Tips on Sparring in Tae Kwon Do

Taekwondo Sparring: Tips On How to Spar Better

Tae Kwon Do Sparring

One of the most fun aspects of training in Tae Kwon Do and I imagine for the other Martial Arts as well is sparring.

It lets you “test out” all those kicks and punches that you practice in each class and see how they apply in one on one or multiple person situation. It also gives you an idea on what kicks or punches work better in some situations than others.

I found that after sparring for awhile I was getting into the habit of doing the same kicks and defense positions over and over again and I so I wanted to do some research to get some tips on sparring from other Tae Kwon Do students and teachers who have more experience than I so I could pick up some pointers or suggestions that I could try out or work on during my next sparring session.

What I learned was that is much more scientific and there is a lot more technique or strategies to use when sparring.

Definition of Sparring in Tae Kwon Do

Sparring is called kyorugi by the World Taekwondo Federation or matsogi by the International TaeKwonDo Federation and its basically a controlled form of free style fighting where certain precautions are put into place in order to prevent serious injury but at the same time that allow the 2 (or more) combatants the freedom to practice their techniques.

Principles of Sparring

  • RELEASE energy
  • RESERVE energy 
  • REGENERATE energy

Competitions

Sparring competitions hosted by World Tae Kwon Do are full contact events within an 8 meter octagon. There is a total of three rounds, at the end of which is cumulatively scored.

There can be a fourth round if there is a tie in points. Points are earned for permitted strikes and vary depending on the type of strike. For example:

  • 1 point is earned for a strike to the chest
  • 2 points are earned for a kick to the chest
  • 3 points for a kick to the head
  • 4 points for a turning kick to the chest
  • 5 points for a turning kick to the chest

It’s worth noting that punches to the head are not allowed. Within WT, emphasis is placed on making the sport more entertaining to watch. Three, five, or seven judges are used to determine how many points each participant earns – and when five or seven judges are on the stand, the lowest and highest scores are dropped.

Scores are based out of 10 and include accuracy, which makes up four points, and presentation, which comprises 6 points.

My Top Sparring Tips and Advice

Your Opponent

When you are getting ready to spar and at the very beginning of the match you will need to size up your opponent to see what you are up against. You can do this by getting your opponent to attack first, either by a fake or taunt.

By doing this you will quickly learn what technique your opponent relies on  (every fighter has their favorite technique)  and then you can better  plan a counter for that attack.

For example, if your opponent is good with sliding kicks then the time to attack is when his feet comes together right before he tries to launch a kick. Finally, watch your opponents body movement, not just their eyes.

If you are up against an experienced fighter he will not show emotion so you must focus on their whole body.

Move From Side to Side

If you want one simple technique or strategy that will improve your sparring dramatically.. Move from Side to Side.

When in I watch sparring in class, almost all the time, I see people moving back, however, one of the most important things you can do in sparring is, instead of moving forward and back, when an attack is thrown at you go ahead and move from side to side .

The next time you watch a sparring match, pay attention to your fellow classmates sparring and also watch the more experienced or professional artists and that is when you really see this stand out.

An example of this would be: When your opponent throws a back kick, you should instead of going back to miss the kick instead move to his open side.

This will make you not only avoid the kick, but also put you in a position to throw a turning kick and in the position they are in, this is going to be tough to block.

Use Turning, Axe and Back Kicks

Sparring in Martial Arts

I often see when people are sparring they either over think and don’t do anything it or they try to do techniques that they have seen on TV.  In class you will see students jump in the air, spin around, let out a big Kihap …. and miss completely.

Then their opponent does a simple turning kick and hits them straight in chest.  The lesson to be learned here is, especially at the beginning, stick to doing turning, axe and back kicks. They can be done quickly and controllably as well as  be used for both offense and defense.

For example, when your opponent throws a back kick, you should shift to his open side (versus just moving backwards to escape the kick).

This will allow you to avoid the kick, be close enough to throw an effective roundhouse kick and catch him/her in a position where it is hard to block your kick.

