Kata Lab # 2130: Kata-Kumite-Ichi

26 Jan


Had I mastered mere technique without theory, I would have ended up merely a simple recorder, mechanically teaching what I learned without creative development of ideas. (See Endnote # 1)


All too often, western karate-do curriculum teaches kata as separate and distinct from kumite. Many Dojo have segregated the two topics so that they are taught in separate training sessions. A typical example of a three day a week training schedule often goes something like this: Monday night: stretching, conditioning and drills, Wednesday night: kata night (which includes, basics, (possibly) physical bunkai and kata drills) and Friday night: kumite night, which includes jiyu-kumite, ippon kumite and kumite drills.

Rarely, if ever, have I seen Dojo that integrate kata and kumite to the extent shown in this Kata Lab. Incidentally, this Lab was standard procedure at my Issho-Dojo where the idea of Kata-Kumte-Ichi was omnipresent. To integrate kata and kumite takes work, effort, frustration and dedication.

The purpose of this Kata Lab is to provide a basic means to start the integration process. While basic, for the uninitiated, it will provide quite a challenge. If the reader applies determination and sweat, this Kata Lab will bear fruit. It will allow the practitioner to progress to the next levels of physical bunkai of kata beyond the ken of the majority of karate-ka.

Experiment: (Recommended reader participation

This Kata Lab is best performed with three people, two participants and one acting as a moderator. Naturally, all three should change roles throughout the Lab.

  • The two participants should face each other, slightly askew (not in a direct line) and at a greater distance than normal for kumite practice;
  • Each participant starts to perform either the same kata or each perform a kata of their choice;
  • It is IMPERATIVE that the kata be performed with the mental attitude and physical commitment as if your life was at stake! You must perform the kata as if you are in a real  street fight!;
  • At a random point in the kata performance, the moderator calls out a command for the two performers to engage in kumite;
  • The kumite is limited to only about 30 to 45 seconds (no dancing or “sparring”);
  • The kumite MUST be performed at half speed and half power;
  • After the time limit for kumite, the moderator will signal to stop kumite – the performers freeze in place and in whatever direction they are facing;
  • The two performers then return to performing their kata, BUT they begin at the point where they left off and finish the kata (they begin in whatever direction they are facing regardless of the direction they started the kata);
  • Therefore, while engaged in kumite, they performers must be mindful of their kata, specifically where they paused the performance for kumite.

Keep in mind:

  • The emphasis is on the kata, not the kumite. It is for that reason that the kata is to be performed as a fight and the kumite at half speed and power;
  • The moderator MUST pay attention to the kata so that he can:
  •        – insure that each performer re-starts the kata from where they left off;
  •        – the kata is performed correctly
  •        – as such, there is as much pressure on the moderator as the performer.

Here is a video I filmed at the spectacular Lower Salt River, Arizona which gives you the general idea of interrupting your kata. The video uses a “natural makiwara” in lieu of kumite, but the concept is the same.

NOTE: you may notice that due to variations of the kata being performed and the random nature of the moderators command to engage in kumite, the performers may be some distance apart. This will be overcome in the future by combining this drill with my kata deconstruction technique. Do not adjust the kumite time, if the two performers can not either close the distance or figure out an alternative means to engage in kumite (hint) the fact that they could not adequately engage in kumite in the 30 to 45 seconds is their problem.


This Kata Lab is a challenging means of integrating the idea of “Kata-Kumite Ichi”, Kata and kumite are one. When one is performing kata, one is engaging in kumite and vice-versa.

The Lab also provides a spring board for more difficult kata and kumite integration using  my kata deconstruction techniques.

Most importantly, the performers will be able to use techniques from kata in actual jiyu kumite. No more “Sparring combinations” that are not grounded in kata. Kata-Kumite Ichi.

While physical bunkai (analysis) of kata greatly improve, spiritual or mental bunkai will begin to be fostered. The proper mindset for kata will begin to take root and grow within the performer.

Please remember, the mandate of the kata laboratory is

lab-collage-6HANKOCum superiorum privilegio veniaque (With the privilege and permission of the superiors)

Sensei John Szmitkowski

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1. Toguchi, Seikichi-Sensei, Okinawa Goju-Ryu: The fundamentals of Shorei-Kan Karate. (O-Hara Publications, Burbank, CA, 1976) p. 17

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