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Sparring strategies


Differences between a strategy, a tactic, and a technique:

  • Strategy. A strategy is a long-term plan to deal with a situation. Sparring strategies are things you consider and plan for before you start sparring an opponent, such as how to deal with taller, shorter, or heavier opponents. They help you be prepared for sparring and to be ready for any type of opponent.
  • Tactic. A tactic is a procedure, method, or way that used to carry out a strategy, such as faking or counterattacking. Sparring tactics are things you do while you are sparring an opponent, that work best to support your fight strategy. Tactics are also considered and trained for before the fight so they will be available to you during the fight.
  • Technique. A technique is a specific, immediate action used to implement a strategy. in conjunction with tactics. In sparring, these are the punches, kicks, blocks, throws, etc. used during a match. These are the things martial artists train for daily since they are what ultimately lead to a win in a sparring match.
These three terms are not discreet; there are no hard lines between their definitions. Some strategies could also be classified as tactics or a tactic may seem to be a technique or vice versa. Just be aware of the concepts and how they may be applied to your sparring to make you a better fighter.

Sparring is like playing chess

Beginners at chess think about their next move before they make it, but then they tend to lose most of the time. Experienced players think about their next move and their opponent's probable next move before they make their move; they win more often. Master players think about their next three or four moves and their opponent's probable responses to the moves; they win a lot.

In free-sparring, if you want to win a lot, you must plan your techniques many moves ahead and anticipate your opponent's responses to the techniques. Every attack involves a "sequence of consequences" that once initiated, run their course. To anticipate the outcome of your attack, you need to know how your opponent will react to each of your movements. Thus, all your movements need to be precise, continuous, and pre-calculated.

Ways of fighting

Your overall fighting strategy includes sub-strategies to use against different fighters. If you are only fighting one match, you only need one strategy; however, if you fight multiple matches, you will need to adjust your overall strategy to fit the way each fighter fights.
  • Defensive fighters. The way these fighters fight is to wait for an attack and then after blocking, evading, or absorbing the attack, they counterattack, usually with multiple counterattacks. This way of fighting helps them overcome offensive fighters. Since defensive fighters wait for an attack, they stand around a lot waiting for their opponent to attack. 
  • Offensive fighters. The way these fighters fight is to always be on the attack. By keeping pressure on opponents, they make it difficult for opponents to formulate their own attack. They may overcome defensive fighters by using blitz attacks, using so many techniques and attacks that the defender is overcome. They may overcome trap fighters by seeming to fall for a trap, and then counter-attacking. They don't wait for attacks; they are always attacking
  • Trap fighters. The way these fighters fight is to lure opponents into a trap. They may overcome defensive fighters by luring them into blocking a single technique and then attacking them with a combination. Trap fighters lure offensive fighters into attacking seemly open targets and then they counterattack. Since trap fighters try to draw an attack, they also stand around a lot waiting for their opponent to attack.

Different types of fighters and fighting strategies to use against them 

Different sparring strategies are used depending on your sparring style, the sparring style of your opponent, and the type of fighting your opponent is. Taekwondo is known for its kicking, therefore in taekwondo competition, the kicker is the most encountered type of fighter. When fighting in open competitions, you will face fighters of other styles and thus other types of fighters.


In taekwondo, the kicker stays at a long-range and mostly uses kicks as attacks. Other martial arts styles also use kicks and allow them to be used for jamming and blocking. Kickers like to kick and so they are good at kicking.

When kickers fight each other, the match is like a gunfight in the Old West. Both opponents stand apart and both draw at will. The first to draw and hit the target wins. This means you must be faster on the draw than your opponent. Your kicks must be quicker and more accurate than your opponent's kicks. If your opponent draws first, then you must block or avoid and then counter kick or fire your own kick that is more accurate, faster, and more powerful.

