Tips on Sparring in Tae Kwon Do

How to Prepare For A TaeKwonDo Tournament

Tae Kwon Do Tournament Sparring

Going to a TaeKwonDo Tournament can be a daunting experience and can be somewhat intimidating if its your first time. When I went to my first tournament (quite a few years ago) there wasn’t information readily available to give me tips on how to prepare for a TaeKwonDo tournament.

In the school I am at currently, there is an upcoming tournament (there always seems to be one) and I see the students starting to prepare for it and so I wondered what does it take to get ready for a tournament these days? Has it changed a lot?

So,  I decided to do some research as well as talk to the older kids and their parents about how they prepare for a tournament.  By doing so, I was able to learn more then a few things that you can do to make it easier not only before you go but also while you are at the tournament.

Pre Tournament Preparation

There is a lot you can do to get ready for a tournament before the day arrives and since you want to do your best doing these things will make you feel more confidant as well as more comfortable while there.

Cardio Work

Sparring is difficult in general but even more so at a tournament with the adrenaline running high. It can be an exhaustive experience and so in order to mitigate this as much as you can, what I was told you should do a few weeks (or more) before is to start concentrating  on cardio work.

The reason being is that even though 2 minutes (standard round time ) may not seem like a lot of time,  you will be surprised how tired you will get if not properly conditioned.

Therefore it goes to reason that if you are in better cardiovascular shape then your opponent, you will have the upper hand in scoring points and outlasting your opponent over the three rounds.

A tired or winded opponent is a lot easier to score against.. so get on that treadmill or start running.

Sit ups

The other physical exercise that you are going to want to do is sit ups.  Having strong stomach muscles will tighten up your core and so you will be better able to handle any kicks or punches that may get through.

If you have a soft “core” those kicks and punches are going to hurt that much more and will start to take its toll as the match goes along.

Practice Rounds

After doing your cardio and sit ups, the next thing you are going to want to do, especially if its your first tournament, is to do some practice rounds with all your sparring equipment on just like you were at the tournament.

The reason for this is that if you have never sparred with all your equipment on and I mean everything including the mouth guard and groin cup,  then you will be surprised how uncomfortable and restrictive it can feel the first few time you wear it. And you certainly don’t want to wait until your first sparring event to go through this!

While you have your equipment on its a good time to practice and your sparring,  try to work on some techniques that you are going to use. I would also tell you to work on not only a few two kick combinations but also work on what you need to do after throwing those combinations.

The reason I say this is because one error I see and hear about from instructors is that when sparring there is a tendency to throw a two kick combination and then stop right there.

Not sure why this is but I can only guess is it to see if any points (or hits ) are made. However, the downside of this is that it makes one prime for a quick counter .. so practice MOVING right after throwing that combo!

For more sparring tips check out this post!

Day of the Tournament

On the day of tournament you are going to want to do somethings that will get you in the right state both mentally and physically to be able to do your best.

Eating and Drinking

This starts before you even arrive and with your eating.. and I cannot emphasize this enough but NO JUNK FOOD!  Stick to eating healthy foods, for example, bananas, fruit etc. and take any multi vitamins that you may already be taking.

You are also going to want to drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated and get plenty of rest so no staying up all night with the Xbox.

Sparring Gear

Before you get in the car make sure your all your sparring gear has your name on it and that you have everything in your gear bag including your mouthpiece and groin cup since if you don’t have those you will be disqualified.

One additional note in regards to the sparring gear, if you are going to a sanctioned tournament, the sponsors sometimes require that there brand be the one used, so just check on this beforehand to avoid any….. awkwardness.


Make sure you have a clean uniform and you may even want to bring an extra one just in case something happens to the first one such as spilling something on it or sitting in something unexpected.

Depending on the tournament rules, they could be very particular on how your uniform fits so your pants cannot be too long and should not go below your ankles and your sleeves cannot go past the wrists.

And while I am on the subject, lets talk about your belt, that cannot be too long either and when tied, should not go below your knees.


Before you leave the house or hotel make sure you trim both your toe nails and finger nails, as its just a common courtesy not have to something happen to your opponent simply because you did not take the time to do this simple precaution and it won’t reflect well on you or your school.

Eye Glasses

One last but very important point for those of us that wear glasses.  There is not a tournament that I know of that will let you where glasses when sparring and a lot of them these day will not even let you wear sports googles for liability purposes as even they could break if the right kick is thrown therefore make sure if your blind without them, wear contact lenses.


