Continuous sparring considerationsHard-contact continuous sparring means that if you spar regularly, your chances of immediate injury increases, as does the risk of a cumulative injury due to continuous hard blows to the head (even with protective headgear). As one ages, the risk of injury increases. As is seen in boxers, hits that seemed uneventful at a younger age may come back to haunt you at an older age. If you want to spar daily and have fun, even in later years, point sparring or light-contact continuous sparring is the better choice.
Continuous sparring is not as realistic as its proponents proclaim. If you have witnessed real fights, you have seen that no matter how they start, with punches, kicks, or both, they quickly progress to grabbing and groundwork, but then point sparring techniques are also not very realistic. In a fight, even an untrained, ordinary person will grab, hold, and thrash around without letting go.
As to promoting comradeship amongst competitors, continuous fighting is no more effective than point sparring. Both stress compliance with the rules and good sportsmanship.
Continuous sparring has evolved into “leg fighting.” It has very little blocking or hand techniques, just standing back and trying to execute more scoring kicks than the opponent. Taekwondo is known as a kicking art but there is more to taekwondo than just kicks; hand techniques should be an integral part of your fighting repertoire. As seen in Ultimate Fighting Championship matches, a good puncher or ground fighter can beat a good kicker. Kicks are useful but we only use our arms for accomplishing tasks, our legs are primarily for movement, therefore, our arms are more versatile.
Proper point sparring techniques are not “pulled”; they are focused or controlled. The only difference between a blow that barely touches and one that knocks the opponent off his or her feet is a matter of range. When point sparring, you maintain a sparring range, so techniques make light-contact. In a real fight, you merely adjust your range a few inches closer, so techniques make full-contact.
In a self-defense situation, you are legally permitted to protect yourself with all the reasonable force necessary to stop the attack. Using more force than is necessary may get you charged with assault or even manslaughter.
Point sparring requires precise control, which is also required when defending yourself. The law assumes black belts have control of their power because of their training, so, if too much force is used by a black belt, it is assumed he or she meant to use that amount of force. This means a black belt may be charged with assault or a greater charge where an ordinary person may not be charged at all under the same circumstances. Point sparring fighters usually have more control than Olympic style continuous fighters due do their training methods. However, to learn to maintain stability when making full-contact, point sparring fighters need to practice full-contact sparring periodically.
Continuous sparring was developed to overcome the limitations of point sparring, but it only succeeded in developing another way of sparring with its own limitations. Point sparring stops the action for the scoring of a point, which hampers counter attackers, such as me, but hand techniques are encouraged. Continuous sparring would seem to be advantageous to counter attackers, but it has evolved into a kicking contest where hand techniques are not encouraged. Some say sport continuous sparring is better, as evidenced by its winning so many matches in international competition, but this is not a valid argument. It may also be said that sport sparring wins in international competition because international sparring rules were designed to encourage the use of sport sparring techniques.
Pattern changes have also affected the development of sparring. In Korea, patterns play a valuable role in taekwondo, but only as training aids in learning the basics. After the basics are mastered, students spend most of their time sparring. Koreans always practice while wearing protective equipment. As a result, they do not get hurt easily and are used to delivering their techniques full force. In Korea, there is no forms competition, only competitive sparring, so Americans easily beat Koreans in forms competitions, Koreans consider the made-up patterns so often seen in the United States as strictly for show, not for any good purpose in taekwondo.
Taekwondo is still evolving, and over time, traditional taekwondo and sport taekwondo will either draw closer together or further apart. Probably what will happen is that sport taekwondo will continue to develop, and traditional taekwondo will adapt some of its techniques while still maintaining its link to the past. This means there will always be a difference between the two.
One such adaptation is "touch continuous sparring," such as used by Taekwondo America, which combines point sparring with continuous sparring. Touch continuous sparring uses some of the stances, footwork, and kicking techniques of sport sparring while stressing hand attacks and counter-attacks. To score, techniques must have power and full-extension as in point sparring, but they must be fully controlled and only touch. Action is continuous with points accumulating during the match. Head, elbow, hand, shin, and foot protection are worn but body protection is not used. Punches to the head are not allowed to lessen the chance of injury. Extra points are scored for head kicks or jump kicks. A hand fighter may take a one or two-point kick so he or she may score two or three points with hand techniques. The result is effective sparring that does not favor kickers, punches, or counter attackers; all have an equal chance of scoring. Also, students may spar every day with little chance of serious immediate or cumulative injury.