Jiyu-ippon kumite

Jiyu-ippon kumite

Jiyu-ippon kumite means ‘free one-step sparring’ and it is at this level that the Karate practitioner starts entering advanced kumite drills and begins to hone their free-sparring and fighting skills.  Jiyu-ippon kumite is generally introduced at Brown belt level and is the focus kumite for all Brown belt grades and first Black belt (Shodan).

The aim of ‘free one-step sparring’ is to provide the Karate student with a method of developing quick reactions and appropriate and effective defenses against a sudden attack.  The method of jiyu-ippon kumite is to state the kind of attack and then to attack with strong spirit and purpose, always trying to catch the defender off guard or off balance.  The defender should try to read the attacker’s feints and movements through focusing on the attacker’s breathing while staying as calm as possible inside.  By doing this the defender can react with poise and skill and effectively block and counter all attacks.

Once again, like kihon-ippon kumite, jiyu-ippon kumite has many set defenses to learn and remember.  The different kinds of attack are front punch to the head, front punch to the body, front kick, side kick, roundhouse kick, back kick, front snap punch and reverse punch.  There are a total of 33 set defenses in Kanazawa-sensei’s syllabus to remember from left and right stances although only about 8 different defenses are tested on a grading, usually chosen by the examinee but at the higher levels can be chosen at random by the examiner.

Please refer to Master Hirokazu Kanazawa’s book “Karate Fighting Techniques – The Complete Kumite” for a pictorial move-by-move explanation of all the set defenses or to his DVD series “Mastering Karate.”  The members only section of this website also shows all of the necessary kumite drills at the different ranks.

Kihon-ippon kumite

Kihon-ippon kumite

Kihon-ippon kumite means ‘basic one-step sparring’ and it is at this level that you really have to start switching the brain on as there are a lot of set defenses to learn at this stage of your training.  Kihon-ippon kumite is generally introduced at the intermediate level, meaning from 6th through 4th kyu and continuing at Brown belt level (3rd kyu and above).

The concept of basic one-step sparring is that one attack is countered effectively and decisively by one defense followed by a finishing blow or strike.

With basic one-step sparring there are several different defenses that the practitioner should memorize at different levels.  The different kinds of attack are front punch to the head, front punch to the body, front kick, side thrust kick and roundhouse kick.  For each kind of attack there are several set defenses although the testing requirements and knowledge content increase with each step towards the first brown belt (3rd Kyu).

There are 6 set defenses for each of the head punch, body punch and front kick attacks and 3 set defenses for each of the sidekick and roundhouse kick attacks making a total of 24 set defenses to memorize.  Generally the practitioner is only required to demonstrate 8 different defenses from either left and/or right sides and for brown belt should be ready to demonstrate a series of defenses at random call by the examiner from both left and right sides.

As there are so many set defenses to practise it is impractical to explain each one in detail so I highly recommend that students purchase the SKIF-USA Grading Syllabus along with Master Hirokazu Kanazawa’s book “Karate Fighting Techniques – The Complete Kumite”.  Another great resource is the “Mastering Karate” DVD set, also by Master Kanazawa, specifically the “Kumite” DVD.  My own new DVD set “Shotokan Karate—The Complete Curriculum” also covers all of the necessary kumite drills.

Sanbon Kumite

Sanbon Kumite

Sanbon Kumite means ‘three-step sparring’ and like Gohon Kumite refers to the three forward and backward steps taken by each opponent depending on whether you are the attacker or the defender.  Sanbon Kumite once again drills attacks and defenses just like Gohon Kumite.  The main difference however is that the attacker delivers three consecutive attacks of a different nature, i.e. front punch to the head, front punch to the body and front kick, as opposed to five front punches to the head.

This variance in the kind of attack and the level of the attack makes Sanbon Kumite a little more advanced than Gohon Kumite, although it is still predominantly practiced at the lower level ranks.

The attack in Sanbon Kumite is always fixed and is front punch to the head followed by front punch to the body followed by front kick.  At the higher level the order of attacks can be changed and at times the kind of attack can be changed if practicing modified Sanbon Kumite.  There are five official defense sets in the S.K.I.F. syllabus, although only the first two sets are tested in the lower rank grading.  Intermediate and advanced practitioners should know all five set defenses and be able to perform modified versions of the set defenses too.

No.1 defense requires the attacker to block the head punch with a rising block, the body punch with an outer block and the front kick with a downward block before countering with a reverse punch.

No.2 defense requires the attacker to block the head punch with a rising block (like no.1), the body punch with an inside block, the front kick with a reverse downward block (opposite hand to the front leg) before countering with a double punch combination to the head and then body.