There are some smaller items that you don’t necessarily have to bring but couldn’t hurt:

  • Copy of tournament registration – In case there are any issues when you arrive
  • Hair Spray – This is for the bottom of your feet as sometimes the mats can be slippery
  • Cash –  In case you need to buy something and they don’t take credit cards
  • Basic First Aid Kit –  The school should bring one if they don’t at least you do.
  • Flip Flops or Slippers – To walk around before, during and after the event.
  • Baby Wipes  – Lots of sweating going on out there ..
  • Change of clothes  – For after the tournament

When You Arrive At the Tournament

When you arrive at the venue, there is going to be a room where the participants can get ready for there match. So I would suggest that as soon as you arrive, go to the room and start your first warm up, you can start stretching, do some exercise  etc.

You are going to want to pay particular  attention to warm up your joints, ankles wrist knees and hips.. .well you get the point.

After a basic warm up your are going to want to practice a few of your basic kicks and think about the strategy and tactics you are going to use in your match.

You may also want to go to put your feet on the mats and check them out see how they feel on your feet and get an idea of what the area that you’ll be sparring at looks and feels like.

Its a good idea to do this  so its not new to you when its your turn to spar. Also keep an eye on the brackets so you can see how the tournament is progressing and who you opponent is going to be.

While the Matches are Going On:

TaeKwonDo Schools

Be Prepared to Wait!

Your turn could take awhile depending on the size of the event so try to stay sharp and due your best to stay focused and remember what you’ve practiced. Its really easy, especially when you just start competing, to get nervous in the ring and start to panic.

You stop thinking about what you are doing and people tend to only do one or two things and then become predictable. Make sure to vary your technique, but if you’re not overly comfortable with the technique don’t try brand new things, chances of messing up and the other person capitalizing is much higher.

Your Instructor

Before your match you may want to follow him around as he goes to others and listen to what advice he/she give them. It usually easier for them to see what needs to be corrected  (and they usually have more experience).

Its also better to do this before your match than when your on the mat as it can be easy to tune them out if you’re nervous and trying to only focus on your fight.

If you don’t follow your coach then try to at least watch the other people, especially those in your fighting group. This way you might pick up  some clues as to what their tendencies are.

Also while you are doing this, do what you can to keep warmed up as if you get too cooled down while you’re waiting it can really bring you down a notch and you might start off a little slow.

The Roll of the Parents at the Tournament

As a parent you are surely going to want to have memories of the tournament whether that takes the form of videos, photos or both.

What you need to keep in mind is  that at these tournaments you cannot use any flash and if you do they may give a penalty to your child or his team so there pretty serious about this, so leave the flash at home or turn it off.

Another good reason to take videos or photos is so you  can record his/her match in order that it can be reviewed later and critiqued on what was done well and maybe not so well and then you can use that as a way to improve for the next tournament.

You may be amazed when reviewing the match with your children on how more perceptive than we sometimes give them credit for; if allowed to stand back and review their own performance as on a video, they can often spot the ways in which their technique does not yet match that of their teacher.

You may also want to think about, while you are there, recording the matches of the other competitors, so that you and you child can review their good points and shortcomings without the…. emotion that you may by watching your son or daughter.

Also by doing this there is less chance of any criticism being taken personally, and so the points you are trying to make can be better taken.

Advice For Ladies Only

This may or may not go without saying but you are going to a TaeKwonDo Tournament and not a fashion show so don’t put on any makeup and leave the jewelry and nail polish at home. As a matter of fact, tournaments will not let you participate if you are wearing any jewelry.

Final Thoughts

As you can probably see there is alot more to going to a tournament than what you may have thought of and by going to one you will get a lot more out of  going to it  than what you may have imagined.  For example, you may be asking yourself afterward things like,

  • What happened today?
  • What do I do wrong?
  • What did I do right?
  • What can I take away or learn from going the tournament?

Just remember don’t you or let your kids take it too hard if they don’t do well. Everyone is there primarily to have fun.  And keep in mind, that if you lose, it usually teaches you a hell of a lot more than winning.

I will be the first to admit that this can be tough, especially when you get ready to go and by a stroke of bad luck,  lose in the first round. But there are always more tournaments and each match is a building block to make you better, win or lose.