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Sparring tactics

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.

Defensive tactics

Defensive tactics are actions used when your opponent attacks. An opponent is most vulnerable when attacking, so a good defense with a follow-up counterattack will usually score. Attacking is a relatively simple task when compared to successfully defending against an attack. A good defensive tactic is always to keep your opponent off balance by either moving or attacking. Some example of defensive tactics are:

Defensive counterattack

If you decide to stand your ground, always initiate an offensive movement of your own just as your opponent moves into range.

Long-range linear kicks, such as front and side kicks are effective counters to opponents at long range. Whereas round, hook, and heel kicks may let the opponent slip inside and score. Ax and push kicks may also be effective, but they leave you vulnerable if unsuccessful. The idea is to hit your opponent before he or she hits you, or at least to hit with more force.

When you are in a defensive mode, a simultaneous counterattack is seldom expected. The key to delivering this defensive attack is to initiate your technique at the exact moment the opponent begins his or her attack; then it is too late for the attacker to change techniques. If your defensive attack is too early, your opponent may have time to adjust and possibly pull you into a counterattack. If your defensive attack is too late, you may walk into the attacking technique.

Defend or evade

Alternate between defending and evading before launching a defensive counterattack. As your opponent tries to strike, use your footwork to evade. The more often you evade attacks rather than countering them, the more frustrated and aggressive your opponent may get. Then, when the opponent is drawn into the belief you are not counterattacking, you catch him or her off guard when you unexpectedly stand your ground with a defensive attack.

If you constantly defend or avoid attacks, you allow your opponent to maintain the superiority of the match. To avoid attacks and regain ring superiority, sidestep, or circle your opponent. Never move straight back unless you plan to counter or sidestep within the first two backward steps. If you do counter, but do not connect solidly, add a counterattack to drive your opponent backward. If you do connect solidly, then circle to avoid a counterattack. This allows the judges to keep your previous strong blow in mind.


One effective avoidance movement is sidestepping. From a left fighting stance, if you need to move right to avoid your opponent, push off with your lead leg into the same stance but further to the right. If you need to move left, push off with your rear leg, and then switch your stance as you slide to the left. Be sure to shift both feet simultaneously, keeping them as close to the floor as possible and as evenly as possible. Be conscious of exactly where your move will place you. Ideally, you want to position yourself for a kick counterattack. The step and kick should be performed simultaneously. Step diagonally, not horizontally by stepping slightly forward and to the right or left, or slightly backward and toward the right or left.


