Sparring>Fundamentals>Step Sparring

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Step-sparring is when two students work together to perform a set of choreographed moves where they alternate as attacker and defender. It is an invaluable training tool for developing self-defense and sparring skills.

In step-sparring, the attacker advances and the defender retreats. The drills are designed to reflect the two possible strategies that may be used in a fight. One is to simply attack, the other is to react to the opponent's movements and counterattack before the opponent can complete his or her attack.


In step-sparring, students pretend they are in an actual self-defense situation so the exercise will build automatic self-defense reactions.

Step-sparring helps students:
  • Develop the precise control they will need when free-sparring. Since the opponent is moving in a prearranged manner, it is easier for students to develop their control. They learn the length of their arms and legs and how to make changes in range to accommodate different opponents.
  • Learn to face an attacking fist without blinking or turning away and to react by avoiding the attack or using a block and then counterattacking.
  • Develop clean, precise, powerful techniques without fear of harming their opponents. As a technique is repeatedly practiced, the speed of the technique increases without sacrificing power, accuracy, and control. As students advance in rank, the complexity of the step-sparring techniques increases and students are expected to perform them quicker, more accurately, and more powerfully.
  • Properly react to attacks. Students learn to quickly react to an attack and reduce the time between blocking and countering. The attacker learns to make a single, explosive attack without telegraphing when the attack will occur. The defender learns to recognize the incoming attack and react with a defensive block that redirects the attacker's power and opens a target area for a counterattack.

Types of step-sparring

Two types of step-sparring are generally used in taekwondo training: one-step and three-step.

One-step sparring

In one-step sparring
  • The attacker steps one step forward with one attack.
  • The defender steps one step backward with one defense and a counterattack. 
  • Next, the defender becomes the attacker and the attacker becomes the defender. This is repeated continuously until commanded to stop.

Three-step sparring

Three-step sparring proceeds just like one-step sparring except the attacker steps forward three times using the same attack each time. The defender steps backward each time and blocks the first two attacks but blocks and counterattacks on the third step.

Three-step sparring movements for the defender:
  • The first step is to step backward with one foot while keeping the center of mass in place while executing the specified block.
  • The second step is another step backward while executing the specified block. This step allows the student to gauge the range for the upcoming block and counterattack.
  • In the third and final step backward, the defender executes the specified block followed by a specified counterattack.

Step-sparring procedures

  • Step-sparring begins with two students facing each other. The instructor assigns one to begin as the attacker and the other as the defender.
  • The attacker and defender face each other at attention, bow, and step into ready stances. The instructor informs them of the technique the attacker will use and what block and counterattack the defender will use. Attack and counterattack techniques may be punches, kicks, or a combination of kicks and punches.
  • The attacker extends his or her left arm in a middle fore-fist punch position. The defender then adjusts his or her distance from the attacker to reach a comfortable range.
  • The attacker steps right foot back into the assigned stance with his or her guard up and gives a kiai (yell) to show that he or she is ready to attack. The defender responds with a kiai to indicate that he or she is ready to defend.
  • The attacker steps forward using the assigned technique. Defender steps back using the assigned block. This is repeated for the assigned number of times: 1 time (1-step) or three times (3-step). On the last step, the defender finishes with the assigned counterattack. The aim of step-sparring is to learn to perform techniques powerfully, technically perfect, and aesthetically beautiful, so take your time. As you gain experience, then you may start to add speed and more power.
  • The sequence is repeated, this time with the attacker becoming the defender and the defender becomes the attacker. The sequence is repeated (until stopped by the instructor) with the attacker and defender switching roles each time. No matter how much you think you are helping, it is considered poor etiquette to coach your fellow students, regardless of your rank or experience.
  • At the command to stop, the attacker and defender return to ready stances, come to attention, and bow.
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