Sunday 23 August 2020

The 3 LEVELS of JIYU IPPON kumite development

Today I thought I’d focus on Jiyu Ippon Kumite and its three levels of development (and a fourth level, actually not an 'additional level', but some ‘variations’). To initiate this process, let me stress that sufficient skill in Kihon Ippon Kumite is imperative for this training to be productive. Otherwise, the karateka is apt to have insufficient technical form and kime in their techniques. There is also the danger factor… In this form of kumite, the maai (distancing) is not fixed and the attacker comes at you hard, even though the counterattack must be controlled. So again, a sufficient stage of kihon must be possessed. In fact, it is said that “…in the standard forms of Shotokan-Ryu kumite, Jiyu Ippon Kumite is the most dangerous as the attack is seriously launched”. Put another way, if your defense fails you will get injured; consequently, you are pressured to make it does! In sum, Jiyu Ippon Kumite exemplifies the concept of ‘ichigekki-hissatsu’ in karate. With this in mind, and whether reaching such a level or not, the karateka will make the most of each and every waza in their training; thus, maximize their individual potential. This is the most important meaning of Ichigakki Hissatsu: Intent and commitment to optimize your techniques destructive potential.

Countering my student Lyall Stone (4th Dan).
Countering Lyall Stone (4th Dan) using DEAI.

So, let’s begin… I hope you find ‘The Three Levels of Jiyu Ippon Kumite’ valuable for your training in this aspect of our art. Osu, André



In the first level of Jiyu Ippon Kumite. The role of the attacker and defender is pre-determined. The designated attacker announces their attack before launching it. The six set attacks are as follows and in the following order:



1.     Jodan oi-zuki;

2.     Chudan oi-zuki;

3.     Chudan mae-geri keage;

4.     Chudan yoko-geri kekomi;

5.     Chudan mawashi-geri or jodan mawashi-geri (note: chudan or jodan must be specified at this Level of training); and

6.     Chudan ushiro-geri kekomi.



At a basic level the foundational ukewaza followed by gyaku-zuki are used. For example: against the jodan tsuki, jodan age-uke kara gyaku-zuki; against the chudan tsuki, chudan soto-uke kara gyaku-zuki; mae-geri, gedan-barai kara gyaku-zuki; yoko-geri, chudan soto-uke kara gyaku-zuki; mawashi-geri, jodan or chudan uchi-uke kara gyaku-zuki; and ushiro-geri, gedan-barai kara gyaku-zuki.

In the case of the keriwaza, tai sabaki is often utilized with the fundamental strategy of optimally avoiding any potential follow up attacks. This is habit is grooved by this practice; that is “… this is the formal beginning of this practice).


A major difference—besides freely being to move around and the fluctuating maai (distancing)—from Kihon Ippon Kumite is that “…both attacker and defender have a freestyle kamae (in Jiyu-dachi); furthermore, after countering the punches are immediately snapped back to the kamae”. Some karate groups no longer do this practice, “…they leave their tsuki extended”, therefore, “…their Jiyu Ippon Kumite is in fact to closer to Kihon Ippon Kumite”. In saying that, this methodology is a good ‘Pre-First Level Jiyu Ippon’. The only problem with this is that some karateka stay at this level of practice. Keep in mind that Jiyu Ippon Kumite’s goal is “…bridging kihon and yakusoku/prearranged-kumite to Jiyu Kumite”; that is, “…transitioning to free style without losing kime in techniques”. Keep this point in mind as we move on to Level Two…



The next phase of Jiyu Ippon Kumite training is the same as the previous methodology. The same six attacks, in the same order, are first announced then launched; however, this time, any method/technique of defense and any counterattack may be utilized by the defender.

After using an ukewaza and/or taisabaki the defender must counterattack with the best technique in that moment; that is, the best technique based on you and your opponent’s position, maai, your physique (i.e. – arm/leg reach), and the one which would potentially cause the most damage. I’d like to address the last point in greater detail as many people fail in this regard and, unless this point is understood, it is better to go back to ‘First Level Jiyu Ippon’.

