Sunday, 21 June 2009

Kumite - it's not about fighting

I attended an extra kumite/fitness training session yesterday with my club. Sensei puts these sessions on about every 4-6 weeks and it allows us to focus just on this one aspect of karate (plus a bit of circuit training at the end). These sessions are open to anyone from his 3 clubs (approx. 160 people) and 10 of us turned up!

This is a shame because this extra session was to help us prepare for an 'in house' kumite competition next month. Alas not many people have put their names forward for this either (which contrasts with the very good turnout we had for the in-house kata competition held a couple of months ago).

So why do people shy away from kumite? Remember we do non-contact kumite (touch contact in reality) so you're not going to get hurt.

I think people misunderstand what non-contact sparring is about or what it can teach you. To me this kind of sparring is not about fighting- you have to actually hit people to have a fight and feel some aggression towards them. So if it's not about fighting what is it about and what use is it?

On the physical side it improves fitness and endurance; it speeds up your reactions and it makes you observe your opponent very carefully. It doesn't teach you any techniques that would be useful in a street attack, but it doesn't try to - it's a sport. However, it does teach you mental techniques that would help you in a self-defence situation.

In fact I think it is the mental benefits that really brings kumite training into its own. When sparring you have to find the courage to face your opponent and have a physical confrontation with them. For some people that is very difficult, some people have to dig pretty deep inside themselves to find that courage, but I do believe it's inside all of us somewhere - training will help bring it out.

It also teaches you resilience, determination, patience, self-control and awareness. These are all positive character traits that may help you in a real attack situation if you are ever unlucky enough to be in one, but they will certainly help you in other areas of your life - your work, interpersonal-relationships or just dealing with any situation or challenge that life throws at you.

So next time you have a chance to do sparring, don't shy away from it, rise to the challenge. Remember - it's not about fighting, it's about finding something deep within you.

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John W. Zimmer said...

Hi Sue,

I have never tried non-contact sparring. Does you school also do semi or full contact sparring?

The schools I have been trained, (Lima Lama & Kenpo) used semi contact sparring that equated to full contact to the body (including the groin) and kiss contact to the head (so the head did not snap back when struck).

I found I was able to transition to full contact sparring easily when I got used to the concept of not stopping after I got a point.

Having stated my frame of reference I do not see why non-contact fighting would not be easily transferable to street or full contact fighting because if one gets awarded a point - does not the potential power of the strike have to be demonstrated? Meaning kick or punch cannot be fully extended (thereby limiting the power if it had to punch/kick through the target)?

I would view non-contact sparring much like fencing compares to broadsword fighting. Both would be deadly but have different degrees of contact while practicing.

I know in many formal styles where non-contact sparring has transitioned to full contact kick boxing or MMA - they have been able to transition.

Another thought provoking post.

Sue C said...

John - we only do non-contact sparring. Though I agree that (with training) we could progress to full-contact sparring that wasn't really the point I was trying to make.

In our club we have quite a few 'reluctant' sparrers, particularly amongst the women. It is a grading requirement that they demonstrate some sparring ability so they have to do it but some find the idea of 'fighting' a bit distasteful and fear getting hurt or hurting others. Sparring has a very negative image for them.

What I was trying to do was to bring out some positive features of learning to spar in terms of developing mental toughness, courage, resilience etc. If they can change the way they view sparring they may be more willing to give it a go.

I still don't think sparring, as I interpret it, would be of much value to a woman in a street attack. There is no way a woman can puch a man with a bare fist and hurt him and sparring kicks are too high for street fighting. A woman is much better off using palm heel strikes, elbow strikes, low kicks to groin or knees, biting, scratching etc - non of which is allowed in sparring.

However your interpretation of sparring may be different to mine. It's odd how we only have one word in martial arts to describe many different forms of fighting from the quick, light non-contact forms designed purely as a sport to the full on reality based fighting systems designed to be effective in the street. You're never quite sure whether you are talking about the same thing when you use the word 'sparring' with someone.


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