Kumite as a Training Method vs. Kumite as a Goal 3

There are many different ways to spar, but almost everyone who spars does so to become better at sparring.  When sparring is the goal of a person’s training, then what you are training is a combat sport, but not necessarily a martial art.  MMA fighters, boxers, submission grapplers–all of them train and spar to get better at sparring so that they can compete against other similarly-trained athletes by sparring harder against them. If this is the intent of your training, then kumite as a goal is perfectly acceptable. A problem arises, however, when you want to develop your self defense skills but still treat kumite as a goal rather than as a training method.

Typical point sparring competition

When I first started training in karate I did point sparring–you faced off with your opponent and the first one to land a strike (little or no contact) scored a point, at which time you were reset at your starting positions to repeat the process until someone accumulated 3 points.  This is a very specific type of sparring that you can only become effective at by participating in it more often, and if you do that then you are training to get better at sparring.

Me (right) sparring at an open sparring event last May

Now when I spar, we use controlled contact (usually between 30% and 60% power for adults, depending on who you are sparring) continuous sparring where we face off with our opponent and then spar until the timer goes off.  This is a more free-form method of sparring, and the contact is great for learning how to fight through being struck and how committed you need to be in your defense. From a self defense standpoint, this is a much better type of sparring than point sparring, but it is still something you have to train to get better at.

What kumite should be

What sparring should be, and what I would like to move toward in my own training, is a training device to become more effective in self defense.  This means utilizing sparring as a live self defense drill, rather than as a competitive kickboxing or MMA match.  There should be no timer, no points and no set starting positions.  There should be contact from both participants, one of whom should be the attacker while the other defends, and the attacker should utilize realistic attacks (hook kicks, for example, are not a realistic attack) and should not stop their attack until the defender has ended the threat.  This takes cooperation from both participants, of course, and some precautions must be taken for safety’s sake (eye strikes should be to the forehead, for example) but I feel that this is a much more effective use of kumite.  The word “use” is the key, there, because right now I do not feel that most of us actually “use” kumite, because we aren’t utilizing it as a training tool but instead as a sport that happens to have parallels with our training.

Competitive MMA sparring

If you train specifically to be good at competition fighting then it makes sense for sparring to be a goal, but if the goal of your training is to become effective at defending yourself, you may want to re-evaluate your sparring.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.

3 thoughts on “Kumite as a Training Method vs. Kumite as a Goal

  • Kamil Devonish


    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and you seem to be a kindred spirit. I’m looking to open my own dojo in the next few months. I have a methodology for a novel approach to kumite for self-defense, in the spirit of the old okinawan kake dameshi tests. I’ve been incorporating parts of different point-fighting, full contact, ippon-ken and randori systems. I’d love for you to take a look and give me your thoughts. Send me an email to kamil.devonish@gmail.com and I’ll forward it to you.

  • Travels in the Martial Arts

    Hi Noah.
    I have been in the traditional martial arts for about 8 years, and only recently starting practicing MMA and Muay Thai to get a taste for what else is out there. The sparring I have been enjoying (and learning from!) in that realm of training has been incredibly enjoyable, but what you are describing in this post is what I picture as the real -ideal- form of sparring; according to my goals as a martial artist, that is.

    I think you really hit the nail on the head in explaining the utility and nature of this type of “cooperative sparring”. It is really an amazing form of training, fantastic training tool, and great breeder of camaraderie, especially between schools. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, and here’s to many more for you.

    Charles van Rees/Travels in the Martial Arts

    • Noah

      Thanks, Charles! I definitely want to shift gears in my training so that I can more closely align it to my goals, which is what I have tried to explain through this post and others. I think that the biggest problem is finding training partners who also want to train this way, because so many martial artists are so set in their current ways it can be hard to convince them to try something like this. I’m glad you are enjoying the learning experiences of cross training, and I hope that your training helps build your own personal system of martial arts!

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