Kumite Sparring Matches

This article provides an overview of the management of a Tensoku Ryu Kumite sparring match. It does not cover all aspects of the management process. It does not, for example, define the requirements for the physical area in which the matches will be held, nor does it discuss the need for appropriate medical personnel who must be present at all official matches. These details are provided in the Tensoku Ryu Kumite Sparring manual. This article covers the mechanics and general rules about how an individual Kumite match is conducted and managed.

While this article provides a general overview of Kumite matches participants should endeavor to understand scoring, behavior, etiquette, and equipment requirements for any individual tournament they plan to attend. There can be subtle regional and cultural differences in tournament practices for matches or tournaments held in different countries or regions of a country.

This article is intended to ensure practitioners have a good understanding of the typical methods and practices that apply to most tournaments. Variations from the material presented in this article will generally be subtle and, while not insignificant, generally fairly limited in scope.


All sparring participants must wear the required safety equipment or they will not be allowed to spar. All equipment must be in good functioning condition and must not contain dangling cords or any loose, torn, or badly damaged components that may fail to provide the required protection or that may impact or injure either contestant, judges, or spectators.

Contestant Identification

Whenever practical each contestant should be provided with a colored ribbon, armband, or another easily attached spot of color identifier. Each contestant should be provided with a different color identifier. The identifier must be easy to affix to the contestant’s uniform or belt and must not in any way hinder the movement of the contestant or represent a risk to any person.

If colored identifiers are used then each judge (with the exception of the referee) will be provided with a flag of each color.

If color identifiers are not used (common in informal matches) then contestants may be identified by name, uniform characteristics, belt ranking, or by physical characteristics.

The referee will ensure that both contestants are properly recorded on any records or other documentation related to the match. The referee will also verify that the two contestants are those who are expected to be in the competition area.

Start of the Match

At the beginning of each match, the following sequence will occur.

  1. The referee will call each contestant to the center of the ring and provide any specific instructions for the match.
  2. The referee will position both contestants so they face one another and are Toma distance apart. The referee will then ask the contestants to adopt Heisoku Dachi and to then perform Ritsu Rei toward one another. The referee will then ask the contestants to turn toward the referee and perform Ritsu Rei toward the referee. Contestants will not be asked to bow to the audience or other judges in the ring.
  3. The referee will then ask each contestant to step forward to touch gloves with the other contestant. The referee will then ask the contestants to return to the former position and to adopt a fighting stance.
  4. The referee will ensure any other judges are prepared to watch the match. Once this has been confirmed the judge will look to ensure the ring is free of any obstructions then stand at the center of the ring and raise his or her right open hand to shoulder level while loudly saying, “Fighters Ready.” After a slight pause the referee will quickly drop the right hand to Gedan Level, loudly exclaim, “Fight”, and retreat from the center of the ring. The contest has begun.

Valid Target Areas

One opponent may legally strike the other anywhere on the torso. Strikes that impact the arms, legs, and buttocks are allowed, but they are not scored as valid strikes and therefore no points are awarded for such strikes. Such strikes are ignored. Strikes toward the head are permitted and may be scored, but a strike that impacts the head is not and may result in a point deduction or potential disqualification.

Strikes to the neck, throat, groin, joints, eyes, or other vulnerable areas of the body are not allowed. While incidental contacts may occur, they are not scored and a warning may be issued where appropriate. Disqualification may result if the referee believes the strike was intentional.

Point Scoring

A point is scored any time a contestant lands a clean and uncontested blow to a legal portion of their opponent’s torso, or delivers a precise, controlled, yet non-contact strike within three inches of their opponent’s head or face. An uncontested blow is any kick or hand strike that is not blocked, parried, thwarted, or otherwise impeded in its travel to a valid scoring target.

If each contestant lands with an uncontested blow at the same moment then this will be scored as a clash. No points will be awarded to either contestant in the event of a clash.

If one contestant delivers an uncontested blow and a few moments later the other contestant lands an uncontested blow, then the first contestant will be awarded a point, provided the first contestant retains a balanced and stable structure. If the two contestants close and exchange a continuing sequence of strikes the referee will separate them and call the exchange a clash.

