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Sparring>Fundamentals>Evolution of sparring>Point vs. continuous sparring

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Point vs. continuous sparring

Point sparring creates a dilemma. In traditional taekwondo, we are taught that taekwondo is a defensive martial art, used only after being first attacked. However, in point sparring, the one who attacks and scores first, gets the point. When a point is scored, the match stops and any block or counter by the defender is ignored. An initial aggressive, but weak, attack scores, while a more powerful defensive technique is ignored.

So, we are taught that taekwondo is for defense, but point sparring rewards aggression; the one who attacks the most has the advantage. The competition aspect of taekwondo appears to be philosophically incompatible with taekwondo's basic principles. This creates a quandary. Is taekwondo sparring competition a training tool, or is it something separate from the true practice of taekwondo? This question is still being argued today.

You cannot train for power by constantly training not to use power; so, taekwondo students train to strike with full power, using heavy bags, targets, and body shields. We are told that devastating power is the result of using proper technique. However, when we free-spar, we must use control and techniques that do not harm the opponent. This poses a quandary within us. Kano's research over a century ago proved that this does not work in a martial art.

In Korea, in the early 1960s, a few instructors began experimenting with a more full-contact form of free-sparring using protective equipment that included a chest protector. They wanted to prevent unduly aggressive and even unrealistic approaches to sparring, while also permitting the opponent to use defensive techniques. They found that Kano's idea of continuous action was the only solution, and since this precluded the intermittent action of point-scoring, they turned to the use of paper scoring, such as used in amateur boxing. The result of this experimentation was the development of continuous action, full-contact sparring. However, it was not accepted by all masters. The founders of the World Taekwondo Federation participated in its development and accepted it but, among others, General Choi Hong Hi, founder of the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), opposed it. Even after Choi's death in 2002, the ITF still opposed it.

Under this new system, defensive techniques could now be fully scored. In point sparring, a quick, aggressive fighter can drop his or her guard and score on a weak technique and the action is stopped, even though the opponent immediately counterattacked with two or three powerful techniques to the attacker’s unguarded areas. This is what I call the “fastest gun” fighting strategy. The one who “draws and fires” the quickest will score, even though the opponent had numerous strikes that hit their target after this initial point was scored. With continuous sparring, attacking strategies must account for counterattacks, thus it is believed that continuous sparring promotes more realistic sparring than does point sparring.

Whereas point sparring is philosophically and technically incompatible with the principle of "no first-hand," continuous sparring considers itself the fundamental core of sport taekwondo training. Continuous sparring achieves the same goals that Kano and de Coubertin were seeking, using sport as a way to control human relationships. They both looked at the British sense of "fair play" as a governing factor in distinguishing the philosophical ideal of sport from simply organized game playing.

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