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New sparring strategies

To spar effectively within sport fighting rules, new sparring strategies were developed. According to sport fighters, their kicks are so effective that blocking is useless and retreating serves no purpose except to allow the attacker another opportunity to attack. And since the arms are hanging down and useless except for clinching, the only effective defense is to evade in a way that permits an immediate counterattack. This led to the use of mostly lateral movements with a kicking component. In response to the ax kick, an extremely close-in kicking technique, longer kicking distances started being used especially since the rules make punching impractical for scoring. Because of the ax kick and rule changes, fancy footwork, which positioned the defender for executing a counter kick, became a hallmark of sport taekwondo sparring and the development of "receiving" kicks ensued.

Punching and blocking almost disappeared from the repertoire of effective techniques in continuous Olympic style sparring. Fast, dynamic footwork (aka bouncing), body movement, and using an attacker's movements to generate counters became the foundations for the use of more kicking. The rules of sport taekwondo place traditional taekwondo fighters at a disadvantage since their techniques will not be scored and would probably result in warnings. Perhaps the most revolutionary development of sport taekwondo was the development of stances and footwork to make it easier to score under the sport sparring rules.

Since they don’t have to stand against an onslaught of punches or a takedown or sweep, they use relatively short, upright stance that allows them to move quickly in any direction. They criticize traditional low, wide stances force the practitioner first to raise the body before performing any technique as being too slow for competition. Of course, they are! That’s why they are not used during sparring; they are used in training and in patterns to develop leg strength.

Sport footwork is broken down into steps rather than stances, much like the way boxers move. For instance, the walking stance is executed by stepping 15 degrees to the side, with the front of the leading foot and the heel of the back foot in a straight line with each other. From this close, natural stance, any kind of step or footwork easily follows. Steps are broken down in basic numbers and directions. For example, the double step is a sideways movement. Besides being evasive, the sidestep is also a hop that propels the practitioner into a jump kick aimed at the opponent's unprotected side.

Fighters may now quickly move forward and backward in short steps as a boxer does. A fighter may change his or her forward foot with a hop, which allows him or her instantly to angle his or her body away from the opponent's blows. If a fighter wants to confuse opponents, he or she can change his forward foot two or three times in rapid succession, so the opponent does not know which foot will do the kicking. Perhaps most confusing to an opponent is the triangle step where the practitioner does a sidestep hop to completely change direction while both feet are in the air. Wow, is that also the way boxers move? Footwork is nothing new. I’ve been around taekwondo since the 1960s and footwork was an integral part of training then. The only thing that’s changed is that it is used more since it is useful when fighting under sport taekwondo rules.

Another sport kicking technique is the running kick combination. It is not a kick where the fighter runs and jumps into a kick, such as a flying side kick; rather, it is a series of forward steps with a kick in between each step. Running kicks are always done with as much speed as possible, but still maintaining maximum power. They can be executed by kicking with the same foot or by alternating feet between steps. Running kicks are continuous kicking techniques that leave little room for counterattacks when you are backing up. Traditionalists would avoid, block, or even receive one kick and then with powerful hand and foot techniques, possibly even knocking the attacker down. Probably leading to a warning.

Most criticisms of traditional taekwondo by sport taekwondo players are about the techniques that are taught beginning students to teach the concepts of blocking. For example, they say, a traditional low block travels to the outside of the knee; whereas, the sport block only moves far enough to deflect the blow and stays close to the body's centerline, which makes it a faster and more efficient defense and permits a quick counterattack. That is why when traditionalist spar, they use quick, shot, snappy blocks that not only defect or stop the attack but also cause pain to the attacker to discourage similar attacks. They don’t make the full motion that is used to train muscle memory in beginners.

Because of these developments, taekwondo has evolved into two distinct versions, sport taekwondo (popularized by the World Taekwondo and their connections with Olympic Taekwondo) that only uses continuous sparring and traditional taekwondo (popularized by the International Taekwondo Federation, which uses point sparring, although it seems to be leaning more toward continuous-sparing. There are still traditional taekwondo schools and organizations to be found if you are interested. Each side has its reasons for supporting its viewpoints and, as usual, each side rejects the viewpoints of the other.

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