Strategies to fight kickers:

  • If you are a puncher, you must fight at close range. If you fight from a middle or long-range, you are merely a target for the kicker. The kicker may easily score on you, but it is difficult for you to score on the kicker.
  • Crowd the kicker and stay inside kicks so they are ineffective.
  • Keep the kicker backing up so he or she can never get set up for a kick. By crowding the kicker, you eliminate their kicks and force them to fight with their hands, which they seldom use.
  • Most kickers are usually tall, which means long legs and long arms. If you get inside, it is difficult for a long-limbed opponent to strike you, especially with any power.
  • Inside fighting is very strenuous; you must stay alert for attacks, and you must be attacking constantly, so you must be in good physical condition.
  • During clashes, keep your higher than the opponent's leg so you are in scoring position and the opponent is in a position that may draw a foul for a low kick. When attacking, use double or triple kicks and kicking combinations. 


Punchers fight like boxers, they tend to:
  • Stay in close and use mostly hand attacks. They only use kicks to keep the opponent aware of them or to set up for a hand attack.
  • Like to stand their ground and they will take shots if it means they can get inside and give more shots.
  • Be big and strong so they can take a lot of punishment, and they love to give punishment. 
  • Not get pushed around easily. Many will stand in a rooted stance, using their base for powerful strikes. If they do move at all, it is not very quickly and not very far, maybe only a step in any direction. They usually move laterally so they can keep their weapons on target. 
  • Use strong, powerful, short-range attacks like reverse punches, hooks, and uppercuts. They also like elbow and knee strikes. 
Grappling punchers will attempt to gain the mount position early so they can start pounding their opponent. Punches like to punch and so they are good at punching.

Strategies to fight punchers:

  • Keep moving; circle the ring in both directions to keep them from getting set.
  • Launch unexpected attacks.
  • Do not exchange punches and fight their fight, move away immediately.
  • If you are a kicker, you must try to extend the range and stay outside the puncher's reach. Nail them with a side kick every time they try to get close. Don’t move backward to extend the range, move in circles toward the outside of the lead hand. Don’t kick from the same angle all the time. 
  • If you are also a puncher, you must be quicker in the quantity and quality of your punches. You must bob and weave to avoid getting hit. Use periodic kicks to keep opponent aware of them. Watch for unexpected kicks.

Combination fighters

Many fighters use a combination of kicking and punching. This makes them the greatest threat. Combination fighters tend to:
  • Vary their range and tend to use combinations.
  • Still specialize in either kicking or punching. 

Strategies to fight combination fighters:

  • If you are a kicker, stay outside, away from punches and use angular kicks and fake kicks. Watch for kick/punch combinations and use counter attacks.
  • If you are a puncher, stay inside of kicks and use fading jump kicks (kicks where you jump backward to increase range as you kick).

Counter fighters

Counter fighters wait for their opponents to attack, and then they block the attack and quickly follow-up with their own attack. Counter fighters tend to:
  • Rarely initiate an attack; they anticipate attacks by reading the opponent's style.
  • Make opponents attack the way they want by baiting or using feints. Once the opponent launches an attack, the counter fighter relies on intuition, timing, and power to block the attack and to move in with an attack.
  • Be adept at slipping, parrying, or evading blows so they can move in with their attacks.
  • Often use circular, to get around an incoming technique. Watch out for high roundhouse or hook kicks. 
  • Use linear attacks, such as sliding a side kick past a chambered leg.
  • Not move very far, even though they use a lot of evasive movements.

Strategies  to fight counter fighters:

  • If you are a kicker, fake angular kicks and nail the counter fighter with a straight-in kick as he or she moves in with a counterattack.
  • If you are puncher, fake an attack, block the counterattack, and then counterattack. Keep the opponent under pressure and off-balance. 


Snipers take shots from a long-range. Snipers tend to:
  • Have long arms and legs so they usually have a reach advantage over their opponents. They throw fast, long-range, effective techniques that take advantage of their reach.
  • Backpedal a lot but will also use side-to-side movement at the limit of your effective range.
  • Often be mistaken for runners, until they land a big shot on you from long-range.
  • Evade attacks rather than block: you will often find yourself chasing them around the ring. However, a sniper's goal is not to survive by evading you, but to take you out with long-range attacks. 
  • Be previous tall runners who grew confident with their skills and became snipers.
  • Throw a lot of jabs. While sniper kickers will use high front and side kicks, such techniques are usually linear to reach their target quickly while it is still within range.

