By Ethan B. Miller
Among the discussions that commonly come up about Kyu and Dan Kumite is the effectiveness of the kumites as tools for training towards real confrontations. Sometimes the commentary seems to negate the worthiness of these drills entirely. This seems to me to be completely wrong-headed. If you take a commonsense approach to analysis the drills you might see what I mean. Both Uechi-Ryu kumites are in the mid-range of complexity in terms of the rank they were intended for – by this I mean the Kyu Kumite has a duration that is not the longest and not the shortest in comparison to other systems. The same goes for the Dan Kumite, which while more complex for the Dan grades, is of a medium duration. Anyone who remembers the Fukien fighters from the Year of the Tiger Summer Camp can remember the lengthy two-person sets they demonstrated. On the other hand many Japanese systems have individual sets of only 3 moves.
The intention of these two kumites is to bring about a physically better prepared karate student. It also does a few others things to a lesser degree. I believe the physical karate skills are what it teaches the best. What you learn in Kyu Kumite is basic Uechi-Ryu punching, kicking and blocking applied in a controlled fashion against another person. The kumites teach neuro-muscular programming and response to stimulus. They teach understanding distancing, and focusing on targets. Out of necessity they teach cooperation with a partner. If your blocks are lousy and punches are often off target the increased stressors of working with a partner will show it clearly – and allow an opportunity to correct it. They also stress the need for good body mechanics;
Hip motion, connectedness of hand to hip, hip to foot, general body control and efficiency.
What don’t they do? Well, they won’t teach you how to do a big back flip off a high board. And it won’t train you to fight in a NHB match. Since by nature the exercise is cooperative, it is not the best for contact sparring of a competitive nature. It is not going to harden your forearms or in do much in the way of increasing your flexibility. However, with certain enhancements that some gifted instructors are already doing you can work your mastery of these kumites to your advantage. Recently, we saw Sensei Jimmy Maloney demonstrate his enhanced Dan Kumite as an extremely efficient self-defense application enabling greater speed and effectiveness of his strikes and blocks – with a few surprising adaptations which you would have had to see to believe. Also at the “Hut” in Newton instructors are demonstrating an evolutionary adaptation where the competent Dan Kumises practitioner extends the steps in the Dan Kumite to expose different applications, again increase the mental and physical challenge that the kumite presents. So it is really in the hands of the practitioner once they have a good understanding of the drills.
Here is an application for the contact fighter who needs to practice rhythm and awareness training. Rhythm is often forgotten or misunderstood, but as a tool to get to be a more complete fighter it is one of the most cheaply bought – at least to a certain level. Here is the exercise. Before starting the kumite with your partner, demonstrate three speeds you will be working with – slow, medium and fast. Medium is your normal (comfortable) speed for the kumite. I would stress that this is an exercise that you should do with a partner with whom you have experience and both partners must be honest when they demonstrate their 3 speeds. With the beginning of each set in the kumite the adversaries start from a complete standstill. The Defender must be ready for whichever speed the Attacker chooses. For the attacker it is his or her opportunity to be Pedro Martinez and “catch” his opponent. Pity the poor defender who gets caught by a good old fashioned “change-up.”
The idea behind this exercise is to enhance the difficulty and add a degree of competitiveness while not sacrificing the integrity of the movements or wasting the advantage of having learned such a valuable set in the first place! When the idea of three separate speeds and good “catching” of the same is mastered you can add another evolution: A new technique….
Best wishes training,
Ethan B. Miller