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Controlling the ring


When sparring, if you want to win, you must control the ring. This does not mean you take command of the ring (the referee does that), it means that through subtle actions you control the opponent, the sentiment of the officials and what they may see may, the pace of the action, and how much the opponent and officials respect you and your skills.
"You can retreat into your castle and pull up the drawbridge. You might not lose, but you cannot win."

Control your opponent

Controlling a fight is like playing chess. You must know when to attack, when to defend, when to bluff, and when to counterattack. You must plan many moves ahead and you must be aware of the position of all elements on the playing field.
  • Speed or slow the fight pace according to your own plan. Don’t let your opponent control the pace of the fight. When the referee says "fight," you should attack immediately. Whenever your opponent approaches the boundary line, crowd him or her out and, as the opponent steps out, attack, since the opponent cannot score while out of bounds. When the opponent is in a corner, he or she will be like a cornered animal looking for an escape, so be prepared to counter an aggressive attack. The most productive round for scoring is the last round so maintain a heavy pace in the last round.
  • Be unpredictable. One way to confuse an opponent is to be unpredictable, so he or she cannot formulate a plan. A fighter who can keep the opponent off balance is showing superior ring strategy and has control of the match. Alternate your tactics each round, sometimes attack, sometimes defend, so your opponent cannot predict your next move. If you are fighting aggressively and then switch to a defensive mode, your opponent may misinterpret it as you are weakening and advance into your waiting counterattack.
  • Know your opponent. Know your opponent's best techniques so you can prevent their use. You can do this either by having a strong guard around the region of attack or luring the opponent into using that technique, and then counterattacking. By rendering your opponent's favorite technique useless, you will destroy his or her confidence. When you can manipulate your opponent, you will usually win.
  • Test your opponent. Try a few forward steps or fakes and watch your opponent's posture and/or response. Test for counterattacks by charging forward and quickly retreating.
  • Do not give credit. During class sparring, especially with a lower rank student, we tend to acknowledge a good technique that scores. In competition, continue fighting as if nothing happened.

Control the officials

Referees and judges sit through hours of competition. After a while, everything looks the same; therefore, when it comes time to post their scores, they may only remember out-of-the-ordinary elements of the match. To control the officials, you must ensure they remember you and your performance.
  • Attract attention. It is difficult to watch two things at once, so officials tend to focus on just one or the other competitor when watching a match. So, if both competitors land a point simultaneously, each judge will usually score a point for the competitor he or she was concentrating on. Therefore, you must grab the judges' attention at the beginning of the match. Not by doing something strange, but by being the ultimate fighter: uniform perfect, answer loudly, kiai/Kihap loudly at appropriate times, perfect etiquette, and clean, crisp techniques. Look and act like a competitor that will probably score, and thus should be watched for the score.
  • Once you gain the judges' interest, keep it. If you start acting fatigued, they may stop concentrating on you. Once their attention is divided between you and your opponent, your chances of victory decrease, particularly in a close match.
  • Finish strong. If the match has rounds, start and finish each round strong. Even if you are confident you are ahead, you cannot "cruise" to the end of the fight. Do not take anything for granted. If your opponent finishes with a series of hard, aggressive attacks, you could lose the match.

Control the ring

  • Know where the referee and judges are located. Since two of them must see a technique to score it, move around to keep at least two of them on your good side.
  • Cutoff your opponent. Cutoff your opponent to prevent him or her from moving into an advantageous position.
  • Keep centered. Occupying the center of the ring is most advantageous.
  • Show a warrior spirit. Attack with a vengeance, but with control and respect for the opponent. You are out to win, but not win at all costs. You must win, or lose, with dignity and humility. 
  • Keep moving. It is harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one. Move back and forth, side to side, or circle, or side-step but do not stand still and resist backing up. Keep moving and keep the opponent off balance.
  • Move to sides or in circles. Backing up will put you outside the ring at some point, may draw a penalty for going out of bounds, and it demonstrates "weakness" to your opponent. Instead of backing up, sidestep, and counter.
  • Do not stop fighting. Attack quickly, aggressively, and persistently! Single techniques are easily "read" by your opponent and are evaded or blocked. Therefore, use feints and sweeps and then attack without pause until the referee stops you. If your competitor is backing up, do not stop attacking. A common error of inexperienced fighters is neglecting to follow up an attack. Once a fighter is backing up, for the fighter to change to an attack mode, he or she must stop, and then move forward. This is difficult to do when you are constantly under attack.
  • Intimidate. Intimidate your opponent with speed, skill, and spirit, using aggressive attacks to weaken his or her guard so you may attack from within.
  • Maintain a killer instinct. This does not mean you are out to cheat or harm the opponent, it just means you are out to win. Do not be affected by the status of the opponent (smaller, weaker, injury, or disability). They chose to face you, and they will lose. Don’t let an opportunity slip by because of sympathy. If the opponent drops his or her guard or shows fatigue, take advantage. Do nothing illegal but finish off the opponent. It is the referee's job to stop the action if he or she thinks it is necessary, your only job is to win. Don’t be arrogant or cocky, such as by raising your hand in victory or dancing around and showing off when ahead. Be a warrior! Get in, get the job done, and get out, with finesse and dignity.


  • Hanho. (1992). Combat Strategy: Junsado, the Way of the Warrior. Connecticut: Turtle Press
  • Hee, D. (1992). Tae Kwon Do Fighting Strategies: The Ring Tactics of an Olympic Gold Medalist. Black Belt Magazine, August 1992.
  • Prime, N. (2001). Bridging the gap. Niagara North Newsletter, Volume 30, July 2001. [Online]. Available: [2003, February 20].
  • Turtle Press. (2002). [Online], Available: [2002, October 21].
  • United States Taekwondo Union. (1999). [Online]. Available: [1999, December 4].
  • Verstappen, S. (2002). Fight Smart I & II Chinese Strategies For The Sparring Arena.
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