Kumite in the Mind

Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Sensei's Corner | 0 comments

Sensei’s Corner – November 2007

Kumite in the Mind

Kumite is practiced with the intention of developing one’s ability to make learned physical habits spontaneous. When we practice kata, we practice a pre-arranged sequence of techniques. Although the kata are logical and pair natural and complimentary movements in sequence they are based upon artificial assumptions about how an imaginary attacker may behave. Doing kata correctly is one thing and applying proper technique to an unscripted attack is quite another. As a compliment to kata and pre-arranged kumite1, free kumite should be practiced to develop the spontaneous ability to apply technique. To be most effective though, we should consider the two most common pitfalls to free kumite that will limit its benefits. These pitfalls are scripting and zoning

Scripting is the process of predetermining a response before an attack is known or launched. Someone falling into this mode is thinking about a particular attack, thinking about a combination of attacks, or thinking beyond the next movement. The key word in all of this is “thinking.” The more attention paid to something that is not really happening, the less attention is being paid to what truly is happening. A stronger awareness of one’s imagination equals a weaker awareness of one’s reality. By planning a series of movements you have likely blinded yourself to the natural opportunities and openings left by your opponent.

Zoning is a state where you intently focused on your opponent’s potential attack. This can be likened to staring at the toaster and intently waiting for the toast to pop up. Invariably, despite your anticipation, you jump when it actually happens. Someone who is zoning does not move until their opponent moves. The first reaction is completely defensive with counter-striking only occurring as a second step following a block or evasive maneuver. By expending so much energy and focus on identifying an opening, your mind gets momentarily consumed with excitement when you find one. By the time you actually move to take advantage, the opening is gone.

Of course, these pitfalls are not limited to Karate-do training. We each may demonstrate these pitfalls in our daily lives. Do you spend your day wishing that something different was happening or that your situation was different? Do you spend a great deal of time thinking about what might happen to you tomorrow? Are you wanting things in your life to change but are just waiting for an opportunity to present itself to you? Many parallels can be drawn.

Effective free kumite is fluid. Like water you move naturally and spontaneously with your opponent. The brain is disengaged from the activity allowing the sum of your senses (sight, sound, and touch) to guide your movements. The key word is “feel.” As you feel openings develop you blend your movements with it. There is no distinction between blocks and strikes, attacks and counter-attacks. By moving in concert with your opponent you encourage the openings to develop without thoughts and without premeditation. To do this is to function fully in the physical world as opposed to the world that only exists in your imagination.

Everyone’s mind is capable of imagining and forming great works of art. There are few whose physical abilities and emotional dedication allow works of art to materialize in the physical world because our egos do not allow it2. Particularly with the martial arts, if your techniques are only effective in your mind then they are of little value to you at all. You must create circumstances in your training where you practice the spontaneous execution of effective technique. Some method of free kumite is the best way to do this.


1 Free kumite is a compliment to kata and pre-arranged kumite only. In the absence of kata free kumite develops poor habits by omitting a requirement for proper technique. It is not enough to have the fist or other striking surface make contact with the opponent’s vital points. It is also necessary to have proper balance, stance, timing, and kiai. Kata training is the basis for proper technique and free kumite must be a complimentary activity that encourages proper techniques from kata to become spontaneous.

2 Refer to Sensei’s Corner May 2007 “Egoless”

– Sensei Don Seiler