Do I have to Spar if I take Karate?

Years ago people lined up to get into a dojo because of the sparring / fighting aspect to it. Today not so much…and to be honest it is a good thing! Kumite, or what is known as sparring, is one of the most misunderstood terms in the study of martial arts. Many people think that Kumite is like the movie “Bloodsport” where they line up against an opponent and fight until there is a knockout or someone quits. This has very little to do with the study of Karate or Kumite and is more part of the sport of full contact, or knockdown, Karate which most dojo do not teach.

The answer to this question “Do I have to spar if I take Karate” is very simple…NO. Karate has many components to it and until modern times the Kumite aspect wasn’t even an afterthought. I grew understanding that Kumite is part of Karate so everyone had to do it. As I have grown older, and hopefully wiser, I have learned that Kumite is a broad term that covers many aspects of the training inside a dojo and it isn’t just sparring. People of all ages train in Karate around the world. Over 200 Million to be exact and many of them don’t spar. They still study Kumite but don’t participate in the gearing up, fighting aspect of it at all…and that is perfectly OK.

Kumite has many elements to it. As a Karate student, in a good dojo, you will train Kumite but do not have to participate in what we call “freestyle sparring”. Here are some aspects of Kumite you will participate in:

Ippon Kumite: A single attack and a countering training drill between partners.
Yakusoku Kumite: A pre-arranged training for self defense that involves learning timing, distancing, targeting and implementation of skill between two “cooperating” students.

These two drills are pre-set so injury rarely occurs and you will know exactly what to expect which helps you learn Kumite in a safe environment and with a willing partner who is working with you, not against you or trying to beat you. In my personal opinion I believe that both Ippon and Yakusoku Kumite require much more training and skill than it does to put on gear and fight against an opponent. It is great to watch to highly skilled athletes compete against each other in a Karate tournament but there is something mystical and amazing about two highly skilled masters performing Yakusoku Kumite with precision, skill, technique and timing that no sparring match can even come close to.

So to answer your question in more detail, no you will not have to spar but you will learn Kumite; however it is not that Kumite that people believe it is. The study of Karate can be broken down into several segments so everyone can study it. Kumite is just a small part of the whole picture (and not even the most important part at all). There is something for everyone, regardless of age or ability, found inside a good dojo. I have had many students who excelled at Kata because Kumite wasn’t a fit for their training due to physical ailments or limitations. I am perfectly fine with that…actually the only people that aren’t often are driven by the ego aspect of who can beat whom which has no place in a good martial art system. Here are some aspects of Karate:

Kata – pre-arranged training segments
Self Defense – skill sets learned to protect yourself or a loved one
Tuite – The grappling and joint locking part of Karate
Kyushu – Striking and use of nerves and vital targets for self defense
Kobudo – Kata training with various weapons of Old Okinawa systems
Kumite – Training to develop timing, skill and targeting (not sparring)
Jiyu Kumite – Freestyle sparring with a partner
And there are still more!

So as you can see there are plenty of aspects for anyone who studies Karate to excel at. I personally feel a good Sensei doesn’t focus on how good a student can fight but rather how great a person is becoming both inside and outside of the dojo. Years ago Takanami Sensei said something to me that has stuck with me. He said “Any moron can fight but only the real Karate people can do Kata”. At the time he mentioned this I was all about fighting and it really woke me up to learning the beauty and awesomeness of Karate training. Now that you understand a bit better you can come in, enroll and learn Karate without having to deal with that fear of being beaten up. No good dojo would ever allow a student to get beaten up during up training anyway…that is reserved for those “gyms” out there who don’t truly understand what teaching martial arts is about. Give us a call at (419) 633-3656 (Bryan) or (260) 667-3078 (Angola) to join us for a great journey into discovering a much better you!

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