let me put this clearly!! Every and each type of Kumite should either be teaching you something different or it is layering on to something else previously learned. When you face your training partner you come together and you meet hands or the body, then you work on and practise the integral aspects that are more paramount to the particular Kumite. Like this or not but a lot of the Karate to be seen these days has lost its flavour and the inherent skills as far as in fight training goes.

Many years ago I spent a considerable amount of time studying the training methods of the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, my focus was more on how he trained for the fight. Even though many would see differences and boxers doing things differently, I just saw so many similarities. Yes, the basis can be different as in we are not in a match fight for 12 rounds and I get that clearly. The foot work drills he did though were similar to Tenshin training, the countering and hard hitting was just as we do in Karate, the same as the close in work of Iri Kumi. However, the key was on how he broke things down to the point of separation and then intensely focusing on each area as an individual, then he worked on layering and putting everything together, this is what I saw and was after. I did this when practising Judo as a youngster and I do the same now within my study of Okinawan Karate.

Every time we face a fellow Karate Ka in Kumite we should stop and think about what we are actually trying to achieve or work on, and then try and absorb and master thus. If you are doing Kote Kite or Iri Kumi with the same feeling that you would do say Sandan Gi or heavy Ude Tanren arm conditioning, then you really do need to go back to the drawing board. Why would Renzoku Kumite be teaching you the same principles as Ippon Kumite? Oh and, don’t believe for one minute that effective Karate Kumite training is about scrappy brawling drills with a training partner.