Wednesday 16 February 2022

五本組手 (Gohon Kumite): A second follow-up article

Foreword: Last year in November I wrote a follow-up article, from one I wrote 19 years earlier, on 五本組手 (Gohon Kumite). In that piece, I mentioned that I'd write a 'secondary follow up article', so here it is. Rather, than moving on to other forms of kumite, I thought I'd recap some key points featured in the previous article and answer a number of questions I've received since then on this topic; moreover, expand on these aspects. Overall, I hope that you find this article useful. As always I look forward to hearing your feedback and questions, All the best in your training and greetings from my dojo here in Oita City, Japan, Osu, André

Generic description of Gohon Kumite and format of this article:

Here is a brief description of the ‘basic’ form of Gohon Kumite (Five step ‘sparring’.  This form of engagement match is the required ‘Kumite’ for the Hachiryu and Nanakyu examinations. In this article I will: (a) describe basic Gohon Kumite; (b) provide some ‘additional key points for ‘Basic’ Gohon Kumite’; (c) explain more advanced Gohon Kumite and list some variations; and (d) wrap up with some conclusive notes. Overall, while I written about this topic before, I hope that this latest article provides yet another analytical lens on Gohon Kumite as a Shotokan Karate training routine.  


Both attacker and defender are decided. After ojigi (bowing) they face each other in hachiji dachi: ryo ken daitai mae. Being at the correct distance to make maximum impact, the designated attacker steps back with the right foot to execute gedan barai in hidari zenkutsu dachi. It is probably worth mentioning that some instructors and groups kiai when making this ready position, however, I do not.


The attacker then announces ‘joudan’ then precedes to attack five times with alternate seiken jodan oi zuki and a sharp hikite each time to aid in this process. Each time the opponents jinchu (the upper lip, just below the nose) is targeted, and the aim is to use zenkutsu dachi to attack without breaking the shomen position of the hips. In this process the drive and stretch of the sasae ashi is paramount. Attack with the kahanshin. On the fifth and final tsuki kiai strongly


To fend off these five tsuki the defender retreats five times in zenkutsu dachi receiving each attack with jodan age uke over their lead leg. In contrast to the opponent driving forward into shomen, the defender strongly rotates the hips into hanmi to launch their uke. Again, the hikite is fully applied to increase the velocity and power of each ukewaza. The essential point of stepping rearward is that the rear leg is slightly bent for both balance and reciprocal action. When turning into hanmi this also allows the hips to remain anatomically level. On the fifth step the defender straightens the rear leg to apply ground power to rotate the hips for a strong counterattack with a gyaku zuki. This counter is either aimed at the opponents jinchu or the suigetsu (solar plexus).


From here both the attacker and defender return to hachiji dachi with ryo ken daitai mae. The attacker steps back whilst the defender steps forward. The roles of attacker and defender are then reversed, and process repeated.


After both sides have attacked and defended against ‘jodan’, chuudan (seiken chudan oi zuki) is then practiced. The process is the same however the ukewaza employee is chudan soto uke.*


* Note — for middle kyu ranks and up, the hangeki (counterattack) is always distance and angle appropriate. For example, when too far away a mae geri or another kick may need to be utilized. Likewise, when too close, an enpi may be optimal. In sum an incorrectly distanced gyaku-zuki, unable to break a solid board is indicative of its incorrect deployment.


How about ‘mae-geri’?

In the eighties we also practiced attacks with chudan mae-geri keage in standard ‘Basic’ Gohon Kumite (including the 8th and 7th Kyu examinations). However, this is generally not included now (as lower grades tend to get bruised up pretty badly, sometimes worse). Of course, the great thing about attacking and defending against mae-geri in Gohon Kumite is that one “…learns to do gedan-barai correctly” and also a proper trajectory with your front snap kicks. I have many memories of egg shaped purple bruises on the insides of my shins and forearms. It also wasn’t uncommon for lower grades to be downed: via a solid kick to their solar plexus. A quick way to learn that ‘zenkutsu-dachi is used to escape’ and one’s uke is in fact the secondary waza; that is, ‘the back up technique’/‘the cover’. Taken as a whole, I probably don’t think that mae-geri in Gohon Kumite—for beginners here now, in 2022—is probably a good idea. Nonetheless, it is excellent training for senior kyu grades and above: once ‘technique and conditioning’ is sufficient..


At one Dan Examination, when I was sitting next to Asai Sensei, he leaned over to me and quietly said “Gohon Kumite”. All of the Shodan candidates had just completed the Jiyu Ippon Kumite portion of the test. So, I informed the candidates and had them form staggered lines, adjacent to our table.


Asai Sensei then stood up and announced “attack  ‘mae-geri, defend gedan-barai, no count”.


It was immediately clear that all of the candidates could not manage deflecting the mae-keriwaza coming in at them. They messily attempted zig zagging maneuvers to escape from the line. Likewise, it was clear that they were getting hurt when kicking and, after the second kick, were purposefully missing to avoid bruising to their shins. Overall, what was relatively clean and sharp jiyu ippon was erased by the inability to do the most basic Shotokan kick and (gedan barai) which, of course, is one of the five core ukewaza. Taken as a whole, it was a disaster, resulting in all of the Shodan candidates, failing the examination.