If the referee or any judge sees what they believe to be a valid scoring strike then he or she will signal this by loudly proclaiming, “Call”, “Point” or similar cultural phrase and raising both flags. If flags are not being used then an arm should be raised to full extension overhead in conjunction with the voice signal.

Once a call has been made the referee will momentarily stop the contest and loudly proclaim either “Judges Call”, or “Judges Present”, at which time all judges will indicate who, if anyone, they believe has scored a point. If colors are used then judges who believe a point has been scored will raise the flag associated with the scoring contestant aloft, while the flag of the non-scoring contestant will be lowered. If colors are not used then judges who believe a point has been scored will use their open hand to unambiguously point to the contestant they believe has scored a point. The other hand should be held against the judge’s chest.

The referee will not indicate his or her call. If the judges provide a clear majority of votes for a contestant then the referee will award that contestant a point. If the judges have indicated a tie then the referee will indicate there has been a clash. If less than a majority of the judges indicate there has been a scoring event then no point will be awarded. If the only judge in the ring is the referee (common in informal matches) then the referee will make all point calls.

Any judge who does not believe a point was scored, who was not in a position to see whether or not an uncontested blow was delivered, or who believes a clash has occurred will indicate a clash by either crossing the flags or their open hands, palms facing inward, at face level.

Point Deductions

The referee may at any time call for a judgment as to whether or not a point should be deducted from an opponent. This call may be requested by the referee for any of the following reasons:

  • Head Contact
  • Excessive Contact
  • Throwing an Opponent in a dangerous manner
  • Stomping on or otherwise brutalizing a downed opponent
  • Intentionally or consistently striking to a disqualifying location (groin, joints, eyes, etc.)
  • Violation of any contest instructions

When the referee believes one of the above conditions has occurred he or she will temporarily stop the match and will ask the judges to huddle in a conference to assess whether or not there is general concurrence with the findings. If there is no concurrence among the judges then the referee may issue a warning to the contestant to avoid the observed behavior.

If there is general consensus that a violation has occurred then the judges will return to their stations and the referee will call “Judges Call’ or “Judges Present” at which time the judges will indicate with flags or by pointing with the open hand the contestant from whom they believe a point should be deducted. If a majority of judges have voted and if a majority of those votes indicate the same contestant, then the referee will deduct a point from that contestant’s score. If no consensus is reached in the vote then the referee will warn the contestant to avoid the observed behavior.

Out of Bounds

When both feet of a contestant have moved outside the contest area then the contestant will be considered to be out of bounds. The referee will then stop the match and move both persons back to their starting locations at the center of the ring and subsequently restart the contest without delay.

The referee may also stop a match and subsequently restart it at the center of the ring if there is sustained action at the edge of the ring during which one opponent maintains or frequently has one foot outside the ring. How long a match is allowed to continue when this condition exists is solely at the discretion of the referee, though referees are asked not to make this determination too readily.

The contest will not be stopped if a person moves out of bounds and then immediately returns to the ring before the referee can realistically stop the contest. In such cases, the contest will continue uninterrupted. The contest will be stopped if the person is out of bounds and then only partially returns to the ring (e.g. only one foot is placed in bounds).

A contestant who deliberately moves out of bounds repeatedly or who consciously allows themselves to be maneuvered out of bounds repeatedly will be warned by the referee to remain in-bounds. If they continue to seek shelter out of bounds they will be warned a second time. Deliberately seeking shelter out of bounds after a second warning is, solely at the discretion of the referee, grounds for disqualification.

Contestants who notice they are near the edge of the ring should endeavor to quickly move more toward the center of the ring. There is no requirement that a contestant should give up ground or position solely to allow his or her opponent to move back into bounds.

If a referee indicates that an out-of-bounds condition exists then both contestants must immediately cease striking and return to their starting positions. Initiating strikes after an out of bounds condition has been called is grounds for disqualification. Such determination is at the sole discretion of the referee.


A contestant will be disqualified and a win will be automatically awarded to his or her opponent if any of the following occurs.

