Beginning Sparring in Traditional Taekwondo

Beginning Sparring 

I like to start my students off doing things later than other schools. Take beginning sparring for instance, I prefer my students to start sparring closer to when they're green belts rather than when they're white or yellow. Training for sparring however starts immediately in my school, and increases in progression. Contact and pressure testing starts at yellow belt - typically with me starting a 'programmed' sparring experience. Meaning I 'spar' with the students and they only get to block. I coach them through stuff and then allow them to use limited weapons (like one or two punches). And then at later stages they get to attack me without fear or reprisals or work with people much less skilled to practice rhythm, techniques, and distancing. Integration comes in cycles.

Currently, I'm starting off my orange belt with beginning sparring much quicker. She's leaving for an overseas position in two months, and I wanted to accelerate her training ahead of 'normal' progression in my school so she adequately faces off greater challenges in other schools whilst maintaining a steady center through it all.

Beginning sparring type exercises have already started a couple of months ago - though I try to keep it simple. The last one or two sessions have featured similar sessions - with me attacking, but this time attacking with greater strength, speed, intensity, and using weapons typically used in sparring. This includes head high strikes, thigh kicks, centreline strikes and takedowns.

The overall objective at first is to desensitize against threat from aggressor and to maintain measured and steady breathing cycles. Other objectives include blocking and coverage with elbows, forearms, kneeds, and forehead ... rather than other sensitive areas of the body. Also want the student to show measured footwork, making sure to move at regular intervals and to randomize direction whilst reducing target areas.

Early in the beginning sparring session you could see my student's body quiver imperceptibly when the adrenaline hits - there was a distinct fight/flight syndrome occuring! We took one or two rounds to bring that under control so that arm and leg movement continued using regular large muscle breathing to moderate air intake. The holding of the breath during the onset of the attack was still a major problem. This should correct itself in the next 2-3 weeks.

During about the 12-15 minutes of this session, the student was:
1. taken down twice
2. struck on the body core three times with light force
3. struck on the side of the body lightly twice
4. struck in the forehead and side of the head lightly multiple times
5. struck in the thigh moderately twice-thrice

From previous Traditional Taekwondo training the student shows some aptitude in upper body coverage. Strikes to the facial region or upper body were not easy and therefore were not taken advantage of during this slug 'em out session.

The student however should improve falling. Breakfalling skills were not apparent and student stopped her fall using an extended arm. Without opponent 'help', injury would no doubt have occurred.

In the upcoming weeks I anticipate including more varied striking combinations, slightly harder impact, takedowns and chokes.

All in all a good session. The student more or less maintained control over most limbs while standing, improve footwork through the session, control emotions, and was able to finish off the session uninjured.

Beginning Sparring Links

Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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I'm so glad to see another instructor who doesn't feel the rush to let people start hitting each other. I generally start the students at Green belt. However, I also take the approach of starting the drills early.

I heard of a red belt at one school who quit after getting hit a few times by a black belt during sparring. The truth of the matter was this red belt had never been hit. In my opinion, getting hit gradually and in a controlled manner is required.

I really like your curriculum here Colin! I've printed it for my notebook and will apply it as I have a greenbelt with newly purchased gear!

At what point do you fight your students with complete effort? Meaning, you don't allow any hits and you hit to strike without pulling back? I'm always afraid I'll lose a student if I really nail him/her.
Colin Wee said…
Thanks for the response, Ray.

I think that sparring is over-rated as an exercise and that many students do not appreciate that it is not the be all and end all of martial arts.

I think that good controlled and frequent sparring needs to be done at red or brown and black belt level. It needs to be controlled and frequent enough so that people understand after a couple of years that it is only one exercise.

I myself came from a school which didn't hit to the face, and when I got to the States, it took me about half a year or so to acclimatise myself. It was quite a difficult process. So if you start your students with this end point in mind, you are on the right track.

For me, I like to personally start off the students so that they develop really good coverage and defence skills. They get used to breathing regularly, moving right, and keeping their guard up. With this start, it is not difficult to ramp up to a much more aggressive interchange as they've already got the basic skills of bobbing, weaving, coverage, and breath.

I also like to ensure that beginning students are not concentrating on trying to return fire. We deal with their fear of getting hit first. Then once this is done, we work on making them learn calibration. Meaning - the instructor stops trying so hard and allowing the intermediate student to launch an attack without too much retaliation.

Or if you want, the intermediate student can help the beginners acclimatise themselves. ;-)

In my experience, it takes about one or two belt ranks for beginners to ease into the exercise.

All students in my school, aside from striking pads and kick shields, also train on human bodies. This teaches them what to look out for when getting struck and how to minimise the impact when it happens.

As for fighting my students with 'complete effort'. Depends on the student, but I reckon purple belts or 4th gup or kyu onwards should give you a run for your money at a physical level.

Brown belts of course should start making you sweat strategically, as their reaction times get faster and they start to figure you out as a person: understanding your approach, figuring out your habits, etc.

Cheers. :-)

Ray said…
Hi Colin,

This is great timing because I decided to start making sparring a bit more consistently practiced in class for the next month or so. When classes are large, full of White/Yellow belts, I'm not as prone to having sparring.

When you say "For me, I like to personally start off the students so that they develop really good coverage and defence skills."
Are you suggesting that a beginner is told to simply focus on blocking and not to counter or to try to attack?

I haven't tried that but I think it would make it simpler for beginners if I told them to simply focus on "not getting hit". Of course, I think they would be let down because I think they are looking forward to getting to hit someone!

One of my high red belts used the word "finesse" today. ( As a means of apologizing for knocking a student across the room. ) As in "It takes a lot of finesse to go full speed but not really slam someone".

I think that's what I'm striving to teach my students - be fast, be accurate, be powerful, but gauge your distance with your class mates to make reasonable contact so you can practice another day.

Your posts are helping me a great deal Colin. Thanks very much
Colin Wee said…
gotta make this quick - I'm on holiday on borrowed internet connectin. Yes, for beginners, I say you've got to just concentrate on coverage and blocking - no strikes. You get them to focus on moving, breathing, and catching strikes with their forearms and elbows. Opponents are using strikes that are smooth, easy to recognise and a little 'telegraphed'. :-) Colin
SenseiMattKlein said…
Am also with you Colin and Ray on the need to wait until the student is ready for sparring. We like to see them develop proper technique, control, and most important, correct attitude, before they step into the ring.
Colin Wee said…
I really emphasize lots of hand holding through the beginning stage. There's still a lot of fear to get over, but might as well make sure there is proper skill progression to be had in the process. :-) Cheers, Colin

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