So what’s the lesson to be learned here? If you can’t deflect a full speed, full power mae-geri front on (without taisabaki) with gedan-barai, your gedan-barai is wrong. Furthermore, if you can’t deflect five consecutive full speed, full power mae-geri (plural) going rearward on the line (with gedan-barai), your gedan-barai is not reliable. Lastly, if don’t hit your training partner in the solar plexus five times—if they don’t make a good gedan-barai—your mae-geri keage is incorrect.


To conclude, if you think you ‘need to get hurt and just be tough’ to properly defend against mae-geri in Gohon Kumite, you are also wrong. Correct ‘timing and distance of the rearward’ step into zenkutsu dachi, koshi no kaiten, shime of the wakibara, hikite, and correct timing of the forearm twist will result in you deflecting the biggest and fastest of opponents/training partners. In saying that, when committing with any chudan kicks, there is the inherent risk of bruising. But this is something one gradually gets used to. That being said, with a good linear trajectory, bruising will be mitigated. The key here is that when you plant your kick you do so with strict form and utter commitment.


Some additional key points for ‘Basic’ Gohon Kumite:

a. With age uke and soto uke utilize the wrist; furthermore, target your opponents wrists (for mae-geri and other kicks target the ankle).


b. Beware of trajectories when making all tsuki and ukewaza. Tsuki must be as direct as possible and uke must use the proper arcs and connect to the wakibara. Avoid over-stretching tsuki and, indeed, ‘over blocking’ with uke.


c. When attacking and defending move in a straight line. This is for effective attacking and training your defense under maximum pressure.


d. Use your stance when attacking to overwhelm the defender; likewise, when defending, use your stance to escape. This form of ‘kumite’ highlights it’s better to be out of distance than to rely solely on ukewaza. This is a key lesson of Gohon Kumite.


e. When attacking collapse the front knee and utilize juryoku (gravity) without breaking the posture; furthermore, the fist should impact slightly before the stance is completed. The purpose of this is twofold, firstly, hand speed is increased, and secondly, the movement of the center and optimal mass can be transferred into the target.


f. After your final attack do not try to physically escape from your opponents counterattack. Instead, allow them to counter you. I know of people who have tried to avoid being countered and, here in Japan, (if you are with a senpai) it will sometimes erupts into Jiyu Kumite. The key here is to watch the hangekiwaza, and visualize countering of their respective counterattack. This skill of visual analysis is very valuable even in the context of basic Yakusoku Kumite.


g. When attacking, always aim to hit. Contact depends on the training partner (comparative size, strength, health, experience, etc...) and what’s agreed on beforehand. Common sense and mutual respect is the key here. Even if there is no contact, even with young children, still aim for maximum speed and power, distancing and targeting, but don’t touch. In this way, even without contact, training time is not wasted for both partners.


h. When countering, counter with full speed and power but make no contact. Your training partner is trusting your control and giving their body to be your target. Respect them!


i. Try to match your kokyu (breathing) with the attacker. From the eyes to the shoulders form a triangle for observation. You should see all four limbs, also maintaining peripheral vision. Practice to be aware of all your surroundings, this simple drill allows one to practice such skills, which can be further developed in higher level training routines.


More advanced Gohon Kumite:

What I’ve covered up until now is the basic ‘grading form’ of Gohon Kumite. For higher practitioners, there are many variations. In particular, higher grades practice with greater intensity when attacking. Also, the counterattacks used must be optimal based on distancing and target availability. The counterattack employed must be instantaneously selected and optimal for that moment. The capacity to cause maximum damage in that moment is what dictates this reactive hangeki (counterattack).


Here are some variations of Gohon Kumite:


1. Continuous fast attacks and defense: tobi konde five times etc..

2. Broken kankyu (rhythm)/timing.

3. Uke and hangeki on every step.

4. Only using the techniques from one particular kata or group of kata.

5. Utilizing different attacks, heights of attacks, ukewaza, tachikata, unsoku etcetera.

6. Attacking with a renzokuwaza on each step.

7. Moving in different directions with attacks and/or defenses.

8. Tenshin.

9. Combinations of the above…


As you can see, the possibilities are virtually unlimited. In saying that, as I often stress, ‘innovation for the sake of innovation is time not well spent’. Accordingly, when a variation is used, the achievement objectives should be well defined and concentrated. Moreover, this should be steered by the overarching objective of developing/enhancing budo/bujutsu karate skill.


The use of 三本組手 (Sanbon Kumite):

You will know that some dojo and groups utilize Sanbon Kumite as opposed or in addition to Gohon Kumite. Sanbon Kumite is sometimes used when there is simply less space; however, some groups, such as SKIF (Shotokan Karatedo International Federation) treat it as a different form of kumite and use it to practice different level/height techniques on each step; namely, jodan, chudan then mae geri. Asai Sensei, and JKA style Shotokan karate as a whole, treat Sanbon Kumite in such a manner, as “…not a separate form of training but, rather, a variation of Gohon Kumite”. I am by no means saying that one way is better than the other; rather, I’m merely pointing out this difference in approaches. 


Conclusive notes:

Sometimes to wrap up a class I might use an innovative form of yakusoku kumite, such as those listed above. In that case, it might just be a hard out conclusion of the session (to sweat and train spirit). That being said, when serious practice of Gohon Kumite is the aim, I teach and practice it primarily as a form of ‘partner kihon’. That is, when fighting is my aim, I prefer to do jiyu kumite, impact training etc. Certainly, I’m not completely diminishing variations here; however, I am putting them in their rightful place (from the overarching budo/bujutsu karate perspective).


© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

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