Karate Basics - Kumite Explained
Kumite 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 opponent, using the techniques learnt 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.
Many styles feel it is important that Karate-ka 'pull their punches'. Karate training is designed to give its practitioners the ability to deliver devastating power through techniques like punches and kicks. Often the aim of training is that each single strike should be enough to kill the opponent. However, this clearly would make it difficult to find anyone willing to spar against you to improve your technique! Therefore, whilst sparring in Karate, most Karate students normally aim to deliver strikes with the maximum speed and power possible, but to stop them at the moment of contact (or just before contact, at lower levels of experience) so that your opponent is not injured. Far from rendering the sparring pointless, this method of training greatly improves the control you have over your strikes, which is an invaluable skill when combined with the ability to deliver a forceful strike.
Some styles of Karate (e.g. full contact Karate) focus more on sparring whilst wearing full protective gear so that strikes can be delivered with their full power. Most Karate clubs and most styles of Karate make use of some sparring with control ('pulling punches') and some sparring with protective gear (from just gloves up to full head and chest guards). Even in full contact Karate, punches are often 'pulled' to some extent to minimize the occurrence of injuries that would interrupt training for the participating students. Nevertheless, it is believed by many that practicing either type of sparring allows the martial artist to develop both control and experience in delivering powerful strikes against an opponent. However, many practitioners of full contact Karate believe that full contact/full force strikes and kicks should be employed as much as possible because they believe that 'pulling' the strikes can have a negative effect on the striking power of the Karate practitioner.
However, a few more traditional clubs that never use protective gear for sparring (except groin and mouth guards that protect against accidental injuries) argue that a Karate-ka will not be able to make their most powerful strike when sparring in the Dojo (against a friend who they no doubt do not want to kill) even if this opponent is wearing protective clothing. Therefore, the Karate-ka will still be using some level of control, as is obviously necessary, and cannot truly capture the spirit of one lethal strike whilst sparring. Except for a life or death self-defence situation, the spirit and power of the single lethal strike can only be achieved when a Karate-ka does not have to avoid injuring their training partner. The traditionalists therefore argue that there is no benefit to sparring with more forceful strikes.