Kumite Timing

Kumite Timing


Many karateka are familiar with various Japanese terms meant to describe kumite timing.  For many people studying karate in the West, these terms were first stumbled upon in texts, showing photographic examples of the different types of timing commonly employed in kumite.  Some Western instructors use these terms on a regular basis in class.  A few Japanese instructors, mostly in the West, do as well.  It is probably worth noting, however, that in my eight years living and training in Japan, I do not recall a single time hearing a Japanese instructor use terms such as go-no-sen and sen-no-sen.  Other terms, such as de-ai were used frequently.  But, contrary to what seems to be popular belief, much of the terminology included in these texts is not in frequent use in Japan.

Here is a brief review of the more commonly used terminology relating to kumite timing:

As with the other –sen terms, this implies a type of timing.  Sen actually means “method.”  Go-no-sen is “after method,” meaning that the technique is applied after the opponent has committed to a technique.  An example of this is when the opponent steps in with an attack and the defender blocks and counterattacks.

Sen-no-sen is “before method,” and implies that the technique is applied before the opponent’s technique.  For example, one may notice a chance to attack the opponent and do so before the opponent has a chance to complete his attack.

De is the root of the verb deru, which means “to enter” (actually, it is literally “to exit,” but the linguistics become confusing if we go into this in any more detail).  Ai means “to meet” or “to come together.”  This is the same ai as in Aikido (“Way of Joining Ki&rdquo and kiai (“meeting” [concentrated] energy&rdquo.  Therefore, de-ai refers to the act of meeting the opponent’s technique as it is executed, launching the counterattack intended to reach the opponent before the opponent’s attack lands.  This is basically a form of sen-no-sen, but specifically referring to a counterattack launched after the opponent has already committed to an attack of his own, but reaching the target before the opponent does.

Other terms, such as sen-sen-no-sen and tai-no-sen are also sometimes heard.  These are basically variations of the above.

While I have no objection to using Japanese terminology, I find that many people outside of Japan use these terms more than is practical.  I am fluent in Japanese.  As my students are not, however, if I use Japanese terminology I will almost always follow the terms with English explanations.  Since there are many ways to further break down explanations of timing than using just the above terms, I would prefer to explain more thoroughly, instead of relying on broad terms such as those listed above.

Here is a review of several levels of timing:
• Blocking and/or evading, without a counterattack
• Blocking completely, then using counterattack
• Initiating counterattack before original attack is completed
• Blocking and counterattacking simultaneously, timed to match original attack
• Blocking (if needed) and counterattacking such that counterattack finishes before original attack
• Feinting to draw (counter)attack from opponent, then launching actual attack after avoiding or blocking
• Feinting to create opening, then attacking
• Attacking directly

As you can see, there are many methods of timing that can be used in kumite.  There are even a few that I did not mention above, such as those involving dealing with grappling/grabbing attempts by the attacker.  So, my main question is: Why do some people restrict their training by limiting their kumite timing drills to those of the main textbook examples of go-no-sen and sen-no-sen, when there are so many possible alternatives?

At the most basic level, we must work at the extremes (first two examples on the list above and last one) before attempting to explore the intricacies of the other possibilities.  At nidan (second dan) and above, however, I would expect karateka to be exploring all of the above types of timing in their kumite practice, at least in non-basic kumite.  (Not when practicing basics with beginners, who may be confused by the timing variations.)  While knowing the terminology may help, practice and thinking about how to practice are what really help us understand the fine lines between different types of kumite timing.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (June 2002)