Tuesday, 13 March 2012

One step Sparring. To step or not to step.

There was an interesting thread on martialtalk.com in the Taekwondo forum with this headline. The starter of the thread asked how people go about with one step sparring. (Version A): In his Dojang they stand in jumbi (ready) seogi (stance) , and with no kihap (yelll) the attacker moves forward attacking the defender with a high section punch. He goes on to say that the punch would be so close that it would conect had not the defender defended himself.
He has now changed Dojang to Germany and here they are doing it the way I was taught (Version B); The attacker and defender stand both in Jumbi Seogi (ready stance). Then the attacker steps his right leg back into ap koobi seogi (long front stance) and low block and "kihap" (yells). The defender kihap (yell) back, and on this signal the attacker moves his right leg forward into long front stance, right high section punch.

He then goes on to ask: What is the mainstream way of doing this, and what does the newest edition Kukkiwon Textbook say on the subject?

The answer to the question what is the mainstream way of doing this is this: Version B. Short enough answer really:-) The thread on martialtalk.com quickly turned away from answering his question and started discussing the "street worth" of the exercises of formal sparring (one, two and three step sparring). I personally think that those who think formal sparring is pure "self defense" training should take a mental health day and really contemplate the matter.

Formal sparring was never intended to be self defense in the first place. Remember the Pillars of Taekwondo series I wrote? They are the different parts that together makes Taekwondo. They are divided into: 1 Basics, 2 Forms, 3 Sparring (both formal and free), 4 Self defense , and 5 Breaking. Wait a second? Self defense is one of Taekwondo`s pillars? Wow, so the other things are not purely for self defense? No they are not. It all contributes to one another, but the only thing, pillar or section of our training that is purely "for the street" is the "Ho Sin Sul/Self Defense" part. Everything else serves to help one another but it is not for the mythical street.... I did not divide Taekwondo into these 5 pillars, the founders of Taekwondo did (Choi Hong Hi AND others). So there you have it.

That being said I think that playing around with the formal sparring can increase the benifits within them. So for higher belts wanting to practise version A (attack straight from ready stance with no signal) of one step, I say let them:-) The other version (B) also has its good points. As an instructor I like the formal sparring because they teach the newer students that might be afraid of being attacked to cope with the fact that there is a fist traveling at great speed toward their face (or body). This alone will HELP the self defense aspect of Taekwondo. It should be said that in the formal sparring that I learned and teach we are so close that the punch or kick will connect with the defender if he/she does not defend himself/herself. I have seen other schools teaching formal sparring at such great distances that the defender would be better of doing absolutly nothing at all (the distance being so great that it would be smarter to conserve his energy than vasting it defending an attack that would never connect).

I like to think about the formal sparring as an introduction to the other pair training drills, both free sparring and self defense. After you learned basics and forms alone you now have to deal with another person. Adapt yourself to his distance and speed. For the more frail students it is as previous said a great exercise for dealing with the fear of being attacked. One step also teaches you what weapons are available to you at different distances and angles between you and your oponent, and there was a great article on the thread that really explored the formal sparring as a kind of form in itself (posted by Kempo-Jujutsu at page one in the thread).

I really liked his thoughts and I think it is merit to the way he sees them as forms in themselves. While Chinese Martial Arts, and Okinawan Martial Arts used solo forms to preserve their teachings, Japanese Martial Arts often used 2 man "forms" to preserve their knowledge. Look at old school Jujitsu or even modern Judo to see what I mean. While Taekwondo is considered Korean it has strong roots to both Okinawa, China and Japan. Therefore having both methods to teach the methods of combat might be viable. The only thing that is wrong with this picture is connected to the opening of the thread: What does the Kukkiwon Textbook say about this form of training? It was quickly pointed out that while Kukkiwon Textbook gives examples, pretty much all instructors teach formal sparring of their own inventions (within the framework of ritual). If they were meant to be forms within themselves they would be strictly done with THAT attack and That defense. There would be no room for choosing how to do anything as that would corrupt the "data" within the two man form.

Kukkiwon gives many examples of formal sparring and many of them are suprisingly "complex" in that they contain a great deal of trips and locks. Things that many ignorant students and teachers alike are saying is not a part of Taekwondo anymore. The formal sparring of One and Three steps that I was taught are fairly simplistic. Kick, block punch all techniques are at face value. This I think is a great way to learn the hard style Taekwondo applications that many now are never taught.

I really think having the hard style applications are better than having no applications of the techniques and learning evasing body maneuvering, blocking, parrying, and attack as well as vital points are what the formal sparring is really about. We do not make our formal sparring ourselves, they have been made for us in our school. So the techniques are delivered to different vital points and this is as I said one way of learning how to attack them and where they are. The Taegeuk forms are great in that they fit both the more advanced applications (you can get a copy of "Taegeuk Cipher" and see that for yourself) and the simpler kick block punch applications. Learning formal sparring therefore gives the student the tools to understand the most basic applications to their forms.

The long post on the thread by Kempo-Jujutsu also mentioned a philosophical aspect of the formal sparring excercises. I agree that there are some. The reason why the attacker first moves back with his right leg and do a low block before he attacks is as I recently wrote in my previous post to symbolise that the Taekwondo student will never strike first. As I wrote the saying there is no first strike in Taekwondo/Karate should be taken symbolicly to mean something in line with we will never start trouble ourselves (but we should do anything we can to come safe home at night). This was so indoctrinated into the founders of Taekwondo that in Traditional Taekwondo we always start each basic training doing a block on the first count no matter if you are about to practise a punch you first step back doing a block. In each form of Taekwondo the first movement can be intrepreted as a block. When we learn formal sparring we do a block before we attack when we play the role of attacker. You see how this one saying and thinking has shaped all of our training?

Quick recap: The mainstream version of doing formal one step sparring is version B. The kukkiwon gives plenty examples of how to do formal sparring within version B`s framework. The mainstream looks at these examples as just that; examples and are doing their own thing.

I learned formal sparring that were already "set" so in my school they are thought of as formal excercises with a partner to learn body control, dealing/adapting to a partner and what tools to use to where  (attacking tools and vital points).

I also do not think that discussing how much street worthy the formal excercises like one step are because they were never intended to be self defense training, as in Taekwondo we have our own self defense section and that section was intended to be self defense training. All of the parts help each other but only the self defense part of Taekwondo was meant to be self defense therefore the discussion on wether formal sparring is good or bad for self defense is irrelevant and a waste of time. If you look at the youtube video in the opening you will see the more advanced one step sparring that we learn. These are for red/black belts and combine many elements of Taekwondo together. They are labeled Ho Sin Sul in the video but that is not accurate, but it does show the main stream aproach allthough I see many at to great distance to actually connect with their attack should the defender not defend.

I might change my mind later if I get new input that leads me to new conclusions but this is what I meant 13th of March 2012:-)

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