the first of "the three K's" of karate is kihon, meaning basics or basic exercises. the name itself can be misleading, for there is nothing truly basic about the techniques and combinations you may practice, but kihon is mainly characterised by the attention to and repetition of specific moves or combinations. this is usually performed as movements up and down the dojo in lines, but may not be restricted that way. similarly, kihon may or may not be practiced with an opponent. the key element of kihon is repetition, such that techniques can be learned to a satisfactory degree before applying them in either kata or kumite.
when beginning karate, most drills will be performed many times in kihon format, in order that the techniques become familiar and so the instructor has an opportunity to observe and offer direction. in a mixed-grade class, it is common for different grades to be instructed in combinations of increasing difficulty, though usually arising from the same basic technique. basics are usually performed in numbers of three or five, with kiai being added to the final technique. moving forward an odd number of times allows turning (mawate) such that the karateka returns to their starting position, where even numbers introduces a 'drift' which needs to be periodically adjusted for.
most basic exercises begin from yoi, with the command 'kumite' given to mean step forward into the designated stance (more often than not a front stance), performing gedan barai. many dojos require a kiai on this first preparatory technique. by convention, it is the left side (hidari) that is stepped forward, though it is common to perform both sides (hidari, then migi) in succession for single-stepping techniques (see ippon kumite). idividual exercises may follow each other immediately, or be spaced by yamae and returning to natural stance.
progressing through kyu grades, individual techniques become combinations, where higher grades who are expected to know techniques well can work on other principles such as flow, focus, hip rotation, and so forth. for example, white belts may perform agi-uki where green belts will perform agi-uki followed by gyaku-zuki and gedan barai. these types of combinations will also appear in the gradings for successive belts.
at higher kyu and dan level, kihon is often performed from a freestyle (jiyu) stance and will involve more advanced combinations. most karate lessons begin with or include a kihon section, and even at an adanvced level students are always required to work on basic form and technique.
kihon in gradings and competition
kihon forms the first third of gradings, the techniques and combinations usually being familiar from regular training. in competition, kihon is generally not considered an event except where small children are competing; in this case, free sparring can be replaced by kihon ippon kumite.