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Before beginning sparring practice, it is customary that you bow to your partner. Customs like this help maintain an ambience of seriousness and consideration for others.
For structured sparring (Gohon, Sanbon, & Ippon kumite), the defender will be in Shizen dachi (natural stance), and the attacker in forward stance (zenkutsu dachi). The attacker should set their distance by stepping forward and placing their fist about 2 inches from their target. Do not reach while setting your target, keep the shoulders and hips square. Once the distance and target are set, the attacker takes one step back, and you are ready to begin with the partners taking turns advancing and retreating. Always announce your target and wait for affirmation from your partner. This will help to prevent any unnecessary surprises.
Once again, as we did before practice, it is customary to bow to your partner upon completion of your kumite drill. Remember, when sparring with a partner, you are helping one another to improve; not trying to win. Show respect and consideration.
Gohon kumite, or 5 step sparring, is the initial stage of kumite training. Students work with a partner in a strong forward stance (zenkutsu dachi) advancing and retreating with strong punches, kicks, and blocks. After their announcement, the attacker steps forward with a technique. As they do so, the defender steps back from natural stance into forward stance, and executes a block. On the 5th block, the defender must counter-attack, with the most typical counterattack being the reverse punch (gyaku zuki).
The purpose of five step sparring is to learn to time blocks with attacks, maintain formal, fundamental structure under pressure, and develop accurate targets and proper distancing (ma-ai). Strong basics must be demonstrated including knee position, square hips and shoulders on the attack, and hips at 45 degrees on the blocks. Five attacks gives the students five opportunities to correct and strengthen these training goals. Gohon kumite is utilized as a training exercise in the dojo and is not a requirement for examinations.
Sanbon kumite, or 3 step sparring, follows the exact same rules of etiquette and training structure as Gohon kumite, but restricts the students to only three opportunities to perfect their techniques, targets and distancing. The counter-attack is now executed on the third technique.
Sanbon kumite is the first kumite element encountered in the karate-ka's examination syllabus. This exercise is demonstrated in front of the examiner for 8th and 7th kyu (yellow & orange belt).
Ippon kumite, or one step sparring, follows the exact same rules of etiquette and training structure as Gohon and Sanbon kumite, but restricts the students to only one opportunity to demonstrate proper technique, target and distancing. At this stage, setting target and distance prior to commencing should not be required of the students. The counter-attack is now executed after each blocking technique, therefore, learning to reduce the time between blocking and counter-attacking becomes more important. The attacker learns to make single, explosive attacks and learns to reduce telegraphing the attacks, while the defender learns to recognize incoming attacks and to react accordingly.
Ippon kumite is the best method for handling various attacks and kicking techniqes. It is also superior for practicing evasion, since doing so for multiple step techniques will continually put the defender off-line. The nature of this exercise now allows for different iterations for one step sparring such as, changing footwork, angles, evasion, or even having the attacker counter-attack the defenders counter-attack. The possibilities are endless.
Ippon kumite is demonstrated in front of the examiner for 6th kyu to 3rd kyu (green to brown belt). During an examination, the student must demonstrate various different counter-attacks in response to the sequence of attacks put toward them.
Jyu-Ippon kumite, or semi free-style sparring, follows the exact same rules of etiquette and training structure as Ippon kumite, with the one exception being that both partners are free to move around in a free-style posture and stance, as opposed to Ippon kumite's static, ready posture and stance. As in Ippon kumite, partners are restricted to one attack, and one block and counter.
Once the technique is announced, both the attacker and defender are free to move around, with the attacker looking for their best opportunity to advance. This teaches the student to recognize opportunities, take advantage of targets presented to them, and react accordingly. Once the attack is initiated from free-style stance, strong foundation and basics must be demonstrated by both students with the same structure as Ippon kumite.
As in Ippon kumite, Jyu-Ippon is the best method for handling various attacks and kicking techniqes, as well as practicing evasion. Given it's unrestricted free-style component, Jyu-Ippon kumite allows for endless options and iterations for attacking and defending. It is the last stepping stone towards free-style fighting (jyu kumite).
Jyu-Ippon kumite is demonstrated in front of the examiner for 2nd and 1st kyu (brown belt). During an examination, the student must demonstrate various different counter-attacks in response to the sequence of attacks put toward them. Fist protectors (sparring mitts) are warn when practicing and demonstrating Jyu-Ippon kumite.
Jyu kumite, or free-style sparring, follows the exact same rules of etiquette and training structure as Jyu-Ippon kumite, but now there are no restrictions placed on the students other than good control with their techniques. Each partner is free to move around in a free-style stance, looking for opportunities to attack. Attacks can be multiple or just a single blow. In Jyu kumite, there are two strategies during a fight. One is to simply attack, and the other is to react to the opponents attack, and counter-attack before the opponent can complete their attack.
Jyu kumite is demonstrated in front of the examiner for all dan level (black belt) examinations. Fist protectors (sparring mitts) are warn when practicing and demonstrating Jyu kumite.
At the Hinode Shotokan Karate Club, all students are required to become proficient at their designated level of kumite; however, along with strong enforcement of this policy, all students are given the opportunity to practice Jyu kumite. The sooner you become proficient at free-style, the more comfortable you will be when you test for Shodan.