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About sparring


Humans have been fighting ever since they came into existence. From the beginning, humans realized that to be good at fighting you need experience at fighting. However, they also realized it was difficult to gain experience when you were injured or dead. At some point, they realized that they should learn from animals and use rituals or pretending to fight to learn to fight without actually fighting. Thus, sparring was born.

As previously stated, taekwondo is a martial art, a self-defense system, and has also become a competitive sport. To test their taekwondo skills, taekwondo students spar. Sparring is a one-on-one match between two fighters using controlled techniques under controlled conditions. Students test the offensive and defensive skills they have learned through class training and performing patterns against an actual opponent in a friendly contest under controlled conditions designed to lessen the chances of injury. If cannot hold your own in a free-sparring match, you will probably not stand much of a chance of defending yourself in a self-defense situation.

Sparring lets you familiarize yourself with facing larger, stronger, higher-skilled opponents and what may be required to defeat them. Everyone imagines how great a fighter they are; free-sparring lets them see if their imagined skills are as great as imagined.


In TKDTutor, I try to offer information about both traditional and sport taekwondo, but I am a firm believer that the purpose of a martial art is to teach people to become warriors and be able to defend themselves and others from attacks, not to make them sports players. Sparring is an integral part of learning a martial art, as long as it has some practical application to self-defense.

When an attack comes, you must react instantly, and you will react as you have trained to react. There are no rules, referees, timeouts, loose-fitting uniforms, safety equipment, or mercy on the street. If you enjoy playing a fighting sport, that’s fine, just don’t confuse it with a martial art. There's a difference between playing war with paintball guns and fighting a war with firearms. There's some similarity between the two but, if you lose in a paintball war, you buy the beer, but, if you lose in a war—you "buy-the-farm". Everything changes when your attacker is trying to kill you and you are trying to kill the attacker.

Usefulness of sparring

The "founder" of one of the "realistic" martial arts spoke about sparring he stated that he had "No idea what those martial arts instructors are trying to accomplish." In his opinion, when you see sparring in a martial arts school, one of three things is happening:
  • The instructor did not prepare a lesson and is just killing time.
  • The instructor does not like his students.
  • The instructor does not realize that he is not teaching street self-defense.
In his opinion, any self-defense style in which you spar is just a game and is ineffective. Of course, his style of self-defense is effective and deadly, thus it cannot be used in competition. He was right about one thing; he has no idea what sparring is trying to accomplish.

During sparring, students demonstrate their ability to defend themselves effectively using taekwondo techniques. They must demonstrate effective, well-defined, and controlled punches and kicks, in a manner that demonstrates an understanding of taekwondo principles. The techniques should be executed in a manner that, even if blocked, they still display power and an understanding of strategy and placement. Technically perfect techniques that lack power and placement are useless. Sparring should be as realistic as possible without causing injury to the opponent. An injured student is not able to train and thus is not progressing.

This leads to a discussion about the usefulness of full-contact sport sparring. Full-contact sparring is not for everyone. It does take a toll. Look at boxers. Some survive years of boxing unscathed while others have had their quality of life severely reduced. However, full-contact sparring is useful, at least for a portion of a martial artist's career. Full-contact sparring as several benefits:
  • You learn that mistakes can have painful consequences.
  • It demonstrates a fighter's ability to perform under the stress of receiving actual pain or possible injury for any.
  • Since injuries, mostly minor, do occur, you learn to hide your injury and protect yourself when injured.
  • You learn to adapt to different opponents and different techniques quickly and calmly.
  • You learn how to withstand an opponent's blows and respond calmly without anger.
  • You learn to face fear and think clearly while under duress.
  • You see the need for mental and physical endurance.
  • By seeing the effects of your attacks and feeling the effects of your opponent's attacks, you quickly learn what techniques are effective and which ones are hype.
  • You learn how to move quickly to avoid attacks since they cause you pain 
  • You learn that even blocking causes you pain.
  • You learn to spot weaknesses in your opponent and to exploit them.
  • It gives you an opportunity to apply all you have learned in as realistic a situation as you can have without it being a real fight for your life.

World Taekwondo (Olympic style) sparring

As a popular competitive sport, taekwondo is included in virtually all of the major national, continental and world level sports programs, such as the Summer Olympic Games, the World Games, the Pan American Games, the Conseil International du Sport Militaire program of world military sports championships, the Federation International du Sport Universitaire program of world university level sports championships, and many more.

Olympic and international taekwondo competitions use a version of full-contact sparring promoted by the World Taekwondo organization. It is not the type of fighting contact one would encounter in the real world, but it still involves hard contact. If a student is interested in this type of competition, he or she should train with an organization that specializes in World Taekwondo style contact free-sparring.

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