Scoring a Point in Tournament Kumite – The Essentials


Ever competed in a kumite tournament, and think you scored a punch but weren’t given the yuko? Or you scored the punch first, and your opponent got the point instead? 

Here is a checklist for those that actively participate in tournament kumite, but don’t get as many points called their way. These points were given to me by one of my sensei, on his thoughts after judging dozens of tournaments and hundreds of kumite fights.

Remember, judges and referees are human. You have to show them what they are looking for.

And what are referees and judges looking for? The top 3 tips judges are looking for – kiai, shoulder (upper torso), turn of the waist

What do these mean? Let’s look at this using an example. This can be a jodan or chudan gyaku-zuki (high or mid-level reverse punch), jodan or chudan kizami-zuki (high or mid-level jab).The following points apply to these punches that score a yuko or one point, according to World Karate Federation rules. Similar reasoning applies to other scoring techniques.

The Three Point Checklist

  • Kiai is the most important. It presents a confident appeal to the referee and judges to say that the point has been scored. The psychological impact of a confident kiai is a strong criterion to award you the point, especially when you and your opponent complete your punch almost simultaneously.
    Karateman note: If karate ancestors were to read this, they would weep in their graves…but this is sport type of kumite, not a martial art karate.

    NOTE: Some athletes take it further by ‘celebrating’ their point, trying to further emphasize that their point has been scored. Do NOT do this.

    1) this is karate, etiquette matters.
    2) this is a sport, etiquette matters.
    3) referees and judges will brand you as a poser. Ever heard of the boy that cried wolf?
  • The shoulder is important going into the punch, but for referees and judges, the shoulder is more important during the pull back phase. This is when you’ve made light contact and you pull your hand back into position. Here, getting your shoulder away from your opponent shows the referee that your move was successful and complete, because the shoulders typically stay forward in the middle of a punch combination.
  • Your waist is important during, and by nature, after the attack. A quick waist rotation during the attack and swiftly counter-rotating it during the pull back is required for the referee to award points. This is a natural movement.
    Try rotating your waist in a punch and then hold it there when you pull your hand back. Can you? Likely, yes. Does it feel natural? No. 

    So with the shoulders and waist moving simultaneously, the judge sees your whole torso going in for the punch. It’s a completed move, and a point for you.

Summary of the Kiai, Shoulder, and Waist in Kumite 

To summarize, you need to remember that referees and judges are human and that you can tilt their decision making in your favour by making their work easier for them. You can do this by emphasizing the three following areas in your punch:

  1. Loud kiai. This can wake up judges who are a little fatigued from working too many matches.
  2. Shoulder pull back. It makes the punch look clean.
  3. Waist rotation. Combined with the shoulder, this shows the referee and judges that you have transferred your entire body’s strength to the punch.

I might do a part two to this, but this 3 point checklist is a great place to start getting the flags in the colour you want.