Strategies to fight snipers:

  • You must crowd snipers. Stay on them like white on rice. Their long arms and legs are not as effective at close range.


Fakers use lots of fakes and feints and they are very difficult to fight, everything is not as it seems. Fakers tend to:
  • Be good actors, you never know whether the first attack is real or fake. They fake a kick or punch to draw off your guard and then kick or punch to the opening. They use sleight of hand, foot, and body so you are drawn in one direction as they attack from another direction. If you assume an attack is fake, it may be real and get you. If you assume an attack is real, it may draw your guard and then the follow-up technique gets you.
  • Fake injury to one area to make you think that area is less of a threat so they can nail you with it when you you are not looking.
Another version of the faker is the opponent who fakes injury when you score to try to get you awarded a foul. If they do it too much, the referee will get wise to it. Use precise control when fighting this type of faker so you will not be awarded fouls even if the faker claims injury.

Strategies to fight fakers:

  • Try to pick up on any tics that indicate the perceived attack is a fake but be aware the faker may be faking the tic.
  • If you are a kicker, get off first and beat your opponent with speed. Use combinations and do not let the faker throw off your timing.
  • If you are a puncher, maintain a tight guard and do not overreact to attacks. Wait a split second after a possible fake for the follow-up attack to finish before countering.

Shorter fighters

Shorter fighters are often aggressive to make up for their height. Those with slight builds may be very quick. Shorter fighters tend to rush in with a combination attack and then rush back out of range.

Strategies to fight shorter fighters:

  • Take advantage of your height and reach. Shorter opponents cannot effectively block kicks from taller and heavier persons; they must evade, so use kicks to strike where you think they will be when the kick arrives, not where they are at the moment.
  • It is easier for you to punch or kick a shorter opponent's head and more difficult for him or her to punch or kick your head so keep the opponent worrying about his or her head.
  • It is more difficult for you to punch the opponent's body and easy for him or her to punch your body so use you longer kicks to keep the opponent at bay.
  • Push your kicks through a smaller opponent's defense and knock him or her off balance, and then use a follow-up technique.
  • The opponent may be quicker than you, so "manhandle" them and push them around to keep them on the defensive.
  • Keep smaller opponents away since they will try to get close and inside your reach. Punch or use push kicks to make room.
  • Use headshots since they are easier against a shorter opponent.
  • Punching to the body is difficult since you must punch downward, so use kicks, especially the ax kick. 
  • Use a lot of cut kicks and fakes. 
The basic strategy is to keep your distance. When the opponent comes in, cut him or her off with a linear kick, move to the side, and attack. When you cut an opponent off, he or she may not stop attacking so move out of the way and then attack with a round kick. When you sidestep, keep the range that is best for your counter. If you are quick enough, you can cut off an opponent with an ax, back kick, or a high roundhouse while jumping backward.

Taller fighters

Taller fighters have a long reach with both arms and legs so they like to fight from long-range.

Strategies to fight taller fighters:

  • Use close range fighting; it makes it difficult for taller opponents to extend their kicks fully. Or, stay outside their range, suddenly close the range and attack with quick combinations, and then quickly retreat, similar to the Mohammad Ali's "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" fight strategy.
  • It is easier for your taller opponent to punch or kick your head, so keep it guarded. It is difficult for you to punch or kick the taller opponent's head, so do not do it unless there is a clear opening that does not leave you vulnerable.
  • When kicking a taller opponent, it is easy for your kick to go under the opponent's kick and draw you a warning.
  • It is more difficult for your taller opponent to punch to your body since he or she must punch downward through your guard so stay in close, however, it is easier for him or her to kick your body so stay out or range or in close.
  • Use spin kicks, they are more difficult to predict and counter and, when there is a counter, it may strike your back in a foul area.
  • Do not trade kicks since their legs have a greater range.
  • Attack carefully; do not walk into kicks. Keep moving to both sides.
  • Attack body.
  • Draw an attack and slip inside.
  • When inside, attack head but don't use uppercuts, unless his or her head is at your level.  
  • Keep your hands up, protect your face and torso, and do not give the opponent an opening.
  • If you are a good kicker and opponent is not, then you can kick while opponent flails away with his or her hands, forcing him or her to commit forward so much that you can fight from the inside. From the inside, you can use your power and leverage.  
  • If contact to the legs is allowed, low kick hard to the legs and lean away from opponent's punches.
  • Do not stand inside too long and get pounded. Slip around and back outside.
  • Use an overhand punch. This is a well-covered punch that can reach a taller fighter.
  • Circle larger opponents and attack from angles
  • Sidestep a lot. Make him or her throw a kick that misses you and then counterattack. The longer the legs, the harder it is to recover for a second attack after the first misses. \
  • If you are in the opponent's attack range, fake, and then move inside.  

