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The Value of Sparring Systems In Taekwon-do

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One Step Set Sparring

Within traditional martial technique application and rehearsal is often practiced through a variety of sparring methodologies. Taekwon-do possess a diversity of sparring systems within its curriculum, each providing the student an opportunity to experience technique application and practice from different perspectives. Essentially, the “System of Sparring” (Matsogi Goosong) with Taekwon-do is classified into:

System of Sparring. Choi Hong Hi, 1999




Foot Technique


Prearranged Free Sparring

Generally speaking appropriate sparring methods are used at all levels, with the specific methodology and techniques used being specific to the grade and development level of the students.

Sparring (matsogi) can be seen as the application of offensive and defensive techniques, under a variety of situations.

“Sparring is the physical application of attack and defence techniques gained from pattern and fundamental exercise against actual moving opponent or opponents under various situations. It is therefore indispensable to promote the fighting spirit and courage, to train the eyes, to read the opponents tactic as well as maneuvers, to forge, toughen or develop the attacking and blocking tools, to test his own skills and ability, to learn other movements hardly to be gained from pattern or fundamental exercise.” (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p598)

In recent times, the growth of participation in combat sports and competitive arts has served to marginalise the popularist view of sparring, with many considering “competitve free sparring” to be the sole definition of this term. However, each individual aspect with the Taekwon-do system of sparring has individual merits, allowing the student alternative opportunities to better reinforce and practice their technical application. In this way sparring, in all forms, can be seen as a modality of training that intrinsically relies on, and reciprocally benefits, all other modes of training such as fundamentals (line work) and patterns.

“In fact, nearly all students are anxious to move into this phase of instruction. Not only does training become more interesting but for the first time the student begins to achieve a degree of satisfaction through actual application of these techniques.

The danger lies in a student who has not built up a solid basic foundation, developing bad habits that are extremely difficult to lose when a student progresses. Therefore the instructor should encourage the beginner to learn the necessary patterns and fundamental movements before participating in class sparring, especially tournament.” (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p598)

A further view of sparring methodologies suggested by Tedeschi (2003) is that modalities can be separated into two distinct categories, sport sparring and self defence. Tedeschi (2003) further suggests that within the category of self defense sparring there are a variety of methods used, generally these being divided into two sub-categories: Step Sparring and Self Defence Sparring.

In Tedeschi’s (2003) analysis he suggests that Step Sparring comprises of:

Three-Step Sparring

Two-Step Sparring

One-Step Sparring

Whilst Self-Defence Sparring comprises of:

Pre-arranged Sparring

Free Sparring

He further states that Taekwon-do’s approach to self defence sparring particularly places emphasis on individual creativity in determining counter attacking opportunities.

“Taekwon-do does not possess a consistently well-defined body of self defence techniques that are universally practiced throughout the art as a whole. In fact, specific self-defence techniques vary quite widely among individual schools. This is mostly because Taekwon-do’s self-defence skills are ultimately developed through free sparring. Because this method of practice encourages the development of improvisational skills, and a personalised approach to combat, it is only natural that Taekwondoists would interpret and combine fundamental skills in unique and individual ways. Ideally, these personalised skills are an outgrowth of one’s physique, natural abilities and technical strengths and weaknesses.” (Tedeschi, 2003, p.310)

Tedeschi’s overall view of sparring methodologies supports Gen Choi’s premise that students must have a sound foundation in fundamental movements before progressing into sparring. In his analysis of self defence sparring however, Tedeschi may have been somewhat limited in his view of the benefits and applications that are existent within the Chang-Hon patterns, or indeed the suggested self-defence techniques (Hosin Sul) presented by Choi Hong Hi (1999, p.681). (Whilst it is beyond the scope of this article more information can be found on this by researching the work undertaken by Iain Abernethy and Stuart Anslow amongst others.) On sparring generally, Tedeschi’s categorisation of Sport and Self Defence Sparring modalities however does support the system of sparring originally proposed by Choi Hong Hi (1999). Sport Sparring is simply the competitive activity which often found in tournament settings.

Core Activities in Taekwon-do. Tedeschi, 2003.

Whilst not identified by Choi Hong Hi (1999, p725) as one of the component elements of Taekwon-do (Taekwon-Do Goosung), Tedeschi sees this type of sparring as being one of the five core activities of Taekwon-do. There is a commonality however within the view of the purpose of Sport Sparring.

“ There is certainly a beauty in aggressive yet controlled sparring, in well-executed patterns, or in the awesome spectacle of flying kicks and breaking techniques. Though the contest itself and the competitive spirit of all participants is important, students should also enjoy the match and take advantage of it for making new acquaintances within the brotherhood of Taekwon-do, exchanging training techniques and spreading the physical and mental attributes of the art to the spectators…” (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p.734)

“The proper method of judging a student’s skill and power would be to conduct a match encompassing several related tests of ability, which might include sparring, patterns, power and special techniques.Through sparring-courage, aggressiveness, spirit, accuracy and speed could be tested;...” (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p.734)

“The purpose of competitive sport sparring is to 1) hold a contest of skills based on specific rules in which the competitors can enjoy the act of winning and losing; 2) provide a forum in which one can test and develop skills, with less risk of injury than real combat permits; and 3) provide an activity that promotes the cultivation of positive moral values and character qualities that are an essential part of other aspects of life…” (Tedeschi, 2003 p.19)

Sport Sparring can therefore be seen as being very distinct in its purpose and form to other modes of sparring with Taekwon-do. The category of Self Defence Sparring proposed by Tedeschi (2003) is broadly similar to the system of sparring detailed by Choi Hong Hi (1999), being comprised of step sparring, pre-arranged and free sparring modalities.

Pre-arranged Sparring (Yatsok Matsogi)

This specific mode of sparring is typically practiced based on one of three sub-categories:

3-step (sambo matsogi)

2-step (ibo matsogi)

1-step (ilbo matsogi)

The specific nature of the drills practice are based on a variety of assumptions, for example the number of steps to be taken, the target and mode of attack and the defensive actions involved. Typically pre-arranged sparring involves no contact between the participants. All actions and conditions being agreed and set before beginning the activity.

This ritualised form of sparring provides an opportunity for practitioners to become comfortable with the concept of attacking, defending and counter attacking. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to progressively build proficiency and greater control of fundamental movements gauging the timing, distance and speed of techniques. Pre-arranged sparring also provides for techniques to be referenced on a “live” body and as such technical application can be further refined with accuracy and focus being developed, in a progressive, controlled manner.

3-step sparring is the most basic form of pre-arranged sparring. The attacker executing three strikes, with the defender blocking each in sequence. Typically the defender will complete a counter-strike(or strikes) following the final blocking movement.

Whilst often pre-arranged sparring is now completed only one way (han chok), with the attacker stepper forward and defender stepping back, the exercise can be conducted in a two way format (yong chok), with attacker and defender stepping forward or backwards. Additionally attack, defence and counter attack should be practiced on both right and left sides.There is no limit to the variation applicable within this basic drill, with any combination of attacking and defending techniques. The basic principles on 3-step sparring (Choi Hong Hi,1999) detail that only those techniques learned from patterns or fundamental exercises are applied, with only attacking and defending techniques remaining constant and one counter attack being conducted within the drill. 3-step sparring therefore presents an ideal opportunity for high volume technique rehearsal and a controlled environment for investigation into technical application.

2-step sparring is a progression into attacking with and subsequently defending combinations of techniques.

“The main purpose of this sparring is to acquire a mixed technique of hand and foot parts, the attacker, therefore, must use both the hand and foot alternately.” (Choi Hong Hi, 1999, p.624)