  • The contestant has already lost a point for an offense and judges have now voted that the contestant has committed the same offense again.
  • The referee believes a contestant has lashed out in anger or in malice in an attempt to deliberately harm or injure the other contestant.
  • The referee believes a contestant has been overtly disrespectful of the referee, any judges or other ringside personnel, any observer of the contest, the event or venue, audience members, or the event sponsors.
  • The referee believes a contestant has deliberately attempted to strike, harm, or injure the referee, any judge, or scoring official.
  • A contestant has deliberately removed some safety equipment or intentionally removed some piece of safety equipment from his or her opponent.
  • A contestant has had two or more points deducted and his or her point score has gone below zero.
  • The referee believes a contestant has feigned an injury to obtain a strategic advantage.
  • The referee believes a contestant has deliberately struck a defenseless opponent when a time out, temporary interruption, or cessation of the match has been indicated.
  • An instructor, coach, Head Instructor, parent, or another associate of a contestant enters the ring for any purpose other than emergency assistance or upon specific invitation by the referee (perhaps to assist with an equipment malfunction or similar circumstance).
  • An instructor, coach, Head Instructor, parent, or other associate of a contestant badgers, harasses, belittles, attempts to distract, or otherwise tries to interfere with the performance of the contestant’s opponent.
  • The referee believes a contestant has repeatedly and deliberately gone out of bounds to avoid the conflict. This must be a sustained pattern of behavior that the referee believes is deliberately employed to avoid engaging the contestant’s opponent. Simply stepping out of bounds during the course of an engagement is not grounds for disqualification.
  • A contestant is discovered to have a concealed object, chemical, or other substance in or on their gloves, padding, uniform, or other equipment which is intended solely to provide them with an advantage or to cause harm to their opponent.

Awarding a Win

A contestant may be awarded a win in any of the following circumstances:

  • The opponent has been disqualified
  • The opponent voluntarily decides to discontinue the match (forfeiture)
  • The opponent is unable to sustain a proper uniform or set of functioning safety equipment.
  • The contestant has achieved the number of points required to win
  • The opponent or the contestant has been injured or suffered a medical emergency and cannot continue, and the contestant has more points than the opponent.

Matches may be of any of the following types:

  • One Point Match
  • Three-Point Match
  • Five Point Match
  • Seven Point Match

If a match is a Three-Point Match then the first contestant to achieve three points wins the match. If the match is a Five Point Match then the first contestant to achieve five points wins the match.

If the match is a Seven Point Match then the first contestant to achieve five points and who has a two-point or greater advantage over his or her opponent wins the match. This means a Seven Point Match cannot be won with a score of 5 to 4 but can be won with a score of 5 to 3 or 6 to 4 (among others). In a Seven Point Match, any contestant who achieves a total of seven points wins the match, regardless of whether or not they have a two-point advantage.

One Point Matches are done as quick skill-building exercises or in contests between Tensoku Ryu practitioners. The rules are simple. The contestant who scores the first point wins.

At the conclusion of a match, the referee will require both opponents, when physically able, to return to the center of the ring where the contestants will then be asked to bow to one another and then to bow to the referee. The referee will then clearly indicate the winner of the match by raising the victor’s hand or by other means of positive identification. When appropriate the referee will ensure that the results of the match are properly recorded. The referee will also ensure any colors, safety equipment, or other contestant attachments that should remain in the ring are removed from each contestant before they depart the ring.

Stopping a Match

The referee may stop a match for a variety of reasons, including:

  • A winner has been determined by points or by disqualification
  • A temporary halt is needed to make equipment or uniform adjustments, replace failed equipment, offer additional instructions, award or deduct points, conference with judges, offer guidance or instruction to a judge or other ring official, assist a contestant in distress, or ask for medical assistance for a contestant who is expected to be able to continue the match after treatment.
  • A contestant has been injured or has suffered a medical emergency and is unable to continue.
  • A contestant has decided to withdraw and no longer wishes to continue with the match.
  • A contestant wishes to continue but the referee believes the contestant is no longer able to offer a proper defense and or is at risk of potentially significant harm.
  • An unanticipated event such as fire, flood, earthquake, or other emergency situation has occurred.
  • The safety of either contestant is at risk for any other reason.

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