Editor’s note: This article is the third in a three part series excerpted from Yamaguschi’s classic karate text, “Goju Ryu Karate Do Kyohan: The History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate,” now in reprint. Previous articles in this series were “The History and Fundamentals of Goju-Ryu Karate. “and “The Significance of Kata.”
Before Starting Kumite (Practice Fighting)
In kumite, you use all the basic techniques, movements, and kata for actual attacks and defenses. There is yakusoku kumite, in which the movements are performed by the book; and jiyu-kumite, in which the movements are performed freely.
In either instance, the practice will be changed from a single practice to a practice with more than one person so that there are many things you have to pay attention to.
First of all, you have to choose the right opponent. The first condition is, you should choose someone who is the same level as you are, or preferably better than you are. You can see that when you practice the basics or movements of kata, it is helpful if you have more than one person to practice with because you can defend against many types of opponents.
The techniques and standing positions used in the practice of kumite are the same as the practice of basic techniques; however, in jiyu kumite, different techniques or standing positions can be used. Yet, the foundation has to be the extension of the basics.
“To catch the opponent’s movement in advance and read his mind and therefore know which technique he will use, you have to gaze into his eyes.”
Although you did very well in individual practices and you have very good basics, having an opponent in actual kumite is very difficult and you cannot perform as you want. When you practice kumite, you have to pay attention to the next points:
First, there has to be a certain distance. Even though you have a strong attacking technique, if the distance is too far, the attack can fail. Kumite is the combination of attack and defense, therefore, a one-sided performance is useless. The timing has to match the opponent’s movements. When you use techniques in attacks and defenses in an actual fight, you have to have kime waza [timing] when you attack consciously. In the game, this is the technique to gain the point. For the technique to be effective, your mind will have to be enriched and it appears outwardly in your kiai (shout).
When you proceed with your techniques, speed is needed; however, if you attack or change position continuously and recklessly, you cannot make use of timing. For that reason, after you perform kime-waza (timing) as zanshin (continuing spirit), you have to leave some place in your mind to enrich your power.
Furthermore, to catch the opponent’s movement in advance and read his mind and therefore know which technique he will use, you have to gaze into his eyes, which is called “me-tsuke.”
Yakusoku-kumite i s the performing of movements against an opponent structured by the basics with an opponent by having the kind of techniques and the directions arranged in advance. It is decided by how many techniques the attacking side uses. It can be ippon-kumite [one-point kumite], nihon-kumite [two-point kumite], or more. The most basic techniques, which are standing, thrusting, and catching techniques, are used. It follows the basics, and both have the same standing position — if the opponent has the right leg out in front, the other has the right leg out in front as well, or if the opponent thrusts with the right hand, the other catches his hand with his right hand. In yakusoku -kumite, the person who performs defense will use attacking techniques at the end. On the other hand, there is applied yakusoku kumite, in which the basic and applied techniques are structured promisingly for use in an actual fight. The number of techniques used are not limited in applied yakusoku -kumite; therefore, the number of structures are uncountable. Still, this is promised kumite and is usually performed by two people; however, there are practices in which three, four, or even more people perform what is called applied kumite. When applied kumite is practiced by many people depending on how many are involve dthe person on the opposite side will be indicated.
Jiyu -kumite refers to the practice of using all the techniques you have learned until now against an opponent. You cannot be off your guard even a second.
This is a very serious training method. If you do it for enjoyment, you can get injured. Jiyu-kumite is not designed for deciding victory or defeat. It is the practice of offense and defense with the development of the techniques. You cannot improve if you always think about victory. As a matter of fact, you should not excite (or stimulate) your opponent more than needed when you practice kumite. You have to respect any opponent you have when you practice.
“You cannot improve if you always think about victory.”
In kumite, it is forbidden to attack your opponent with direct contact. As a principle, any technique you use will have to be stopped before it connects. However, when you are in defense, you have to practice as if you are actually being attacked. Any injuries in kumite are usually because of carelessness. Especially common i s the injury of fingers when the fist is opened. The fist needs to be firmly closed. Practicing using an open hand should be restricted until you improve enough.
There are eight kyo (opportunities) to take advantage of when you attack:
- Instantaneous kyo. Right before the opponent changes to the next movement.
- Right after the opponent has made a movement that was not effective.
- When the opponent lacks harmony between the techniques used and
- his mind, during both attack and defense.
- When the opponent’s mind is dispersed and is not really ready.
- When the opponent loses his balance when he makes a movement.
- Right before the opponent breathes in deeply.
- When the opponent is confused because of your movement.
- When the opponent is daunted by your tactics or ability.
The five unguarded moments you have to prevent when you are in defense:
- The unguarded moment in the mind.
- The unguarded moment in the spirit.
- The unguarded moment in the technique.
- The unguarded moment in the appearance.
- The unguarded moment in the act. (The same as in normal life, if you behave badly, you have to take responsibility for your actions.) If you use techniques that do not follow the rule, that is faulty.
(3) Yakusoku-Kumite by More Than Two People
Usually, yakusoku -kumite is done by two people. One does the attack and the other the defense. Practice by repeating the attacks and defenses as the preceding stage of jiyu-kumite and shiai-kumite. I especially recommend to students who have a black belt, or who are more than third-dan, to practice yakusoku-kumite against two or three opponents, besides the one-on-one practices. Jiyu-kumite and shiai-kumite (contest fighting) are both practiced by two people. For that reason some interpret that the practice against three or four people is the art of self-defense, which i s unreasonably emphasized in karate.
“It is how you judge to defend yourself when the danger comes suddenly that is important.”
However, the purpose of practicing is to build up your strength in kumite, and when you have many opponents, extreme reflexes are needed; therefore, you will improve changing your positions and the continuous techniques of uke (block) and tsuki (punch), technically and mentally.
Practicing is not done to win against many opponents, it is to grasp the opponents’ movements quickly and precisely and for yourself to gain the advantage. Moreover, even though most of these techniques are simple ones, you have to try hard to learn that these techniques can be useful and will eventually be performed unconsciously by repeating them over and over. To learn that when you have many opponents around you, that these opponents will take the most advantageous place and that you will be in the middle, a disadvantageous situation, will allow you to think and move with all your strength.
(4) Kumite of Self-Defense for Women
Editor’s note: While Yamaguchi’s portrayal of women in karate is not consistent with modern thinking in the west, his statements are interesting from a historical point perspective and show that he progressive in his thinking in a country once dominated by the male point of view.
Karate-do is spreading rapidly among men. As yet, there are not many women who want to learn karate-do. However, recently, some women who are interested in karate-do can be found here and there practicing in dojo. Few women are practicing karate with men, especially in foreign countries. There are classes just for women and more women are becoming interested in karate-do.
Since ancient times, the practice of karate-do was very strict and designed for fighting. For that reason, karate had unrelated techniques for women. However, as the eras went by, karate-do modernized and now, it is thought that through practicing kata many people start learning karate as a self-defense. When women want to learn karate-do, the purpose is for self-defense as explained above. The discipline acquired during the practice, character building through courtesy, and the increased body strength are all beneficial. From ancient times on, the techniques that are used for karate are adopted to the dance of the East and the dance of Okinawa. In dance, the meaning of the dance and the movements of the hands and legs of karate are taken in an aesthetic sense. Especially, the harmony of the systematic movements in a kata is worth performing without question, by both men and women. Compared to the powerful performances by men, the elegant performances by women can be equated to a dance. It is no exaggeration if I say there are elements of the stillness you can see in Noh (Japanese ancient dance) in the movements of karate, as well as the rhythm you can see in modern dance and the delicate balance of Thai dance.