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Jyu Kumite or Free Style

By Robert Hodes, Shihan
East Meets West Okinawan Dojo

The thought for the week this week is Jyu Kumite or Free Style Fighting. Free style fighting is classified as a type of kumite. All the written teaching about kumite in general stresses the importanceof kata over kumite. Some examples follow:

Q & A Book: "According to Shorin-ryu philosophy, which is more important, kumite or kata?" ANSWER: "Kata is the essence of karate."

Q & A Book: "What about in regards to self defense?" ANSWER: "Kata."

Q & A Book: " Is it necessary to practice kumite in order to be able to fight?" ANSWER: "No."

It is interesting that ALL of the written teaching about jyu-kumite is negative. Some examples follow:

Q & A Book: "According to Shorin-ryu philosophy, which is more important, jyu or yakusoku kumite?" ANSWER: "Yakusoku because it is more like kata in that you do not hold back or control your technique as much as in jyu. Also you attack to a more correct ‘mai.’"

Q & A Book: "Improper practice , as in jyu-kumite, will dull the
natural reflex and response to a threatening punch or kick ..."

BUILDING WARRIOR SPIRIT: "Free style fighting is a Western concept and never was a part of ancient Karate teachings….Jyu kumite was begun in other countries because the unseasoned practitioner did not understand the true nature of Karate, which combines skill, humility and respect for others. These traits are contradicted in free style fighting ... My opinion is that Jyu Kumite, free style sparring, and tournaments inflate and deflate the ego because of the win and lose syndrome which is non-existent in traditional Karate styles where free style is not part of the agenda ... I conclude that one reaches a point of maturity in the arts when he must make a stand for what he believes is right.


30th Anniversary Journal: Interview with Master Ueshiro: "When you have to protect your life, you must use all your strength and skill. To use force and contact when you train would be very dangerous and foolish. It would cause injuries that would prevent your continuing to train. Training should prepare you to fight. ‘To fight is a very serious thing,’ my Master said, ‘Sometimes it is all right if you are hit once, if that will end the fight. Fighting should not be entered into lightly.’"

Essence of Okinawan Karate-do: Reference to Motobu Sensei: "Later in his life, Motobu put aside aggression and studied karate to seek its true spirit—conquest of self, and not others. The change in Motobu’s attitude is illuminating and inspiring. We can learn much in his switch from an aggressively violent man who had become famous through his mastery of fighting skills to a seeker who concentrated on the kata to find the true essence of karate-do."

Essence of Okinawan Karate-do: "That ancient Japanese arts such a kenjutsu and jujutsu were able to be transformed into modern sports like judo and kendo is based upon two important factors: victory or defeat is easily decided, and the danger of being injured can be avoided. A karate tournament, on the contrary, lacks these important sports essentials. Many contestants have been injured in karate tournaments because it is extremely difficult for contestants to stop their tsuki o keri before it reaches the opponent’s body, though the rules require that it should be stopped. The two contestants are not still, but in constantly violent movement, eager to attack each other and to evade the opponent’s attack. Therefore, it is not surprising that they often receive direct blows or kick to their bodies, even though they try to prevent injury. The fact is, danger is increasing at tournaments.

It would be illogical to conclude that since tournament-centered karate finally succeeded in achieving popularity in Japan, a tournament system should be adopted to popularize Okinawan karate-do."

In view of the above information one must ask why is it that we engage in jyu-kumite from time to time? I think that the answer also lies in the Q & A Book: What is the most difficult task in teaching karate?

ANSWER: To instill a belief in the moral aspects of karate. To also discover WHAT EACH INDIVIDUAL’S PERSONAL NEEDS ARE and then develop each person to their highest physical, mental and spiritual potential.

I think that sometimes to accomplish this it is necessary to give a student that which he THINKS he needs as well as what he really needs.  Sometimes a student believes he needs to practice jyu kumite. His teacher can only hope that someday that student will have an epiphany, a satori, an enlightenment. That he will develop to the point where he voluntarily gives up his "need" for jyu kumite and follows in the steps of the Shinden: renouncing "excitement", ego, and competition.

In the mean time observers of jyu kumite can use the time wisely to see the innumerable pitfalls of free style and to recommit themselves to opposing it. For example: The fight begins from far away. (NOT SHORINRYU) There is almost always a preponderance of kicking. (NOT SHORIN RYU) There is a winner and a loser (NOT SHORIN RYU) unless an individual bout gets called for lack of time remaining.(NOT SHORIN RYU) Someone always gets hurt.(NOT SHORIN RYU) Can you think of more?

Arigato gozaimasu everyone! Robert Hodes

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