Grading candidates at the lower level ranks are expected to demonstrate these defenses from left side only at 8th kyu to 7th kyu and from left and right sides from 7th kyu to 6th kyu.

Gohon Kumite

Gohon Kumite

Gohon Kumite means ‘five-step sparring’ because both opponents take five steps when performing this kind of kumite.  The attacker takes five consecutive steps forward, each time executing either a front punch to the head (no.1) or a front punch to the body (no.2) and the defender takes five consecutive steps backwards in response to the attack executing either a rising block (no.1) or an outer block (no.2) and finishing with a reverse punch to counter after the final block.

The goal of five-step sparring is to drill the two main components of kumite, one being ‘attack’ and the other being ‘defense’.  Both opponents must learn to be in tune with one another and move together in their attacks and defenses rather than one at a time.  It is hoped that through repeated practice of this kind of kumite the practitioner will develop powerful and purposeful attacks, effective blocks, strong stances, quick foot movement and good focus.

This kind of kumite is generally practiced at the beginner level although it of course has a place in the training regimen of the more advanced practitioner through the implementation of different attacks such as front kick and roundhouse kick and different defenses such as downward block and inside block, again finishing with reverse punch.

The grading candidate should be ready to demonstrate Gohon Kumite from both left and right sides although he/she will probably only be asked to show proficiency from the left side at the beginning level.



Kihon (basics) are probably the most boring and repetitive aspect of your Karate training but the most important.  Basics consist of punches, kicks, blocks and strikes and are generally practiced by means of multiple repetitions up and down in the lines to count.  Basics can not be neglected unfortunately because without strong basics the Karate practitioner will have a weak foundation on which to build and as stated in the Training Tips introduction paragraph on basics the foundation of your Karate training is critically important to your ultimate success as a Karate practitioner.

Just as a teacher needs to know how to explain things in simple terms, just as an accountant needs to explain what numbers mean and just as a writer needs to adequately express thoughts in words, a competent Karate practitioner would be lost without a solid foundation in basics.

Some tips for improving basics are as follows:

             – accept that practice in basics is necessary;

             – practice your basics repetitively to the point of exhaustion;

             – do basics slowly, at half-speed and at full speed (when doing basics slowly work on your focus and concentration, when doing basics half-speed work on technique and when doing basics full-speed work on speed and power);

             – never think that you have mastered a technique … continue to practice;

             – spirit is centered in your mind, character is centered in your chest and power is found in your hara (belly), if all three work against each other your basics are at their weakest, if all three work in harmony your basics will be stronger than you could ever imagine;

             – always remember when practicing basics that “simple is best”;

             – at the highest level basics only work if they are adapted to one’s strengths and not one’s weaknesses.

Intermediate Kata

Intermediate Kata

There are six intermediate kata in the Shotokan style, that is if you include Tekki Shodan as an intermediate kata and not a basic kata.  However, based on its technical difficulty as well as its completely different embusen (performance line) to the basic kata, Tekki Shodan is most definitely at the intermediate level.

The six intermediate kata are as follows (for full kata demonstrations please see our members only section):

  • Tekki Shodan;
  • Bassai-dai;
  • Kanku-dai;
  • Enpi;
  • Jion;
  • Jitte.

Basic Kata

Basic Kata

In the style of Shotokan Karate there are 26 officially recognized kata, comprising 5 basic kata, 6 intermediate kata and 15 advanced kata.  This page covers the basic kata.

The basic Shotokan kata are called Heian kata and include Heian Shodan, Heian Nidan, Heian Sandan, Heian Yondan and Heian Godan.

Basic kata serve as an introduction to the Shotokan style of Karate while providing a way of practicing the basic movements learned during the first few months of practice.



Kata (forms) are pre-determined sequences of moves practiced in different directions.  Some moves are performed quickly and others are performed slowly and the moves are executed as if against an imaginary attacker.  Each kata is complete in and of itself and generally starts and finishes in the same spot.

Kata are a way of providing progressively more complex structure to progressively more difficult basics.  In other words kata give the Karate practitioner a chance to put strings of movements together in a disciplined manner while providing the basis for improvement of technique through the practice of form.

Without kata Karate would be devoid of character and ultimately of self-expression because although kata sequences are set patterns, the way of performing each kata depends upon the practitioner’s own strengths, inclination and interpretation just like dance.  A kata performed without an individual’s true expression of personal honesty in movement is like watching a drab and boring monologue in a play.  It is this honest expression of oneself through one’s movements that give kata meaning. 

