Monday, 15 November 2021

五本組手 (Gohon Kumite): An extension article 19 years later

 五本組手 (Gohon Kumite) is unique to Shotokan Karate and some of the derivatives of it. It is generally the first form of Kumite (‘the meeting of hands’ or, more explicitly  described in English, ‘sparring’. That being said, my methodology focuses on the original purpose of ‘the basic Gohon drill’, which is ‘kihon practice with a partner’.


Before I move on, I’d like to offer this rationale as it is based on the real achievement outcomes of this form of ‘kumite’. Firstly, I want to stress that the basic Gohon Kumite will not make you into a great fighter. That’s hopefully obvious and, accordingly, it shouldn’t become a pseudo form of ‘sparring against one’s partner at the expense of technique’. Though, it certainly provides a baby step towards Kumite, for beginners, by putting an ‘opponent’/‘training partner’ in front of them as opposed to doing ‘air karate’.


In this regard, keep in mind that “…when ‘fighting better is the aim’ train specifically for that”. Some specific examples of such fighting training include uchikomi (i.e. – line work); impact work; explosive strength training; and, of course, various forms of jiyu-kumite including the training of newaza etc).


So why bother with Gohon Kumite? Why not just get straight into freestyle? Well, if fighting is one’s only goal, that’s a fair point. Let's face it, in that case, you can then drop kata as well. However, if one wishes to have the prime characteristic of karate in freestyle (for something to BE karate), which is kime, the basic for Gohon Kumite is an excellent basis.


One of the reasons for this is that 'it’s actually a difficult drill'. This difficulty comes from its simplicity “…which provides an extremely revealing template for oneself (and an insight into others as well)”. Excellent, correct or incorrect use of the feet, legs/stance, hips, upper torso/backbone neck and head position can be immediately (and uncompromisingly) assessed. This also applies, indeed, to the shoulders, forearms, wrists and fists.


How is movement conducted? How is the hikite utilized, in addition to its form? How the center is moved/used and the posture is made? Chikara no kyojaku? The psychological state in both defense and attack? Kihaku without compromising form? Correct Kiai (not the bellowing sports karate sound, but a short and sharp kiai that aids explosive power to achieve kime)? Zanshin?


One thing I want re-emphasize today is the main point of stance work between Gohon Kumite and the next stage of training 基本一本組手 (Kihon Ippon Kumite). I will do this in reverse…. In ‘Kihon Ippon’ you drop your weight (where you are, direct, angular or rotational) in order to be immediately effective with your counterattack. This is more difficult, because even though there are more options, you have only one chance. If your waza has no 'potential penetration' of the target (where, if not literally controlled, will cause optimal damage) your karate is incorrect. In fact, practice done incorrectly in this regard will help to make your karate less effective. Unfortunately, many people practice for years—or even decades—and never know, or strictly follow this imperative point of Kihon Ippon Kumite practice. Such aspects have contributed to many karateka having ineffective real fighting skills. It's so sad, but true.


Going back to Gohon Kumite. It has a very different approach. Instead of dropping the weight on the spot (nor using conveniently evasive angles, in Gohon, defense must follow the line) the point of unsoku is “…to not be there!” Yes, use zenkutsu-dachi to escape the opponents attacks with each respective ukewaza as a secondary cover. Yes, the ukewaza must be utilized, but ‘making distance’ is the main point; that, is, until final attack. Beginners will be usually out of distance after the fifth step. In this cases, it’s no problem. They must keep their stance and posture, and counter into the air with good form. Remember, this is obviously not a real fight, it’s a basic training drill. That being said—after attaining competence in Kihon Ippon Kumite, later in their training—they should then adjust their final defensive step to make the perfect distance for their hangeki-waza. That is, the last step basically becomes kihon ippon. I hope that makes sense and laces these two drills together over the respective timespan.


You can now see how, partner kihon, and different forms of ‘the control of maai’ in relation to: (a) tachikata, shisei and unsoku; (b) kihon waza—namely trajectory and form; and indeed, (c) the inherent psychological aspects—correlate and contribute towards the advancement of skills without compromising the foundational waza. 


In sum, “…the basic form of Gohon Kumite is not a drill that advanced practitioners NEED to do everyday”, but it’s periodic practice for self-evaluation and refinement is extremely valuable: especially pertaining to the core fundamental techniques. If you’d like to read more on this topic, please check out my 2002 article here (published here on this site in July of 2007: These two articles together give a good overarching understanding of the basic form of Gohon Kumite. If there is enough interest, I will write about more advanced forms in the future. Best wishes and best training. — 押忍! André

 © André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2021).

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