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Karate consists of three basic elements known as the three K’s. Kihon, Kata and Kumite. The first element is the basics, the fundamental techniques of the art. The second element is kata. This is the combining of the basic techniques into pre-arranged forms. The third element is kumite. This is the element that takes the basic techniques and uses them in actual combat or fighting situations.
Kumite is divided into several stages. These assist the Karateka through the different levels in their development from beginner to black belt.
Once the basic attacking and blocking techniques of kihon ippon kumite have been learned the student can progress to Jiyu ippon kumite.
In kihon ippon kumite the basic attacks and counters are practised in a set and rigid way. With jiyu ippon kumite these basic techniques are practised in a more practical and efficient way with more freedom to develop ones own style and fighting stance. It also helps to develop Zanshin (awareness), Maai (distancing), and Unsoku (movement).
The first difference the student notices when starting to practise jiyu ippon kumite is the stance assumed by both the attacker and defender. In kihon ippon kumite the defender stands in a natural stance (shizentai), while the attacker is in front stance (zenkutsu dachi). With jiyu ippon kumite both the attacker and defender are in a fighting stance or Kamae.
The Kamae is a more manouverable stance than zenkutsu dachi. It allows the karateka to move easily and quickly in any direction. The hands are also in a more natural position as to allow quick and instantaneous bloc then attack.
In Kamae the feet are closer together than in zenkutsu dachi. The stance is also narrower as the feet are placed slightly less than hip width apart. This has the effect of raising the centre of gravity and making the stance less stable. Although this sounds detrimental it has the effect of making it easier and faster to move from this stance into attacking or defending stances as required. This is similar in principle to a fighter plane. A fighter plane is built so that it is unstable in flight. The onboard computer continually adjusts the trim of the plane to keep it in the air in a straight line. This instability though makes the plane highly manoeuvrable. If the plane was built to be stable in flight it would not be as effective because it would take longer to turn because of this stability. The same principle applies to the Kamae stance. The more unstable it is the more manoeuvrable it becomes.
Although the Kamae stance is very manoeuvrable a technique delivered from this stance will lack power because it has not been delivered from a solid base. Maximum power is achieved from a stable and strong stance. Therefore whether the student is going to attack or block an attack, it is important to move into the correct stance. A stable stance is one with a large base area and a low centre of gravity. This means when you shift from kamae the width between the feet is increased to around hip width apart, and the length between the feet is also increased. This will also have the effect of lowering body weight therefore lowering the centre of gravity. Both feet should be planted firmly on the ground to increase stability. To quote Masatoshi Nakayama
“Without balance, no technique can be effective, nor can a position be taken for the next technique. Defence against an attack then becomes impossible”.
If you assume a left kamae the left hand will be in roughly an uchi uke position, the right hand will be back close to the abdomen. From this position both hands are poised for both attack and defence. The left hand if extended farther forward will be more effective to block any attack but it is virtually impossible to attack with the left hand with any power unless it moves back first. From the uchi uke position the hand is always poised for a fast and powerful kizami zuki. At the same time it is also able to perform a quick and strong block such as age uke or osae uke. The right hand being back close to the abdomen again allows both defence and attack. From this position using a twist of the hips an extremely fast and strong gyaku zuki can be executed. Also from this position the right hand can block attacks that have passed the left hand.
The hip position of the kamae is also very important. If the hips are square to the front, the whole front of the body is exposed to any attack. By turning the hips into the half front facing position (hanmi) it reduces the effective target area of a frontal attack. If you go further and turn the hips completely side on, although you reduce the target area yet further, you also lose the effective use of the arm and leg that are behind. It takes a considerable amount of time to twist round before they become effective. Therefore the half front facing position is the best compromise.
The second important difference between ippon and jiyu ippon kumite is the kime. In ippon kumite the student blocks the attack and then counter attacks. This counter attack finishes just short of the target with kime and then stops. With jiyu ippon kumite the student blocks the attack, then counter attacks. On the end of this counter attack the defender kimes for a brief second. After this kime the defender immediately moves away from the opponent back into a kamae stance, ready in case another attack occurs.
In jiyu ippon kumite it is important to stay in a state of awareness (zanshin). When two students face each other both in kamae they should not concentrate or focus on the other’s eyes or any other part of the attacker’s body. If they focus on their opponent’s legs they will probably be hit by their opponent’s hands. The opposite is also true, if they focus on their opponents upper body then they will probably be hit with a kick. You should see all. Your eyes should feel as though they are looking at an object in the distance behind the opponent.
When the attack comes there are two ways of replying to it. Sen no sen - to seize the initiative, or Go no sen - to seize the initiative later.
When an attack is launched you respond by launching your attack which should be quicker, therefore beating your opponent to the target. For example, your opponent attacks oi zuki jodan. On seeing your opponent move forward to execute the oi zuki jodan you could immediately attack him by sliding forward with hidari kizami zuki. Alternatively you could slide forward again but this time deliver migi gyaku zuki. Both these attacks should be quicker than the oi zuki therefore beating your opponent to the target. Other responses in this category involve simultaneous block and counter attacks, such as sliding forward and executing hidari negashi uke, migi ura zuki. Another response, this time to oi zuki chudan could be hidari gedan barrai, migi mae geri. With any of the above techniques it is important after delivering the counter to move out of range and back into kamae quickly. You are then in a state of readiness of any further attacks
Go no sen involves blocking any attack strongly and then launching a counter attack. In the case of an oi zuki jodan attack the defender would shift back into zenkutsu dachi and execute a strong hidari age uke, and then deliver a migi gyaku zuki as a counter attack. An oi zuki chudan could be responded to by a hidari soto ude uke, migi gyaku zuki. Again after the counter it is important to shift out of range and back into kamae quickly.
With any of the above types of response be it a simultaneous block and counter as in sen no sen, or a separate block and counter as in go no sen, the timing is of great importance.
In sen no sen if you launch your attack too early your opponent will see what you are going to do before he has fully committed to his technique. Therefore he could change his attack accordingly and catch you off guard. If you launch your attack too late it is obvious your opponent will reach their target before you do. Therefore you should move as you see your opponent start to move. That way he will be fully committed to his technique and you will catch him off guard.
In go no sen you must time your block correctly with his incoming attack. If you miss-time the block either too early or too late your block will miss the attack, allowing it through to its target.
As Nakayama writes, “Under all circumstances in karate, space and time have limits. If these are ignored, good timing is impossible. Careful attention must be given to the speed of the opponent's attack and the distance between you and him, i.e., to distancing (maai). This is the most important part of timing.”
Sensei Kanazawa sums up Jiyu ippon kumite nicely by saying, “Unlike kihon ippon kumite wherein our own strength is used to block and counter attack, in this kumite we take advantage of the opponent’s strength and movement to double the power of the counter attack.”