Solo Kumite Practice: 5 Keys to Success

By Joel Williams | Shotokan Karate

Jan 29

Shotokan karate uses unique methods to advance students from basic techniques, to combining techniques, then developing more autonomy for utilizing techniques against a partner in progressively unrestricted ways. Kumite practice is an essential tool for gaining skill in karate. Students can most effectively utilize their training time for improvement when they focus on important details proven to maximize that effort. In this blog post, I discuss 5 important concepts that will yield better results from your practice.

5 Tips For Your Solo Kumite Practice

You can find lots of articles and videos about how to motivate yourself to train, e.g., setting a time to train, making a commitment, using reminder cues. That is not the focus of this blog post. This post is more about how to train effectively. Specifically, it is about how to effectively practice kumite alone. These are real “nuts and bolts” (practical) tips on what may seem like small details regarding the manner in which you practice that can yield great benefits. So, without further ado, lets get started!

Shotokan Karate Kumite & Randori

In Yakusoku Kumite, two or more opponents perform an arranged series of techniques with one striking while the other blocks. This phase of training, which typically occurs at the lower kyu rank levels, is designed to build the essential skills and timing (in a safe context) required for the next phase, called Jiyu Kumite. In Jiyu Kumite, mid-level kyu students will wear protective equipment allowing for partial or full contact of techniques. In this phase, participants have free choice of techniques and are awarded points or scores by a supervising referee or judge. Jiyu Kumite prepares the student for Randori, completely freestyle sparring. In Randori, any and all techniques can be used as the participant employs them. An important distinction is that in Randori, the action is uninterrupted when a successful technique is applied, therefore this level of practice is closer to actual combat. This type of training usually does not involve protective equipment, and the participants stop their technique just short of contact. Therefor, it is usually practiced by only the most advanced students.

I hated every minute of training, but I said, Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion. ”  
─ Muhammad Ali, Three Time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion

Tip #1: Kumite Practice is A Crucial Piece of Your Training, So Make it a Priority

Shotokan Karate is built around the 3K’s framework of: kihon, kata, kumite. These are the most fundamental categories of traditional karate training. Of course a well-rounded karate-ka should do other things to improve their (martial art specific ) cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, strength and endurance. Many karate practitioners also spend additional time conditioning their bodies, e.g., makiwara training, and practicing their techniques with real contact, e.g., bag work. These supplementary training methods should only be used if they align with the overall goals of the individual practitioner. Regardless of what your own personal overall training program consists of the 3K’s (including kumite) are a must. As such, you should think of these as analogous to other things you do regularly, like eat, brush your teeth, sleep. If that is your attitude toward kumite practice, it will naturally be high on your training priority list.

Source: Adobe Stock by neillockhart

Tip #2: Practice Attack and Defense, AND Practice on BOTH Sides

To quote an eerie scene from the 1980 movie, The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

* Joel shudders *

The underlying meaning of that proverb, which we’ve all heard before, is that you shouldn’t be “one-sided” in your work-life balance. The same applies to your kumite practice, and especially so, when you practice alone. It is important for you to know both the attack sequence AND the defense sequence. How else will you (both) practice when you do have a partner available? Further, it is important to repeat those movements on BOTH sides of the body so you will have a balanced ability to use blocks, punches, etc. with both your right and left sides, depending on what the situation requires.

Source: Adobe Stock by Uladzimir

Tip #3: Practice Slowly, at Moderate Speed AND at Full Speed

I love the quote from a past martial arts mentor of mine: “Practice doesn’t make perfect … perfect practice makes perfect.” The point of that phrase is that if you practice bad technique you are only ingraining bad habits and bad form into your skill set. Many of us (your truly, included) want to learn a new technique quickly and move on to the next new thing.

Hey, I’m a busy man … I don’t have time to mess around. Let’s get this thing on the road, daylight is burning!

When you first learn a technique, just take it slow. You don’t have to be able to break an opponent’s arm with your new found block… You don’t have to be able to KO someone with that new strike or kick… There are lots (and lots) of important details in every technique. You need to understand those details, as best you can, before your technique has accuracy, speed and power. As a matter of fact, when you have good technique those other characteristics will follow!

So slow it down. Concentrate on the details. Feel the details. Practice until those details are natural and you don’t have to think about them. Then (and only then) are you ready to speed it up.

Source: Adobe Stock by fotokitas

Tip #4: Focus Intently on Specific Techniques

Whether you are attacking or defending there is a pre-defined set of techniques you are required to employ. If you are attacking, perhaps you are required to deliver three punches at specific targets. If you are defending, you are required to employ specific blocks to those attacks. In either case, you have to simultaneously be aware of the forward (or backward) stepping required to deliver each strike or block. As you can see, there are many components working together at one time. You may need to learn the sequence of blocks (or strikes) from a static position before you add the footwork. If you find that you are too far away or too close (when you do have a partner to practice with) then you should practice your footwork independent of the blocks and strikes, then add them all together later. The point of all that is to say that you should use your focus to identify problem areas you have (within a specific kumite drill) and work specifically on those until you “smooth out the wrinkles.” Once you get it down, use your focus to make your techniques sharper, more efficient, faster, and more accurate. Remember that karate is a never ending process of perfecting technique. Never be satisfied with your current skill level – you can ALWAYS be better!

Source: Adobe Stock by Uladzimir

Tip #5: Use a Mirror

This last tip is particularly useful for solo training. One of my previous instructors used to say: “a mirror is a necessary piece of equipment for every martial artist.” If you can visualize yourself in a mirror it can help you in many ways. For instance, stop at any point in your training and check your reflection…

  • Do you have good posture? is your stance wide enough? Is it deep enough? Are your feet pointed in the right directions?
  • Do you have good upper body alignment or are you leaning too far forward or backward? Is your upper body facing the right direction?
  • Do you have the correct angle at your elbow joint for that age uke? Is your soto uke covering your centerline and is your elbow one-fist distance from your body?

Two more things about a mirror: (1) it provides immediate feedback, and (2) it NEVER lies.

” The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat. “
─  Richard Marcinko, U.S. Navy SEAL commander

GMAU Kumite Practice Examples

GMAU Shotokan Solo Kumite Class (Yellow and Orange Belt) Levels

GMAU Shotokan Kata & Sanbon Kumite Class (Orange Belt Level)
GMAU Shotokan Solo Kumite Class (Green Belt Level)
GMAU Shotokan Jiju Kumite Solo Practice Class (1st Kyu Brown Belt Level)

I hope you find these tips helpful in your practice. Think about each one and genuinely try to apply them as guides for your regular routine. Let me leave you with one final quote:

“ Think of everyday life as karate training. ”
─ Gichin Funakoshi

About the Author

Husband. Father. University Professor. GMAU Certified Krav Maga Instructor.

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(2) comments

Glenn McHenry March 30, 2020

Thank you for the great article. Due to COVID-19, I actually signed up for the Shotokan Karate course because of the solo work. I’m currently a student of the Krav Maga and Ultimate Bo. My Krav Maga partner is currently stay-at-home so that is out and I’m reapplying myself to the Ultimate Bo but I realized I didn’t have anything fully structured that I could do solo so I started the Shotokan Karate Course of Instruction. I find I like the structure and it reminds me of my much younger days when I was taking Kenpo through United Studios of Self Defense. I was worried a bit when I saw the Kumite portion of the curriculum but after reading your article and watching the videos I feel more confident in my choice. Thank you.

    Michael Hodge April 3, 2020

    Hi Glenn, Makes sense, karate can still be trained quite effectively solo, in contrast to something like krav or BJJ. Thanks for continuing your training – stay strong and stay positive!

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