Kata as Kumite

Modern karate, I believe, has strayed from the correct path, with many instructors separating the practice of kata and kumite. They think the two are not the same thing. I disagree with this point of view.

When I started karate, in 1981, I enjoyed both kata and kumite, but we trained in them separately. It was hard at first to see a connection between the two. As I gained more understanding of the kata, I saw that they contained the real kumite. I also understood that many people wanted to learn to fight only, and did not have the patience to master the moves of kata. So, over time, instructors have split the two and lost the ‘realism’ inherent in kata. Sport karate grew out of this split.

O-Sensei was both a gifted fighter and kata man. For him, there was no difference between kata and kumite.

When kata is treated as different than kumite, then the proper progression of movement to movement is not fully learned. A person can learn how to do kumite, and can become quite good at it, but the kumite is a response to a familiar and limited number of attacks, as defined by the dojo or tournament rules. When kumite is learned with the mindset that almost anything can happen, then the kata in the kumite can be observed. This type of training helps develop a calm mind that can react to anything.

On the other hand, if kata is done without kumite thinking, then the essence of the kata is lost. Kata is kumite and kumite is kata – they are interwoven. Of course, they can be learned separately and a karateka can become good at them both. However, taken together they will propel him or her to a higher level of training.

The kata include all aspects of defence and offence, and all types of target areas. If one performs kata only for a score in a tournament, then it is merely a pretty dance. If one carefully researches how and why movements are done, and their real applications, then the kumite that is in the kata will be discovered. And it will change how the kata is performed.

I believe one could practise nothing but kata, seriously researching the moves, and never do kumite separately, and become a very skilled fighter. This of course is not the kumite of tournaments. This is the kumite of life or death, where the winner is the one who is still alive. I regard the applications of the kata as the true reality of training.

—Peter Zehr
5th dan
Grey-Bruce Ryusei Karate