Out of control fighters

When injured or outclassed, these fighters become so angry they lose all self-control. The referee should control this type of fighter so you should stay alert and aggressive but maintain your control. Don’t let them draw into their anger. Being out of control means they are not thinking when they fight.

Strategies to fight out of control fighters:

  • Do not fight your opponent's fight; you cannot fight fire with fire, you need to use water. Use your opponent's aggression, anger, and violence against him or her by staying calm, cool, and collected. This will make them even angrier and more prone to mistakes. Just be careful because when the opponent is out of control he or she may use dangerous or deadly techniques.
  • Evade attacks instead of resisting them, let the opponent tire, and counter when you see opportunities. 

Bob and weavers

Bob and weavers are constantly moving their upper body and head, so the head is difficult to hit.

Strategies to fight bob and weavers:

  • Don’t attack weavers on a straight line. Sidestep and attack straight to their sides.
  • Attack where the target will be, not where it is. Since the bob and weavers are constantly moving, the target will not be there when your attack reaches where it was.
  • Try to detect a pattern to their movements so you may anticipate which way they may move.


Runners are elusive, evasive fighters who do not like to get hit. They are usually not confident in their abilities and do not want to mix it up. When you move in for an attack, they usually backpedal. Counterpunchers also run at times, but they will spring back in with their own attack, while runners will keep running away. Runners are typically slight of build, so they run fast.

Strategies to fight runners:

  • Runners do not attack much, but when they do, it is typically a long-range attack.
  • Runners often throw techniques while moving backward, so their techniques tend to be weak.
  • Some runners let you chase them around until you get tired and then they come in for an easy win, or they wait until you get frustrated chasing them and over commit on a technique and they take you down.
  • Runners use the whole ring and tend to run out of bounds a lot.
  • If you have the endurance, run them down and make them look foolish. If you run them out of bounds a lot, they may get disqualified.
  • You can stand your ground and make them come to you, where you can nail them.

Persistent jabbers

Persistent jabbers jab constantly to keep you away from them.

Strategies to fight persistent jabbers:

  • Keep pressure on your opponent.
  • Weave to either side and slip under the jab, keeping your body low.
  • After forcing your way under the jab, attack the body.
  • Lean back away from the jab and immediately spring forward with a powerful counterpunch. 


Southpaw (left-handed) fighters may throw off your game if you are not used to fighting them. Lefties get experience fighting righties all the time, but the righties don’t get a lot of experience fighting lefties.

Strategies to fight southpaws:

Force the opponent to attack.
Circle left to the blindside away from the opposing left arm and leg.
Use the right hand to the head or body.
Do not neglect the left hook over the southpaw's right shoulder.

Aggressive fighters

Aggressive fighters love to attack. They are nonstop blitz fighters who continuously attack. They on you like white on rice. They usually have a high endurance level. They try to intimidate by being "flashy." Their aggressive fighting style sometimes masks weak defensive skills.