It is often written that kata is the heart of Karate and that without kata Karate would be just another sport.  I see why people say this because they believe that kata can inspire individuals to express themselves honestly but at the same time I also see why so many people fail to understand the true meaning of kata.

The true meaning of kata can only be understood through rigorous and constant practice.  It is also helpful to watch a competent demonstration of kata by an instructor, by a winning competitor in a tournament or by a master.  Strong spirit and character are also developed through this disciplined practice as well as through quality instruction and strong basics.   Kata practice also helps other aspects of Karate such as improved focus and concentration and greater understanding of “bunkai” and “oyo” (analysis and application of technique).  Practice of kata is probably the most rewarding aspect of Karate.

Master Hirokazu Kanazawa

Master Hirokazu Kanazawa

Master Hirokazu Kanazawa was born in Iwate Prefecture, Japan in 1931.  He started Karate at the age of 18 after studying Judo and decided he liked it better because he didn’t have to use size as an advantage.  After enrolling in Takushoku University he gained his black belt and continued to progress through the ranks including graduating from the Japan Karate Association’s rigorous Instructor Program.  He was then sent abroad to Hawaii as a 4th degree black belt to spread Karate internationally and subsequently to the United Kingdom and Germany.

In 1977 he formed his own organization called Shotokan Karate International Federation and he continues to be the Chief Instructor of his own organization.  Currently at the age of 73 he is to my knowledge the only living 10th degree black belt in Shotokan Karate.  A 10th degree black belt is the highest rank possible in Karate and indeed in most martial arts.  It has taken a lifetime of study for Master Kanazawa to reach this level but there is no doubt that he is worthy of the rank.  His organization now includes over 2 million members in over 100 different countries around the world.  To say the man has had a profound influence on the spread of Shotokan Karate is an understatement.

Outside of his phenomenal ability in Karate, Master Kanazawa has also attained the highest possible rank in Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art dealing with internal power and energy.  Kanazawa-sensei feels that his Karate practice of strong and powerful techniques is perfectly balanced by his study of the smooth and flowing movements of Tai Chi.

If ever you were seeking a complete Master of Martial Arts then Kanazawa-sensei is a perfect example of a man who has dedicated his whole life to the perfection of his own character and ultimately to the development and personal improvement of literally thousands of other practitioners.

The Importance of Discipline

The Importance of Discipline

Discipline comes in several different forms.  There is general discipline, meaning how you behave around others and how you relate to others; there is self-discipline, meaning the ability to control yourself when faced with temptation or when faced with trying circumstances whatever they may be; and there is a discipline, meaning something that is studied carefully, pursued for self-improvement or simply followed as a way of life, be it an art, a hobby or a religion.

Karate, and other forms of budo (martial arts), comprise all three stated forms of discipline.  Karate requires interaction with other practitioners according to certain expected manners and forms of behavior.  Karate requires self-control, often self-restraint and therefore self-belief in one’s abilities; and finally Karate is a martial discipline, that is to say a martial art that requires very strict adherence to set methods and rules in order to ultimately be successful and to reach the higher levels.

Regarding general discipline, an instructor has the responsibility to show the student the correct michi/do (path/Way) of Karate.  It is the instructor’s responsibility to set expectations regarding proper etiquette in the dojo (training hall), expectations regarding how a Karate student should behave and finally some goals for each and every student, in order to help the student individually to become a good Karate student but more importantly to help the student become a productive and respected member of the dojo.  The instructor’s responsibility of course does not stop there but this should be one of the main goals of any martial arts instructor – to set expectations, to help a student transition into the role of a good club member and to set goals for the student’s growth.

The second form of discipline that is mentioned, that of self-discipline, is one that the martial arts instructor, or any teacher for that matter, has only indirect control over.  Self-discipline, as in the nature of the word “self”, has to come from within the student.  It can only be encouraged, cajoled and modeled by the instructor but the ultimate responsibility lies with the student.  However it doesn’t lie in a student’s technical ability or knowledge of Karate, it lies instead in a decision that the student must make for him/herself.  That decision is simply, “Is Karate (or in real life, anything you want to replace this word with) important enough to deserve my full attention and my best effort?”  If the answer is ‘yes’ then you need self-discipline, if it’s ‘no’ then go and find something that inspires you (and by the way you will still need self-discipline!).

Karate is a discipline as well as being a form of discipline.  I believe it holds endless challenges for those who make the decision to follow the path or the Way but if it’s not for you then you should make that decision too.  After all you owe it to yourself!