You can block while stationary or while moving. An easy block is to always maintain a proper guard, which, with only small movements can block or stop many attacks. Tips on blocking include:
  • Always keep elbows and arms close to the body. Don't let them stick out to the sides and flap like a chicken trying to fly. Michelangelo once said that a sculpture should be able to roll down a hill without anything breaking off. Likewise, do not leave arms or elbows sticking out while sparring. They create openings and can’t be used effectively for blocking or attacks.
  • Never block past the outside edges of the body. It’s unnecessary and wastes movement and energy.
  • Always use the quickest, most powerful, and most effective movements. You need every split second to be in your favor. The quickest blocks are hard blocks; they are hard on the body of the attacker, but they are also hard on the body of the attacker. Soft blocks are easier on the body, but they take more time to execute. Use the principle of Um-Yang, the harmonious action of opposites. Hard and soft techniques are opposite in application, but they work together to defend the body. Soft blocks are effective against hard attacks, and vice versa.
  • Block with power. Block with enough power that the pain it causes will make the opponent think twice before attacking again. A block is not just making contact with the attacking limb, you must block with enough force to stop the attack.
  • Blocks don't earn points. Remember, blocks are useful, but you do not get points for blocks. To get points, you must also attack successfully.
  • Kick a hole. When contact sparring, do not kick at the opponent, kick through the opponent to ensure there is enough movement for you blast through the opponent's defenses and score.
  • Keep block compact. In modern competition, blocks are small and fast. In Olympic style taekwondo sparring, blocks are losing favor in favor of always using attacking strategies. The advantage of economical blocks is that rapid recovery may be achieved so you may make an immediate counterattack, which is crucial after blocking.
Some points to consider in blocking are:
  • Look at the approaching blow, not away from it.
  • Execute the block forcibly to defect or stop the blow.
  • When possible, use the blocking hand on the same side of the body as the lead foot so the trailing side is free to make powerful counterattacks.
  • Deflecting and redirecting an attacking object will absorb less of the energy from the strike by the body than by stopping it. It disperses the attack harmlessly away, avoiding the brunt of the attack.
  • Tense body at the moment of impact.
  • Maintain your balance, if unbalanced, there will be no power.
  • Immediately re-chamber the blocking limb so it can be used to counterattack.
  • Be prepared to counterattack; follow every block with a counterattack.
  • Apply perpendicular or circular forces.
  • Use the opponent’s force against him or her.
  • Use blocks to inflict pain.
  • Use parries to unbalance the opponent.
  • Use body movement to avoid attacks.
  • Beat the opponent to punch.
  • Block hard to break the opponent's balance.
  • Parry (deflect) attacks when possible rather than blocking, it’s quicker and permits quicker counterattacks.
  • Keep the guard up; hands high with elbows tucked in.
  • Jam a kick as it is cocked to prevent the kick from firing.
  • Use a beat for a counterattack; it’s quicker and more difficult for the opponent to block (Beating is bouncing a block off the opponent's attack into an immediate counterattack)
  • Your defense must facilitate your offense. Being defensive is just a matter of doing AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE to make opponent miss, while not interfering with your ability to hit back. There is no need for multi-step blocking or highly eccentric movements.
  • Do nothing without a reason. Beware of gratuitous and wasteful movements that do not serve any purpose. Don’t just block, follow it with a counterattack. For example, you should jab when you slip a jab or cross when you slip a cross, etc. The thing that weakens an opponent's offense the most is your offense. Everything else, such as slipping without countering or blocking as an isolated movement, is just prolonging the inevitable.

Offensive tactics

The main consideration in an offensive tactic is range. If you are not already within range, your first move is to close the distance between you and your opponent, so you are in striking range. Offensive tips include:
  • Attack suddenly. Every attack should be explosive, powerful, and, whenever possible, a surprise. All attacks should be like a child's Jack-in-the-Box toy, where you turn the crank, and unexpectedly Jack jumps out of the box. Your movements appear innocuous, and then an attack suddenly appears. For example, when executing a jump kick, there should be no extraneous movement or bending of the knees in preparation for the jump. The opponent should see you standing there in your fighting stance, and then suddenly, you are in the air and kicking.
  • Work the inside. Work from the "inside" and in the center of the ring whenever possible. If you want to use your footwork to set up your opponent, circle and sidestep around the opponent, not around the ring. If your opponent is in the center of the ring and charges you, simply sidestep to the inside and then past him or her. In so doing, you have switched places with the opponent and gained a more advantageous position.
  • Use fakes. Fake a move before executing a kick to help prevent a counterattack. Mix your real attacks with an occasional fake one. If the opponent flinches, attack but be careful of a counterattack. If the opponent thinks your movement was a fake and does nothing, hesitate a moment, and then release your real attack. If you fake and your opponent does not flinch, then immediately deliver your attack with full force. If the opponent does not move or flinch when you fake, you are either fighting an idiot, or you are an outstanding fighter.
  • Keep moving. If you deliver only a single attack, be sure you are going to hit the opponent with it, otherwise, do not throw it and waste energy. If you deliver a technique but miss the target, be sure to sidestep out of range immediately or follow-up with two or three more attacks. Do not stand there waiting to be hit, move around like you were stalking prey. This establishes your superiority and causes the ring officials to notice you. An effective attack would start with a convincing fake, followed by a calculated barrage of attacks. Attempt to back up your opponent until he or she is off-balance, and then deliver the crucial blow. Or, you can deliver a two-technique assault calculated to draw a specific counterattack, which you may then capitalize upon with a third technique.
  • If it works, use it. If you score with a specific technique, keep using it until the opponent finds a way to defend against it. Many opponents are unable to adjust or correct what they are doing wrong in the short time it takes to finish a round, or even a match. If it works, don’t fix it. However, if the opponent has found a way to defend against it, switch to a different technique. Don’t keep using a losing technique, even if it is your favorite one.
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