What is Kumite Tempo? 組手テンポとは
In ippon kumite which I consider one of the most important kumite training menu, there are many different tempos. You need to understand those tempos and be able to use them properly in order for you to improve your kumite.
- 2.0 tempo
The most popular one in the standard Shotokan karate is to block with one arm and counter with the other arm, the most typical technique being gyaku zuki. This combination is a 2.0 tempo kumite or a one two technique. Though it is most popular, unfortunately it is the least desirable one. It is ok to teach this to the beginners but the advanced students (brown belts and above) should stay away.
Why is it the least desirable tempo? It is obviously because it is the slowest one.
You may say, “Well, we practice this combination thousands of times and we can deliver one very quickly.” You may be correct, but what I am referring to is not the mechanical speed but rather a tempo. I hope you understand the difference between these two terms and the meanings. In other words, tempo 2.0 is structurally slower than tempo 1.5 or 1.0.
- 1.5 tempo
There are faster or more advanced tempos such as 1.5, 1.0, 0.5, 0.0, etc. The senior karateka are recommended to master these as they advance their ippon kumite skills. Mastering these tempos will help in jiyu ippon and jiyu kumite eventually as those kumite exercises have much less time to counter and such skill is needed as the opponent is continuously moving in those advanced kumite situations.
The typical example of tempo 1.5 is to use the same arm for the block and counter techniques. Such a combination will be faster structurally (once again I am not referring to speed but rather tempo) than 2.0 tempo such as jodan age uke and chudan gyaku zuki.
This is a video from one of the seminars I gave in 2016 in which I am showing a 1.5 tempo technique. In this example, it is a combination of chudan soto uke and jodan urazuki using the same arm. The key is you do not make these two different techniques of uke and kaeshi waza into two motions. By doing this combination in two distinctive moves you will defeat the whole concept of 1.5 tempo as it ended up becoming 2.0 tempo. You need to make those two techniques (uke and counter) into a one smooth motion. In other words, you do not stop after uke. You will move your arm continuously after uke into jodan ura zuki.
During the demonstration in this video I mentioned that this technique can be found in Kanku dai (jodan urazuki, photo above left). Another example may be found in Tekki kata. This kata happens to be an extremely important kata in Shotokan but yet it is often ignored or undermined (the combination found in the kata is jodan uchi uke and jodan ura zuki, photo above right). Try this combination in your next kumite training. The challenging part is if you can make an effective counter with a short jodan ura zuki which can be done if you are able to use your hips behind the technique.
- 1.0 tempo
Now, let me explain what tempo 1.0 is. A tempo of 1.0 means when the opponent’s attack comes the defender blocks and simultaneously counters. In other words, these two techniques (block and counter) are executed at the same time and the execution completes at the same time with the opponent’s attack. I believe we have such techniques in all Heian kata. Can you identify them? Some are hidden and may be difficult to identify but they are there.
The combination of this tempo is called morote waza (both arm technique) and it is more difficult to execute than the single arm techniques. You can easily see that using two different arms doing two different things at the same time is much more challenging than using one arm at a time. Doing age uke and gyaku zuki (photo above right), chudan uchi uke and chudan gyaku zuki, and other combinations are challenging but those specific techniques are not found in Heian kata. In Asai ryu karate, we have some kihon kata such as Junro Nidan to train those techniques.
At the seminar in Goiania Brazil in May 2016, we trained these techniques. Here is one of the videos showing a 1.0 combination, age uke and chudan gyaku zuki.
If you are a brown belt and above, you should use this combination in ippon kumite. You will easily see that the opponent does not have a chance to deliver a second attack nor a chance to escape (in jiyu ippon kumite).
Up to now I have explained what the 2.0, 1.5 and 1.0 tempos are. I am sure the readers understand that 2.0 is twice longer than 1.0. A tempo of 1.5 meaning fifty percent faster than 2.0 in the kumite concept (despite mathematically only 25% less). Once again, I must emphasize that these numbers are used simply to describe the speed of the tempos. So, a tempo of 1.5 is biomechanical structurally faster than 2.0, even though an actual 1.5 combination could be slower if it is purposely executed very slowly. So, I want to make sure that the readers to understand clearly that a tempo speed I am referring to is different from the popular mechanical speed.
