I attended an extra kumite /fitness training session yesterday with my club. Sensei puts these sessions on about every 4-6 weeks and it allows us to focus just on this one aspect of karate (plus a bit of circuit training at the end). These sessions are open to anyone from his 3 clubs (approx. 160 people) and 10 of us turned up!
This is a shame because this extra session was to help us prepare for an 'in house'kumite competition next month. Alas not many people have put their names forward for this either (which contrasts with the very good turnout we had for the in-house kata competition held a couple of months ago).
So why do people shy away from kumite? Remember we do non-contact kumite (touch contact in reality) so you're not going to get hurt.
I think people misunderstand what non-contact sparring is about or what it can teach you. To me this kind of sparring is not about fighting- you have to actually hit people to have a fight and feel some aggression towards them. So if it's not about fighting what is it about and what use is it?
On the physical side it improves fitness and endurance; it speeds up your reactions and it makes you observe your opponent very carefully. It doesn't teach you any techniques that would be useful in a street attack, but it doesn't try to - it's a sport. However, it does teach you mental techniques that would help you in a self-defence situation.
In fact I think it is the mental benefits that really brings kumite training into its own. When sparring you have to find the courage to face your opponent and have a physical confrontation with them. For some people that is very difficult, some people have to dig pretty deep inside themselves to find that courage, but I do believe it's inside all of us somewhere - training will help bring it out.
It also teaches you resilience, determination, patience, self-control and awareness. These are all positive character traits that may help you in a real attack situation if you are ever unlucky enough to be in one, but they will certainly help you in other areas of your life - your work, interpersonal-relationships or just dealing with any situation or challenge that life throws at you.
So next time you have a chance to do sparring, don't shy away from it, rise to the challenge. Remember - it's not about fighting, it's about finding something deep within you.