Let me provide an example… I had a senior karateka, whom I was teaching, who keep kept countering with uraken yokomawashi uchi. While this technique can potentially finish a fight; in most circumstances, it will not. Therefore, unless the aspect of collision, or some other transfer of mass is involved, it is usually not the best option. This is just an example, but my point is to select the technique, which is strongest. Yes, it might be a snapping uraken in specific circumstances, but usually a large-scale power technique will be ‘the correct choice’. This is Budo Education in which “…the karateka must instantaneously/instinctively launch the most devastating technique”. This training is not a test of one’s creativity; rather, it is for optimal effect.

At this second stage ‘kensei-waza’ (feints) can be formally introduced and practiced; furthermore, if the defenders counterattack fails, the attacker can attack again.



As you can imagine, while the defender and attacker are pre-determined, attacks are not announced. I recommend doing this in two ways. Firstly, using the only the six attacks as before, but in a random order. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the quality of the attack. Oiwaza are the strongest techniques due to the radical transfer of bodyweight/movement of the center; furthermore, their immense propulsion/momentum. Secondly, deviating from these attacks sometimes causes the quality of the attacks deteriorate.

Once this can be done with excellence, any attack can be used. It is worth noting that “…if the quality of technique in attack and defense/counterattack lessens, it is better to return to the aforementioned ‘standard’ attacks.

In this form of Jiyu Ippon Kumite, one will find kenseiwaza to be naturally more effective (due to the defender not knowing what attack is going to come). Nonetheless, in the circumstances of overuse of feinting, or exposure of one’s kamae, the defender is permitted to launch a pre-emptive attack. This often happens when the designated attacker presses into attacking distance without attacking in the attempt to pressure the defender.

As one can see, by this stage (even though it is still a ‘one step drill’) this form of Jiyu Ippon Kumite is almost Jiyu Kumite.



The third level of Jiyu Ippon Kumite is in fact the final stage, the highest level of Jiyu Ippon Kumite. However, I thought I’d provide some of my favorite variations. The first is adding a second (or more) technique(s) in the one step, that is, a renzokuwaza. For example, mae-geri followed by jodan oi-zuki; Jodan gyaku-zuki kara jodan gyaku-zuki; mae-geri followed by mawashi-geri with the same leg; etc… The second variation is to make an attack with a tsuki, keri or uchi and follow up with a hold, lock or strangulation technique (or vice-versa). This is great practice for applying these techniques and, indeed, foiling them. The third variation is doing the aforementioned ‘Third Level of Jiyu Ippon Kumite’ then after the opponent’s counterattack, have short bursts (say five seconds) of Jiyu Kumite. The fourth and final variation, is the younger sister of Jiyu Ippon Kumite: Kaeshi Ippon Kumite. Kaeshi Ippon Kumite is where the initial attacker counterattacks the defenders counterattack… In this form of kumite, one can follow the same process of ‘Level One to Level Three Jiyu Ippon Kumite’ to ensure that the foundational techniques are not undermined.


In ALL CASES, especially in the case of variations, we must make sure that the training is effective. If the drill or exercise does not result in skill development, it is time wasted. Obviously, in some cases, certain training methods can even lead to the regression of good technique/skill. From my experience, I have found this not so much due to the drill itself, but the level of the karateka. If a drill, is too difficult (seen by the deterioration of KIHON and weakness(es) in KIME, take a step back. I think this way adequately highlighted inside my descriptions of the three Jiyu Ippon levels. You and/or students can always go back to a more basic level. This type of systematic training will result in the best use of time to continue advancing one’s karate prowess. In this way—in the immediate, short-term, and long-term—real results will be achieved.

Lastly, if you are a regular follower of this site, you will notice an article earlier about the 'stages of jiyu ippon'. I recommend that article in connection to this one if you wish to maximize your training! Don't get bogged down with the terms of 'levels' and 'stages' but, rather, the defining differences in actual training. Best wishes and best training. Osu!!!

Countering Matt Brew (4th Dan) with TAI-SABAKI.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2020).

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