In this example, if the opponent throws a right leg back kick, you would shift to the right (the opponent’s left) in order to score a point.

Counter Attack

When your new to sparring and your getting ready for your sparring match, the adrenaline kicks in and its tempting to go full blazes and attack your opponent like there is no tomorrow but did you know that you can improve your odds of hitting your opponent on a counter attack?

Always remember when your opponent attacks — a part of their body will be exposed for a counter and every attack has a counter so learn them.

Now, their are two basic types of counter attack strategies. They are the direct counterattack and indirect counterattack.

In a direct counterattack strategy, both people sparring counter kick at the same time while with an indirect counterattack, one fighter steps aside or blocks the kick of the opponent and then counters with a kick.

The indirect counter attack is the one I found to be more effective since you can react to the first action of your opponent and throw a decisive kick or combination.

With the direct counterattack, it seems that the person who is faster not better gets the hit and in addition, its more difficult to put together an effective combination.

Use Combinations

This is one aspect of sparring that I don’t think is used well enough at the beginner and intermediate level.

How many times have you watched or maybe you do it yourself, where in a sparring session, one kick is thrown and then you back up, see if you hit your opponent or stop and wait to see how your opponent reacts.

I think part of the reason for this is that in everyday training in class you are not often asked to put together combinations.

You are usually working on one kick at a time or a form. But when it comes to sparring its very important that you always try to put together kicking combinations

Sample Basic Combinations

  • Turning Kick And Axe Kick
  • Turning And Crescent Kick
  • Back Kick and Axe Kick

Once you have a few combinations that you like and that you have found effective when sparring. try and test it against the clock and see how many of your combinations you can perform in a minute or more.

This will help them become more 2nd nature and flow more smoothly and quickly when you spar.

Sparing Against Multiple Opponents:

When it comes to multiple attackers, I have discovered that one must not only fake location/direction of the strike, but also fake between different people.

Pretend you are about to hit someone, go for another. Do double fakes, where you pretend you are faking person A to hit person B, but that whole thing was a fake to get person A.

It is a very useful tactic against multiple opponents that I’m still trying to learn. Sparring multiple people makes it difficult to utilize combination kicks on any given attacker, so make sure each kick counts, landing properly on the opponent.

Take the initiative

Take out the biggest opponent first, or in this case the fastest or most skilled. You need to be fresh for this, so don’t save it. If you see an opening, try taking it, but don’t over-commit. Basically, fight carefully but fast.

Line them up

If your opponents are in a line, they interrupt each other’s line of attack and provide you with protection.

Move, Move and then Move Some More

don’t stand there and engage toe to toe. Avoid kicking with your back leg as it will leave you vulnerable balance wise and just give the other attackers time to get to you. Feint an attack directly at one and then veer off and go after the person to their side.

Stay in the Open

Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in a corner. Period. That’ll be it for you. This is a kind of continuation of the whole “line them up” thing, but more of the opposite.

When you’re sparring more than one person, the ultimate goal is to not get stuck between 2 or more people, because you can really only fight one person at a time.

Practice

Don’t leave this until the day of a tournament or at school. If you have 3 or 4 good friends ask them to help you out simply by just moving around and dodging and weaving you so can get a sense of what its like and can get used to trying out these points.

Final Thoughts on Sparring

Sometimes there are exception to certain rules and for sparring this is true.. For sparring you need to Train harder, not smarter. Even if you do all the kicks just right you can only go so far unless you have conditioned yourself physically for the time you will be on the floor.

In regards to sparring, the only way you will get better is to spar and then spar again and the more often you do it the more you learn.

On days when you don’t want to go full bore then ask your classmates or friends to help you train those weaknesses, then take note of your progress with more sparring.

Hopefully in your school you will have the opportunity to spar often and teachers that will teach you the strategies involved with different opponents such as those that are faster than you, stronger then you and/or more experienced.

Ideally they will teach you combos and counters and how to put them together depending on who you are sparring again.

Remember:  To spar well you have to be able to execute and adapt drills that you can use with conviction and in quick order.

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