Jiyu-kumite means ‘free sparring’ and this is where the Karate practitioner really puts his/her skills to the test. Jiyu-kumite is where your fighting skills are tested against another opponent, ideally of equal or greater ability, so that you can constantly improve. In jiyu-kumite the karate practitioner is expected to demonstrate a variety of learned techniques, footwork, balance, fighting spirit and self-control among other things. The word free in ‘free sparring’ means that there are no pre-arranged attacks in this kind of sparring, instead both opponents play a game of skill, strategy and focus to try and outwit each other with their fighting ability and knowledge.
There are different kinds of jiyu-kumite. First of all there is general jiyu-kumite which is usually seen in the dojo, with two opponents trying all of their skills in a no-point, no pressure environment. The goal of this kumite is to try many different techniques and combinations against an opponent to find out what works and what doesn’t. This is the experimental stage of jiyu-kumite.
Next there is tournament jiyu-kumite which by nature is for points within a specified time-limit for each match. The goal of this kind of sparring is naturally to score more points than your opponent within the allotted time with the winner of the match going on to the next round to face another opponent in a knockout style competition.
Finally there is match-style jiyu-kumite where each opponent (usually advanced practitioners) try to win the match using mutually agreed upon rules that they determine themselves (rules such as no groin attacks, no joint locks or breaks but full contact striking to specific target areas allowed). This kind of match is very rare and for good reason as its hard to justify two advanced practitioners trying to beat each other up just to win a match. This kind of behavior usually doesn’t befit an accomplished martial artist, however supposedly it still sometimes happens for a variety of different reasons although I haven’t personally heard of or experienced such a match during my own martial arts practice.