My First Kumite

I had my first kumite tonight. I’m not sure what it literally translates to, but I believe it’s something along the lines of “fight ring” or “tournament”, where two fighters and a referee are enclosed and trying to score points against each other.I have been keen to fight against a skilled karateka ever since I joined. I believe that battle is the best way of knowing someone. As the Last of the Handmaidens once said, it is a pure form of expression: heart and discipline reduced to movement and motion. Through it you can intimately understand a person’s nature, beliefs and character, as well as their power, speed and skill. I have been keen to understand the true nature of karate through battle, and tonight, after much anticipation, part of my wish was granted.

In Taekwondo, I learned how to spar tournament-style. Moving backwards and forwards (rarely to the sides) because of the limited space in the dojan, guard down or open to avoid hurting your opponent should they kick your arms, no striking or blocking… Unfortunately, I also trained to make light contact until it became a habit- when I kicked tonight, it was to connect or touch, not to strike or hit. I became, over a year and a half or so, reasonably proficient at learning to read kicks. Turning kicks, instep kicks and back kicks, at least. Front kicks were discouraged because of the side-on stance, minimising the target. The stance in karate is 45 degrees to the side, halfway in between. Finally, Taekwondo taught me to be light on my feet, to bounce on the balls and kick with speed and control.

Most of this proved useless against a karateka. Firstly, my kicks (while fast) were blocked by a strong guard and one or two gloved hands. They weren’t caught, they were blocked, unbalancing me and opening me long enough for a counter. While evasion (dodging, stepping back) has proved successful in the past, it was not enough to simply step back, step forward, counter. The karateka’s stance was light enough to move but firm enough to hold. The one kick I did land (a very satisfying hit to the ribs) did not have any power in it, because I’ve trained to make light contact rather than medium or heavy as necessary, so I didn’t score. As I continued to adjust my fighting style to try and meet him more evenly he kept adjusting his to stay one step ahead. When I finally stopped kicking and prepared to face him with the speed and accuracy of my hands alone, he grabbed my glove and pulled me in close enough to strike. I’m not sure how legitimate it was, or more importantly, how to counter it if I ever find myself in that situation again. The fight ended with roughly 5 points to him, 0 to me, with a punch to the jaw on top.

It’s not all negative though. I learned to keep a good guard up. I learned that kicks are a whole lot less effective when a person can move their hands rather than their body. I learned a little about moving to the side rather than backwards and forwards. I learned about the importance of a strong, yet mobile base. I learned a little of how to block. And I learned that I still have much to learn, which I will take up over time. Although disheartening, it is not reason enough to continue kicking myself (excuse the pun) over my inability. I am grateful for the experience, and am eager to continue training to understand the nature of karate.

The other highlight of my evening was being partnered with sensei for one of the drills. It was a warm up for the kumite– simply attack and the other person would counter when s/he was ready. Sensei and I were exchanging kicks. Or more accurately, I was being kicked from every angle imaginable and every time I tried to kick I would find myself off balance with a fist in my face. I was surprised I could not anticipate his attacks better- I have seen the path of much faster strikes. I eventually realised that it was because the techniques were different- turning kicks (roundhouse) don’t come from around, they come from the front in karate. Hook kicks don’t start as side kicks, they start as front kicks, and they don’t just snap at the head, they go around the guard to reach the target. Side kicks, my goodness, they come out of nowhere straight at you. And of course I couldn’t hope to touch sensei- he could see all my techniques coming, no matter how fast. My guess is that he’s just good at reading a person.

So while I was utterly defeated, I don’t think it was all such a bad thing. I’d certainly like to wear better gloves next time, and see if there’s any way I can continue to improve.

Oh! And the one other realisation I made. No matter how good your technique is, it’s useless if it can’t hit. So while I’ve learned how to focus my energy to penetrate through muscle and into organ, and while I’ve learned how to unbalance a person by shifting my own weight, and while I’ve learned to have a strong core and a graceful stance, none of it will count a bit in a fight unless it can be landed. And I just can’t see how techniques that take time to prepare for against a stationary opponent can be used when they are moving as quickly as you are.

Well, that’s it for karate, onto another post.


Fights are always messier than training. When the aim is to defend yourself or harm your opponent at all costs, technique and accuracy are forfeited in favour of power and speed. This is inefficient, and the urge to do so must be resisted. It’s easy to set up targets and strike them with power in training, while your partner is cooperative or at least not resisting. It is difficult to land the same strike if your opponent is trying to hit you or moving in such a way as to make setting up good technique difficult.

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