Kumite (組手) means sparring, and is one of the three main sections of karate training, along with kata and kihon. Kumite is the part of karate in which you train against an adversary, using the techniques learned from the kihon and kata.

Kumite can be used to develop a particular technique or a skill (e.g. effectively judging and adjusting your distance from your opponent) or it can be done in competition.

Since the word “kumite” refers to forms of sparring, it covers a vast range of activities. In traditional Shotokan karate, the first type of kumite for beginners is gohon kumite. The defender steps back each time, blocking the attacks and performing a counterattack after the last block. This activity looks nothing like the jiyu kumite (or “free sparring”) practiced by more advanced practitioners, which is far closer to how karate would look if used in a real fight, especially because it is not choreographed. Karate and other forms of martial arts have various other types of kumite (e.g. 3-step, 1-step, semi-free, etc.) which span this large range in styles of practice.

Types of Kumite:

  • Ippon kumite – one step sparring, typically used for self defense drills
  • Sanbon kumite – three step sparring, typically used to develop speed, strength, and technique
  • Kiso kumite – structured sparring drawn from a kata
  • Jiyu kumite – free sparring