Sparring

I recently wrote about board breaking, and how, for a while, it was not 1 of my strongest areas of Tang Soo Do. My next weakest area is, believe it or not, sparring.

Those in the Teen and Adult class with me, especially on Thursdays, may disagree. However, to be truthful, my perceived dominance is simply due to an experience and size advantage. There was once a time where I was the smallest and lowest-ranked in a class full of adult black belts, and I truly embraced the “underdog” role in sparring.

I’m not the best at sparring. I don’t like getting hit. I do tend to block more than I attack, and that is something I am working on always. I tend to be cautious and conservative in life in general. By default, I am risk-averse. So going head-first into a flurry of attacks, knowing I am leaving myself potentially open, is not something that comes naturally to me. I remember distinctly my first sparring match, where, as a yellow belt, I got the wind kicked out of me. Maybe this has scarred me ever since. I hope not.

Anyway, I’m sharing some of my tips for sparring that I have learned over 25 years.

Take more risks when you have the lead

During points sparring, should you be fortunate enough to build up a 2-0 lead, take this like a baseball hitter would when ahead in the count 3 balls 0 strikes – a green light to swing. Become more aggressive in your attacks and take more risks. If you are tagged for a point, it is OK, because you are still in the lead and may need only 1 or 2 points to win the match.

Use repetition or fakes to create opportunities

The key point about points sparring is that you must attack to win – simple as that. If you are not attacking, you have exactly 0% chance to win. But your attacks must be effective and must have a higher chance to succeed. Ever wonder why not all shots in basketball are 3-pointers? Because even the best 3-point shooters make about 40% of their shots. Most of the shots taken are from within 15 feet. These are called “high percentage shots” because they have a greater likelihood of success.

The same is true for sparring. Simply throwing a punch or kick and hoping your opponent forgets to block is a low-percentage use of your energy. Remember, this isn’t a video game. You can’t simply mash the B button forever and never get tired. You must make effective use of your energy. So, you should definitely use repetitive techniques to get your opponent used to blocking the same attack, and then switch it up.

For example, you may throw the same back fist attack 3 times in a row and be blocked 3 times in a row. The 4th time, fake the back fist, and when your opponent has exposed the rib cage and stomach area going for the block, attack with a quick front-leg round-house kick.

Defend kicks by charging

This is a weird tip at first, and I admit that I discovered it myself and didn’t quite believe it worked. If you are being positively battered and kept at a distance by an opponent’s strong flurry of kicks, there is a way to get in close for some attacks. And that way to do it is…get in close.

Think about it. There are 4 steps to kicks, correct?

  1. Chamber
  2. Kick
  3. Re-chamber
  4. Set it down

Now you tell me what sort of kick can be done if you prevent your opponent from kicking by charging your opponent right after a chamber occurs. Hint – the answer is – 0. Your opponent will be in an off-balance Crane Stance (hakdari seogi jase) wondering what the heck you are doing, while you come in with fists of fury.

Remember

I will conclude this post with 1 warning – sparring isn’t fighting. If you ever get into a real fight, remember that there are no rules and that the entire body of the enemy is open for attack. Your goal in a fight is not to score points, but to destroy the enemy’s ability to make war on you as quickly as you can.

Now get out there and score some points on Thursday! Tang Soo! And remember, if I win, you were defeated by a blind, old man!

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