In fact, you can train the 2.0 combinations such as age uke and gyaku zuki so that you may be able to execute them, maybe, as fast as the 1.5 combinations (block and counter with the same arm or leg). Honestly, this (practicing only 2.0 tempo and repeatedly) is what I witness in many or most of the Shotokan dojo training. I am writing this essay to bring your attention to that there are other and maybe, better options. It is up to you but why not expand the repertoire of your kumite techniques?
- 0.5 tempo
Next, I will briefly explain what 0.5 tempo is. As you can see, it is faster than tempo 1.0 which means the counter is done at the same time when opponent’s attack was completed. Thus, in 0.5 your counter is delivered before the opponent completes his attack or done in the middle of the attack.
There are many situations that 0.5 tempo is used. I will mention only a few examples to give you an idea of tempo 0.5. As you are, I assume, an experienced karateka, I am sure you can think of many others.
One is to kick mae geri as the opponent lunges forward with oi zuki. The photo above left shows a classic kumite demo of Kanazawa (ex-kancho of SKIF) giving mae geri to (then young) Kasuya (now chief instructor of WSKF) as he lunges forward with oizuki. You can do another 0.5 tempo by oizuki instead of mae geri. This technique is called de-ai (出合い) or “running in” technique.
Another example would be ude osae uke (forearm pressing block). You will need to step forward to block the opponent’s elbow area then press further to give either enpi uchi or yoko tetsui uchi almost simultaneously (illustration above right). This technique is another de-ai.
Lastly, many may not know one of the realistic bunkai for the first move of Bassai dai (photo below left, Funakoshi from his book, “Karatedo Kyohan”). Many people were taught, mistakenly, it is chudan uchi uke. Of course, it can be done that way if you wish to do a less effective bunkai. The better bunkai is either chudan or more effectively jodan uraken uchi. The photo on the right is in neko ashi dachi whereas it is kosa dachi in Bassai. Kosa dachi, typically, means the technique executed will be followed by a throw which is the bunkai case of the first move of Bassai. With this first move, you take a large step or almost jump in. This means it is a de-ai technique.
Interestingly, in Shorin ryu kata, Matsumura Passai (少林流松村パッサイ)
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oo9-d2dfkyU), they take two steps forward rather than a big jump found in Shotokan Bassai dai. I prefer the Shorin ryu approach as I consider it more realistic in a real fighting situation to quickly step in instead of to jump in. Regardless, both moves show that it is de-ai and it is a strong technique. It is typically called a sen no sen (先の先) technique but depending on the situation this can be a go no sen (後の先). As it will take too much space to explain about this here so I will have another posting in the future to explain about Sen no sen and Go no sen.
Finally, I will cover a tempo that is even faster than countering with a de-ai technique. I will attempt to explain what 0.0 tempo is. This concept, I expect, will be understood by many of the readers. However, it is extremely difficult to have the ability to execute this technique (of course, you need to train hard to attain this ability).
This “0.0 tempo” means you will execute the counter as soon as the opponent starts to attack. I must emphasize the timing is not after he started to move and this is why I underlined “as soon as” in the previous sentence. If your counter action is after, even slightly, that will be considered as 0.5 tempo. The timing here is rather critical and almost invisible. It is at the very moment when he initiates an aggressive move. The indication includes a flinch in the arm or shoulder, or shifting his center of gravity to kick, etc. So, this “counter” technique may look like you are hitting the opponent “before” he was going to attack you. In other words, the aggressive “move” by your opponent, most likely, will not be noticed or detected by a third person who is watching the match or the incident.
Even if you understand this timing, if you are a tournament kumite fighter, I suspect you will not care about this timing. Your concern is to gain a point against your opponent in a kumite match, thus the timing does not matter to you very much. Even if an opponent is not moving or initiating an attack, one can jump in and punch or kick an opponent.
