Where WKF Kumite Rules Come From


Here’s a quick overview about where the rules came from, how points are scored, and what you need to know for tournament kumite.

Where WKF Rules Come From

With the WKF being a more recent organization than the JKA (Shotokan) or Kyokushin Karate, you might think kumite rules come from there. Or from Taekwondo, which has been an Olympic sport for a few successive Olympics now.

The rules are actually from Kendo, where you have bamboo swords and try smash your opponent on the head like a watermelon.



Boy smashing a watermelon with a bamboo sword. No weapons in Karate, of course.

Anyway, head-bashing aside, let’s go over the basics. Understanding the motivation behind the rules of kumite helped me figure out what the judges were looking for, and hopefully it helps you too.

  • Rules only began in the 1970s
  • Rules come from Kendo. If you have watched kendo, you will notice the immediate connection between Kendo and WKF Kumite. In kendo, your attack needs to be controlled, and you must return to a ready position after your attack. Attacks to the head count for more points than attacks to the torso.
  • The rules evolve continuously, with video technology and biases being corrected. The most recent major update in the rules introduced Senshu, which you will read about later.

Brief Overview of Points

Just to go over the basics, for the sake of completeness:

  1. One point for a punch, two points for a kick to the torso, and three points for a kick to the head. Three points (ippon) for an attack (a punch) made to a downed opponent, usually after a leg sweep or a throw.
  2. Light touch contact is allowed. Excessive contact is a penalty.

Four Levels of Penalties

Chukoku, keikoku, hansoku-chui, hansoku. At Hansoku, you lose.

  • Physical contact fouls are called Category 1 fouls. If the foul is severe, it is possible to receive a direct hansoku (and lose the fight).
  • Running around in circles, stepping out of the boundary, etc. are non-contact fouls and called Category 2
  • Category 1 and Category 2 fouls don’t accumulate. For example, if you are on Cat 2 Hansoku-chui and you commit a Cat 1 foul, you will have a Cat 1 chukoku and a Cat 2 Hansoku-chui, instead of a hansoku.
  • For more rules, read up on WKF’s website, or better yet, watch a few fights.

What is Senshu?

SENSHU means “Acquired/taken first”. Because many fights ended up in draws, senshu is used to provide a tie-breaker advantage to the first scorer in the match.

  • This gives an incentive to karateka that initiate the action, instead of sitting and waiting for counterattacks. A score of 1-1 does not end in a draw and judge’s decision any longer; it goes to the fighter with senshu.
  • 0-0 draw: in the case of a scoreless draw, the referees and judges decide which of the two fighters was more aggressive, more willing to make a scoring attack.

With Senshu now an active part of the rules, many more karateka are motivated to use the kizami to score the first point.