Kihon Sanbon (three step sparring)
Sanbon kumite is the most basic form of sparring practiced by students in most Karate Schools. It involves two people working as partners, with one of the partners training attacking and the other training counterattacking techniques and strategies. The attacking side moves toward the counterattacking partner while doing exactly the same technique three times in succession, hence the name. In the most basic form of sanbon kumite, the specific attacking technique is assigned by the instructor, and each of the three sequential attacks is initiated by commands from the instructor. Later, all three of the sequential attacks are executed independently by the attacking partner. In either case, both partners know before starting which techniques will be done, and which target areas are to be struck in a given three attack exchange. The attacking partner begins by stepping forward from shizentai into a front stance, downward block(zenkutsu-dachi, gedan-barai) position. The counterattacking partner awaits the first attack in the shizentai position. The counterattacking partner generally executes some form of blocking technique in response to each attack, and responds with a counterattacking technique only after the third attack is completed.
Kihon Ippon (one step sparring)
Ippon kumite is also considered a basic or kihon form of sparring. It is generally introduced when students have been training at least six months and have achieved the rank of shichi-kyu (7th step of student). Kihon ippon kumite is quite similar to kihon sanbon kumite except that each attacking/counter-attacking strategy is executed only once before the exchange is stopped. Attacks are still initiated from the basic starting position (zenkutsu-dachi, gedan-barai), and the counterattacking partner awaits the attack in shizentai. The attacks are generally more varied in ippon kumite than in sanbon kumite, and the counterattacking partner must respond with a counterattacking technique after every attack.
Jiyu-Ippon (semi-free sparring)
Jiyu-ippon kumite is the introduction to freestyle sparring. It is similar to kihon ippon kumite in that the attacking partner only executes a single attacking technique or combination in a given exchange, to which the counterattacking partner must respond by blocking or avoiding and then counterattacking. In its elementary or introductory form, both partners may also know which techniques and targets are to be used. This, however, is where the similarities cease. Both partners begin jiyu-ippon kumite in jiyu-dachi (freestyle stance), and both may move around at will to achieve more advantageous positions. In the most advanced form of jiyu-ippon kumite, the only things known in advance are which of the partners is the attacking side, and that kumite will be stopped after a single attacking/counter-attacking exchange.
Jiyu (free sparring)
Jiyu kumite is the most complex and challenging form of two-person sparring. In this case either partner may attack at any time, using any single or series of techniques, to any single or series of targets. Exchanges are not necessarily limited to a single attacking/counter-attacking confrontation, and the possible combinations of factors including timing, technique, speed, direction, strategy, etc., make the exchanges infinitely varied. Jiyu kumite may be introduced to students who have been training for nearly 2 years, and have achieved a rank of at least san-kyu (third step student). Generally though, jiyu kumite is introduced to students who commit to more serious and strenuous training by joining a training team.