Strategies to fight aggressive fighters:

  • Let the opponent attack for a while, while using sidestepping or clinching. As they tire or get complacent, attack.
  • You may also counter immediately after a sidestep, and then clinch. 
  • Use a reverse punch to knock him or her off balance. 
  • Keep the opponent wasting his or her energy and losing points. 
  • Use lots of fakes to keep the opponent paranoid and moving. 
  • An opponent who kicks too much is often standing on one leg so as they kick, knock him or her off balance with a linear kick and counter. 
  • Remember, when fighting an aggressive fighter, most of your points come from countering. 
  • Use intimidation, such as hard blocks or using your body to shove them around,
  • Intercept their attacks by using mid-section kicks as they are coming in, by checking their kicking leg, or check their hips when they try spinning techniques.
  • Keep moving to different angles to keep the opponent from setting set.
  • Do not let the opponent control you. Do not move in the direction they try to get you to move.
  • Beat them at their own game—blitz them. You will need to practice combinations that you can perform quickly and powerfully.


Blitzers rush in aggressively throwing dozens of punches and kicks and then quickly retreat. Blitzing looks exciting and may impress judges. Blitzers tend to:
  • Often be punchers who are too impatient to wait for opponents to come in.
  • Be like punchers in that they tend to be big and strong, except they are fast. 
  • Throw every technique they know, trying to intimidate or drive the opponent out of the ring. 

Strategies to fight blitzers:

  • If you are surprised by the speed and intensity of a blitz, you will not be able to block effectively or mount your own attack so be aware of blitz attacks and practice defending against them.
  • When the blitzers attack, quickly sidestep the attack, similar to a bullfighter avoiding a bull, and nail them as they pass by.
  • Make them look clumsy so they do not impress anyone. 

Elusive fighters

Elusive fighters are like runners, rather than stand their ground, they move away from an attack: however, they end to move circles in all directions. They never seem to stand still. Elusive fighters tend to:
  • Avoid an attack than using a block.
  • Not be physically intimidating.
  • Be fit since they are constantly moving.
  • Be deceptive. They may seem to be unsure of their abilities so they are avoiding confrontation but they may be highly skilled fighters who float like a butterfly and sting like a bee by moving away to avoid attacks and then make a swift counterattack and then they quickly move back out of range.

Strategies to fight elusive fighters:

  • Entice them to come to you by providing an opening and then counterattack,
  • If they run backward, use long-range techniques, such as rear leg kicks, sliding kicks, or jumping kicks.
  • Control where they may run or cause them to run in the direction you choose.
  • If they run to the sides, try to figure which side they tend to move to and make them move into your attack.
  • "Spook" them with a feign attack, and then move in swiftly with an attack to their new location.

Analytical fighters

These are thinking, calculating fighters. When two analytical fighters are sparring, it is a mental strategy game like playing chess; they just move around a lot and do little else. Analytical fighters are thinking moves ahead. For example, an analytical fighter may feint a high punch to bring the opponent’s guard up and then fake a low kick to bring the guard down, which will leave the opponent’s head open for the finishing blow.

Strategies to fight analytical fighters:

  • Analyze their style of fighting and develop tactics to overcome them.
  • Act tired to draw them in.
  • Single techniques will not work; every attack or block must be used with combinations.
  • Use quick double kicks to get around their defenses.
  • Mix slow and fast techniques.
  • Mix circular and linear techniques
  • Attack at varying heights, low, middle, and high, using both the hands and feet.
  • Lift your leg to fake a kick, and then attack with hands.
  • Use their instincts against them, such as look high but attack low
  • Attack them from angles, rather than straight in.
  • Stay aggressive and don't give them an opportunity to analyze.

Wait and counter fighters

This type of fighter is usually one of the smartest fighters. They let you set the tempo of the fight and then react to your actions.

Strategies to fight wait and counter fighters:

  • The main thing you do not want to do is to attack aggressively with carelessness. Again, fakes are the key. 
  • When they wait and counter, you want to make your fakes very convincing, so they believe it is coming. 
  • When executing a feint, be ready for counters. Once he or she misses the counter, use strike aggressively.

Very fast fighters

Fast fighters are difficult to fight since you sometimes do not see what hit you. Some people have extremely fast hands. However, sometimes power is sanctified to gain speed.

Strategies to fight fast fighters:

You do not want to get into a speed contest; you will just end up being outscored.
Attack when the opponent's leg is in the air for a kick. The time it takes to put the leg down and attack a second time should be about the same or longer than the time it takes for you to throw your attack.
Do not just wait and get beat. You will only score if you attack.