So, this tempo is not critically important in tournament kumite. On the other hand, this becomes extremely important in a street fight. However, I must caution you that you must be very careful of when to use this tempo. Imagine what will happen if you hit your opponent who looks like he is just standing there, just like he is only a bystander. You will be sued by your opponent (even if he had the ill intention to hit you at that moment) for attacking him “first”. In this case, you will most likely lose in a court of law. I am sure the court proceedings will include circumstantial evidence such as the description of the scene, the preceding actions, verbal exchanges, etc. I am not a lawyer so I cannot say for sure but I think you will lose your case no matter how hard you try to explain it to the judge saying that you detected his initial move, say, a flinch.
So in a fist fight, you may have to use 0.5 tempo to “protect” yourself. But in other, more life threatening situations, knowing 0.0 tempo may save your life. How about if your opponent has a gun or a knife and he is intending to harm or kill you?
You will want to use this tempo in a situation where a guy is drawing a gun out or pulling a knife out of his pocket. In this case, even if the guy is not pointing a gun or a knife at you, you may want to immediately attack the opponent.
The very action of pulling out a gun or a knife I would consider as an action that threatens my life. Here is where a judgment factor comes into play. He may be doing this only to steal your wallet but not particularly wanting to harm you. In this case, it may be a wiser decision to give him your wallet rather than taking a chance of becoming a dead hero. On the other hand, if you know for sure that this guy is trying to kill you or harm you (you will need circumstantial evidence later), then you need to move as soon as a gun or a knife is pulled out. Your chance of survival decreases dramatically after the opponent aims the gun directly at you or having a knife only a few inches away from your body.
Or it can be a case when a guy is grabbing your clothes at the neck and cocking his arm over his head (photo right). In this case, he is clearly (visibly) threatening you. If he is only threatening then you have an option of not hitting the guy first. But if you saw or felt his intention was to punch you, then you can deliver the 0.0 technique at that moment. The distance is very close so if you wait until the opponent starts to throw a punch or a kick, that may be taking too much of a chance. Unless you are totally in control of the situation and you have full confidence in your ability to defend yourself under such a condition (not too many people do or can, however). If this case is considered as 0.0 tempo or not is a debatable point.
Some of the readers may say, “Wait! Isn’t it 0.5 tempo if you wait until the opponent grabs your lapel with his fist held up?” These readers are technically correct. Once an opponent engages in an aggressive action then your reaction will not be 0.0 tempo. This is why I say the statement by those readers is technically correct. At the same time, the reason why I did not consider that the right moment because of legal and ethical reasons.
From a legal point of view, without knowing the true intention of the opponent, if you punch this guy at this moment of just flinching his shoulder (before grabbing or raising his fist), you will lose in the court case. Since I am not a lawyer I am only guessing that this is going to be the case, at least in Japan and possibly in the US. I am interested in hearing from a reader who happens to have some legal background.
From an ethical perspective, can you justify yourself for punching this guy when he just flinched his shoulder while you are not 100% sure of his intention? Of course, you can only if you know that he intends to harm you or threatens you by seriously saying, “I will kill you”, then it may be a difference situation. In that case, you may take the chance to act as soon as he flinches his shoulder or arm. However, if the guy is this serious about harming you, he would not be standing still. In this case, deciding when is the right time to act or react is challenging and difficult.
In other words, it is difficult to determine precisely what physical action, in case of an opponent without a weapon, can be considered as an overt action to attack. Is it when the guy grabs your lapel or shoulder but not raising his fist? Or do you have to wait till he raises his fist? Or is it when he says, “I will kill you”? Isn’t it extremely difficult to define an aggressive action, even though you may “feel” his ill intention?
The summary of the 0.0 tempo.
This is the timing of “zero wait” between your action (attack or restraining technique) and the opponent’s initiation of his aggressive act. This tempo may not be considered as important in tournament kumite but in a real street fight or a life threatening situation, it can save your life.
- Minus 0.5 tempo
There is another tempo that is minus 0.5 (-0.5) but I will not go into this at this time. It involves detecting the ki and the nerve impulse of the opponents. I am afraid too many western readers would have an issue with this concept so I will not venture into this in this essay. However, sometime in the future, I will attempt to write an essay on this very interesting subject, particularly when I touch on Sen no sen and Sensen no sen (先先の先).