Tune to opponent
When facing an opponent, the eyes should be drawn back, see yet not look, monitor don’t judge, be aware of the whole, one idea is to look at the opponent as a shadow, so you don’t get caught in details. The way to perceive the opponent is using the breath to catch the opponent rhythm, or lead the rhythm as one strategizes. The same breath that catches the opponent’s rhythm also creates potential energy in my footwork, which means that the breath and footwork has to match, and that should not be too difficult if one has good basics, since the breath should control the body center, should control the legs and footwork, that should be developed through the kata and basics, so it should be a given.
If one has difficulty following with the breath and you feel that you are behind rhythm, or the legs get heavy and stuck (Itsku), than try to tap dance with your partner, so your feet are catching his rhythm, try to make it as internal as possible, don’t show it on the outside.
I do it whenever I feel. That I am looking too much, over using the eyes, which makes me behind, or when I face small, quick opponent, and have hard time to follow with the breath. Make sure that at any instant you are ready to apply pressure to floor, using breath, center, and feet interaction to initiate technique. Feel as if your feet are one paper space from the floor, which indicates floating (ukimi) and allow for making pressure at any moment.
Accept opponent’s attack
This is one of the most enlightening guidance I received from Aiko San who was second to none in her budo understanding; it changed my view of kumite. When you are tune to the opponent, accept his attack, look at it as your opportunity, because whatever attack he/she will do, the in between space is bigger than when just moving around, a space is open and that is a chance, qio, and you must take advantage of it.
In order to take advantage of the attack one must be comfortable with the opponent attacking, have the feel of “come, come”. Most people are not comfortable with being attacked at full speed, and in that they separate themselves from the opponent, conflicting with opponent, and therefore they either rush to attack themselves, or being confirming, recalculating when being attacked, and therefore behind on the response and counter.
If you accept the opponent’s attack you should be totally relaxed, yet loaded, not sloppy.
That is easy if you follow and internalize the first 2 steps described, when opponent move, react with your breath, don’t look and than move, if you see the attack you are too late, when opponent moves your breath and feet are already in motion, as if you are his shadow. We either hit the opponent as he commit or in between techniques, never in same rhythm. We catch the rhythm in order to break the rhythm.