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Sparring>Fundamentals>Evolution of sparring>New vs.traditional kicking techniques

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New vs. traditional kicking techniques

As continuous sparring developed, it became clear that some of the older ways of executing techniques were not useful or efficient and that new techniques were needed. However, one should not confuse these techniques that were developed to score more points in sparring with the traditional techniques that were developed to stop an attacker that is intent on harming or killing you. Although point scoring techniques may strike with speed and power, the user is not worried about losing his or her life if the technique fails to stop the opponent.

Round/turning/roundhouse kick

  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say, the traditional snapping roundhouse/round kick is relatively weak, but sport taekwondo uses the turning of the hips and full body rotation to make it a very powerful kick. However, this concept is not new; this concept was taught by taekwondo instructors long before sport taekwondo started. Traditionalists use the best technique to fit the situation. At close range, a lead foot snapping round kick is used since it is fast and does not require a lot of body movement. 
  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say the traditional way of blocking a kick and then closing the distance for a final punch or kick was not effective against the new powerful roundhouse kick. That the difference in mass and power between the kicking leg and the blocking arm is too great and would overpower the block. Therefore, it was better to evade the kick, rather than intercepting the kick with a block. This is true, that is way traditionalist use evasion techniques, but evasion along with a block give you some coverage if the evasion fails. Traditionalists have always preached: block hands, evade kicks.
  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say the roundhouse kick should strike with the instep of the foot, instead of striking with the ball of the foot as do traditionalists, since it has a greater range. However, the ball of the foot has greater penetration depth and is not as easily injured as the top of the foot. This concept is true for other kicks, such as the hook kick. The traditional kicker's heel makes the first contact for a maximum striking force with less chance of injury to the foot while sport fighters prefer to strike with the bottom of the foot for more range and a better chance of scoring.
  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say that traditional roundhouse kickers cock the knee of the kicking leg, and then snap the leg out while leaning forward, which invites a quick counterattack to the open and defenseless body. While the sport version keeps the knee turned toward the inside for a powerful close-in roundhouse kick that can strike inside of an opponent's roundhouse attempt. Traditionalists do not cock then fire at the target. They fire at the target and incorporate the cock into the kicking leg’s movement. It’s all one smooth motion.

Ax kick

  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say that, in taekwondo textbooks published before about 1970, you cannot find mention of the ax kick; it is a recent development. Indeed, it is not mentioned in taekwondo books, but that is because the authors were not familiar with or chose not to teach it. Sport taekwondo practitioners say it is difficult, if not impossible, to block the kick, so you must evade it or risk either a broken arm or a concussion. Or, you could just charge into the opponent with a powerful flurry of punches as a traditionalist would do.

Front and side kicks

  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say that in traditional front and side kicks, the body is upright, and the knee rises before the foot is thrust or snapped outward. As with the roundhouse kick and all traditional kicks, the cock is incorporated into the movement toward the target; it is not a separate action. 
  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say they incorporate shifting footwork and the kicks start from the knee. The knee is held close-in to protect against an opponent's kick and the body does not move much during a kick. The idea is to kick quickly and powerfully without telegraphing intentions. With the knee held in close and turned slightly to cover the groin, more speed is available. In fact, the kicking leg may be used offensively and defensively at the same time. For instance, a practitioner might deflect an oncoming front kick with an upraised leg, which immediately turns into an offensive kicking leg, enabling him or her to defend and attack with the same action. Traditionalist practitioners would say, yes that’s a great technique to use in certain situations against certain opponents, that is why we have always used it when appropriate.
  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say traditional front kicks are wide open, so kickers are exposed to a quick counterattack. They say that in the sport front kick, the knee is instantly brought up and turned slightly inward to protect the body. Sounds suspiciously like the chambering/cocking motion that they criticize in other traditional kicks.
  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say traditional side kicks require the knee to be cocked into kicking position and the fighter leans forward toward the target as he or she kicks, leaving an opening for a counterstrike. Again, the kicking leg pasts through a cocked position on its way to the target. The foot is not pulled back and then thrust forward; that is like cocking a punch before you launch it. Traditionalists rarely lean into any techniques. Lean means you are putting yourself off balance. If you lean into a kick, your only option after the kick is to place the foot down to regain your balance. This could place you in peril of a counterattack. Traditionalists always try to maintain their center of balance over the center of their base, which, in the case of a side kick is directly over the support foot. This means you have the option of placing the kicking foot anywhere on the floor or of withdrawing it and using it as a block or firing it again with another kick. 

Back kick

  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say that in traditional back kicks, the fighter first cocks the kicking leg, leaving him or herself open to a kick from the opponent. The sport version does not open the leg as widely and keeps the knee in closer to help prevent any counter kicks and to facilitate a speedy back kick.

Spin side kick

  • Sport taekwondo practitioners say the traditional spin side kick is too wide, unbalanced, and leaves the fighter unprotected. They say that in the sport version, the fighter brings the knee in close and snaps the kick out in a whip-like fashion, while lowering the body so it’s easier to maintain balance. They say that, if the opponent also fires a roundhouse kick, there is no need to block since the body is already lower than the opponent's roundhouse. Traditionalists say the shortest, and therefore the quickest, distance between two points is a straight line. Therefore, kicks and punches travel in a straight line, unless the techniques must go around a guard, then hook punches and kicks are used.
Sport fighters have rules about what constitutes a scoring technique and they have modified their kicks to fit these rules. Over the decades, sport taekwondo has evolved into something entirely different than traditional taekwondo. Traditional taekwondo tries to keep its sparring techniques as close as possible to the techniques one would use for self-defense. After all, that is the main purpose of a martial art.

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