Friday, 9 November 2012

Sparring = Free Sparring = Competition Sparring?

Look at the equation in the headline of this post. That equation without the question mark at the end of it seems to be the general view of sparring in just about all the Dojang I have ever visited (and I have been to quite a few). Even in Dojang that claims to teach "Traditional", "Real", "No-Nonsense" (insert something along those lines here) Taekwondo seems to be infected by this way of thinking. Before you click the "read more" link I feel I should give a "Ramble Alert":)

Once upon a time free sparring meant sparring that was free. You chose yourself what techniques you wanted to use (allthough you obviously would pull some techniques, or omit others for safety). Someone kicked you with a roundhouse, missed barely and did not retrackt their foot after the kick? He would be "guided" to the floor fast enough... Someone caught you of balance? You might just find yourself on the receiving end of a throw.. Someone grabed your lapel to do a hip throw? That arm would be locked before you could say "ouch".

Then the focus on competition started.. In the beginning you might have free sparring and competition sparring. I like the terms and that they are seperate things. Later with an ever increasing focus on competition the free sparring faded into obscurity and competition sparring came into the main stage. Until now when free sparring is really a lost art and competition sparring is the only kind of sparring the students ever really face. Today "free sparring" is a term often used in the Dojang but it is really the same as competition sparring (maybe a little less serious as there is no plastic trophy at stake).

I like competition sparring. Do not get me wrong. It is live training and hard to full contact against a really uncooperative opponent who wants to hit you but he/she really does not want to be hit back. This is important part of training and the stand up striking part of the system really gets tested. Depending on the arm leg/ratio it is not neccesarily "leg fencing" either. But when you start competition sparring as the only kind of sparring and for its own sake (being good at competing) you loose a lot of the system.

Things like the arms are hanging down because you are not allowed to hit the face. If however, you practise other forms of sparring that do allow to hit the face this dangerous habit would not appear. Suddenly there is no knowledge of grappling in Taekwondo (have you seen the "competition clinch in WTF Taekwondo??? It is embarrising if that is all the students are being taught at that range). The use of elbow and knees are suddenly not a part of Taekwondo and you need to pick up a seperate martial art to learn those skills. But they are in the basic techniques, and in our forms, so why not integrate them into sparring somehow?? Likewise vital points are not taugh since we only need to hit the scoring areas allowed in competition sparring and they are "large" surfaces on the body not the small vital points that are certainly not all powerfull super duper extreme xxx martial arts fightstoppers some wants us to believe but they are the poison on the tip of the arrow so to speak.

The "large" surfaces in WTF sparring are the sides of the upper body from the arm pit to the hip bone, the stomach and solar plexus from your navel anr up to the sternum, the sides of the head that is covered by the helmet. For those that do competition sparring that is enough to know, but the vast knowledge of vital points both for healing and self defense are rapidly dissapearing today from the Taekwondo comunity forcing people to take up a seperate martial art to learn these things. No wonder that young people start Taekwondo and then quit when they get a little older or change to another martial art.

We need to take matters into our own hands! IT IS TIME! Do not rely on the Kukkiwon to fix things, do not rely on the WTF to fix things (they really should not as they are a sporting federation. You could say that they have done a little too good of a job), do not rely on you master to fix things. YOU need to fix this yourself! The first step is to make use of what has always been a part of the Taekwondo system eventhough it is almost extinct; Vital point knowledge, knife hands, elbows, knees, punches, kicks, throws and grabs must be taught, drilled and integrated into FREE SPARRING once more. Lets reclaim our system! Lets "fix" Taekwondo. Do not get me wrong I am not saying we should throw away competition sparring, it is a good way to focus on stand up striking methods, BUT is should not be the only way the students of Taekwondo conduct their sparring. I am sure that if WE make a good job we will no longer hear black belt students (often considered experts by the general public) say things like: "elbow strikes are not a part of Taekwondo", "There are no throws in Taekwondo" or my personal favorite: "There are no low kicks in Taekwondo".

If WE take matters into our own hands and teach this to our junior students we might just make Taekwondo into a real Martial Art that can be enjoyed by students of all ages and for a number of reasons and not just like it is today a Martial Sport for young people and little else. The first thing on the agenda for this revulotion is: Making Free Sparring into Free Sparring once more!

Have a nice training session:-)

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