Lightweight or heavyweight fighters

Each fighter wants what the other has; heavyweight fighters want the speed of the lightweight fighters and the lightweight fighters want the power of the heavyweight fighters.  Lightweight fighters tend to have good skills, mobility, speed. They tend to have more endurance, which partly due to their circulatory system, which doesn’t need to work as hard to circulate oxygen as it does in the heavier person. Thus, heavier fighters are usually less conditioned. Although they may be fast for their size, they rely mostly on their reach and power and are often not conditioned enough in the abs and lower back to allow for crisp, quick footwork, body angling, head movement, etc.

Total package fighters

All-around fighters are the worst opponents to face. If you take a lighter person and give him or her a classic heavyweight characteristic such as power, you get a Roberto (Hands of Stone) Duran. He had the quickness of a lightweight plus the knockout power of a heavyweight. If you take a heavier fighter and give him the skills, mobility, speed, and conditioning of a lightweight, you get a Muhammad Ali, a powerful puncher with the quickness of a lightweight.

With the abilities of each of the previous styles under their command, All-around fighters may change styles to fit the circumstances. They don’t do much in the ring, but when they do, it usually scores them a point. They pick off everything you throw and they only attack openings. Since they do not waste energy attacking air, they are just as strong at the end of a round as at the start. If you face this type of fighter and you are not one yourself, pray for a miracle.

Personal fighting strategies

If you are a lead fighter:

If you are a lead fighter, you should not attack a strong position. You should first weaken your opponent’s position with a fake or deceptive action to make him or her pause. That will create an opening, and the hesitation may enable you to score. Remember that when you attack, you must make your opponent hesitate.

Fighting strategies to use:

  • Indirect angular attack. This strategy is used against a person who stands ground and blocks. It involves using an angular fake. For example, move into the range of your opponent with a low fake and follow with a high strike or with a high fake and a low strike. These two combinations are among the most common indirect angular attacks.
  • Broken-rhythm attack. This strategy is used against a person who is a counter fighter who counterattacks every time you attack. You need to draw the counter and then strike while the weapon is returning from the missed counter. For example, you know your opponent will try to counterpunch, so move into range to draw the punch, and then move out of range when the opponent delivers it. This action causes the opponent to miss and allows you to score while the opponent is out of position.
  • Immobilization attack. This strategy is used against a runner or a person who is always moving. This is the most sophisticated of the three lead-fighter strategies. There are many ways to stop a person from moving away from you. One is to reverse your direction and move away from the opponent to draw him or her toward you. Or, you may immobilize the opponent by grabbing or by obstructing a leg with a check or sweep. To be successful, immobilization attacks must include distance, angle, and attitude. For example: lunge in, grab a sleeve, pull off-balance, and counterpunch the body with a loud kiai.

If you are a counter fighter:

If you are a counter fighter, you want your opponent to attack you. By exposing an area of your body to seem vulnerable, you encourage the opponent to attack that area. Sometimes called baiting, this approach may weaken the opponent's position by allowing you to know where the opponent will probably attack. A skilled counter fighter causes the opponent to use a specific weapon at a specific time to a specific target. Remember that when you are attacked, you must first make your opponent miss.

Fighting strategies to use:

  • Redirect the attack. This strategy focuses on redirecting your opponent’s energy by either moving his or her weapon off the line of attack by using a parry or by moving yourself off the line of attack using a slip, or by using both methods. For example, lure your opponent into attempting a punch toward your head, slip it by moving off-line, and then counter to the body.
  • Interrupt attack. This attack interrupts your opponent’s energy by putting a greater amount of energy in direct opposition to it, by using a stop-hit technique. For example, as the attacker uses a lunging reverse punch delivered with the rear hand, you move into the line of attack and execute a defensive side kick to stop the opponent’s forward movement.
  • Absorb attack. This strategy involves absorbing your opponent’s energy. You do this by using what is called a “target fade,” which refers to using a non-vital part of your body as a shield. For example: as the opponent throws a kick at your body, you fade away from the attack just far enough that the kick just touches your shielding arm. Then you move out of the line of attack while using a counter spinning back fist strike.


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