In a karate forum recently, someone mentioned that the kumite that we practice is play fighting, and has no real bearing on ‘real-life’ fighting. I disagreed and this is what I posted (edited).

“If I may speak frank,  you say this because you have never been taught or understood the principles of “controlled contact” sparring. In modern kumite, both parties stop and start again when a ‘point’ has been scored. This is similar to real-life fighting. Both parties stop because one has been put on his backside. The only difference is in the depth of the control of the technique. This is not the same in boxing when they have big padded gloves, get hit for 3 minutes and continue to fight on.

Hang on, what about the tippy-tappy punches? Yes, there are some organisations and clubs out there who ‘score’ crappy techniques that wouldn’t hurt a fly, as they also don’t understand, and have modified rules for safety reasons. But I see this as scarier than being controlled contact as both parties know that if they rush in, they will either get hit or have brown pants. The fear of being hit (or the thought of ‘hang on, if that bloke hadn’t have controlled his technique, I would be breathing through a straw’) is one that should be running through the person’s head every time they go out to spar.

And what about the bouncy bouncy? Well, as it is a modern 2/3 minute duel, kumite has evolved into sporting elements and this is the fastest and easiest way to win. “Bouncy bouncy” doesn’t work in real-life, but the principles of moving – closest leg first, weight shifting, angles, etc. do.

Edit – In my dojo, there is hardly any contact, but that doesn’t mean my guys can’t hit. On the contrary, it is the control, and the way they can distinguish between the depth of control and when to use it, is more potent than wild 8 punch combo’s.”

It has been my experience that there are many out there, both referees and competitors, who can’t quite grasp the meaning of kumite. Some practise it for sporting reasons, and that is fine, but there are so many principles that relate to self-defense as well which many miss.


Cheyne McMahon
Senior Instructor
Australian Karate Academy
Phone: 0403 350 339

“Helping you become fitter, faster, and better able to stand up for yourself”


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