Friday, 23 August 2013

One Step Sparring

I have written before about predetermined/ formal/ step sparring and its Place in Taekwondo.
Lately With the Schools closed because of summer holliday and my various injuries finally letting go I have been able to have a few training sessions outside a couple of times a week where we have gone through Our organisations syllabus (something that often "drowns" in the focus of basics, forms and free/ competition sparring).

In these sessions that are just an unformal gathering of friends at black belt Level we have had a great deal of discussions around the different Things in the organisations syllabus, the one step sparring being one of them.

Here is a video Clip taken from one of the unformal gatherings where we demonstrate the eight sets of hand technique 1 step sparring from the Traditional Taekwondo Union`s syllabus. I have tried to videotape the different "set" syllabus lately so it can be a Reference for home training and self study for students of Traditional Taekwondo Union.


Many critizise step sparring because of its ritualistic and formal frameset. The critizism usually centers around these Points:

  • Too ritualistic!
  • Unrealistic range! (too far away)
  • Not realistic attack!
  • Too static!
Now the critisism about one step sparring is often rooted in the assumption that this is self defense training or fighting training. This is often how it is perceived by those who practise Taekwondo but those who study it will learn that this is not practise for fighting, duelling or self defense. This is just a training tool one which is very popular in Karate and traditional Taekwondo. Indeed historicly there are masters saying that this is training for fighting or self defense, making statements such as "one steps is the most important way to practise sparring because it develops the ultimate goal of Taekwondo; Ending the altercation in one strike!".

The "ritual" critisism is fair if you look at it as a purely fight training excersise, but just as you would never "fight" skipping rope, or With pushups, sit ups, jumping Jacks, etc you do not "fight" With one step training either. It is purely a training tool which makes use of combative movement and involves a partner. It is closer to fighting than a push up or a sit up, but it is still a training tool, far removed from real world violence and a good instructor will make this known to the students.

The framework or ritual itself serves a couple of different purposes. One is that it makes the training predictable and therefore "safe". This is good for beginners both adults and children. The fact that the attacker moves back into long front stance and perform as "Block" also reminds the attacker that eventhough he is doing the role of "attacker" a Taekwondo student will never strike first (not to be taken literally, only symbolicly, read here for more info). The stepping back also gives the defender more time to defend which again is great for beginners both adults and children. The Third thing is that the attacker gets to practise attacking from a difficult distance. He should be able to hit his partner if the defender does not do anything, but attacking from such a distance as one long front walking stance is difficult to make explosive. I do not see this as a textbook "this is how you should attack" scenario which many People interpret the training of one steps to be, but rather as a way to "increase the workload" so that the simpler way of simply lunging forward without actually stepping will be so much easier. It is like a sprinter reaching a platau in their training to start practising their distance uphill instead of flat ground. Increasing the workload is what we do With everything to make us better and one step sparring being a training tool, increasing the workload for the attacker is fitting within that paradigm.

There are two Things I would like to point out though:
  1. Many practise at such an exagerated distance that the attacker would not hit the defender if the defender would simply stand their ground doing nothing. This is WRONG. The one step sparring format is allready a simplified isolated drill and training tool removed from reality. There is no point in further removing it from reality.
  2. The attacker must attack as if he actually means it! The emotional content must be "Il Kyuk Pilsal!" Or one strike one kill. Often I see attackers just "feeding" a punch to the defender. The Clip from Our unformal training is like that (not to critizise myself and my friend since we were merely going through the motions), the attackers role is to Train to attack explosivly. The better, fast, stronger, more explosive he can attack the better training the defender will receive.
That the attack is unrealistic, well yes it is. Combat is a truly chaotic affair, With endless variables. To get effective training we need to remove variables to drill specific skills and then putting them back into a Whole. This is one way of isolating one tiny segment of combat to drill a specific skill. The attack is unrealistic in that it comes from an exagerated distance yes, it is a straight punch not neccesarily an unrealistic attack in itself but the attack most commonly seen in the mythical "street" is actually curved punches to the head (haymakers), not straight punches. What makes it an unrealistic attack is not the fact that it is a straight punch, but rather the distance at which it is thrown and the fact that the attacker attacks With ONE punch and than stops while the defender defends.

The defender in one step sparring should try to defend vigerously and the Counter attack should be strong attacks With a suitable striking tool, to an anatomical weak point of the attacker, With proper body weight behind it. The defence should also be done With evasion as well as blocking and striking at the same time or getting the offensive initiative as fast as possible. If you look at the Clip demonstrating the set defenses for the Dojang I belong to you will note that most consist of two strikes and that the majority gets offline, Blocks and strikes all at the same time!. One step sparring is a training tool removed from reality, but that does not mean that we should not strive to keep it as real as possible within the framework we allready have.

Here is a Clip of how many set sparring I see demonstrated is performed:


This highlightes the critisism and how I personally was taught how NOT to do it. Here the distance is ridiculously long. The best defense if attacked at such a distance is simply to stand still and conserve energy. No movement needed. Some of the counterattacks in this Clip is not within the way I was taught One step sparring. In Our Dojang we divide one step sparring into Three distinct Groups:
  1. One step sparring hand techniques (the one demonstrated in the Clip at the beginning)
  2. One step sparring foot techniques. Attacker attacks With punch the defender uses only legs to defend.
  3. One step sparring combinations (usually 1 hand technique, 1 foot technique and 1 self defense technique.)
The Clip above gives some Counters that would fall into Our Group 2 and some that would fall into Our Group 3 but the distance at which this is demonstrated is simply too great to be used as a training tool... In Our one steps Group 2 we first react to the attack by shifting Our weight so that we come into kicking range. We do not allready stand in kicking range because then the attacker would not attack as there is no chance in h..ll that he would hit in the first Place. This goes for all Our formal sparring. If the attacker can not hit then he will not attack..

Here is another Clip from the same Dojang. Their second one step shown here is almost the same as Our number 3. BUT the defender has in this Clip to move by stepping forward more than one step to even begin his defense... The performers seems to have great kicks and good technique, I do not question their ability at Taekwondo or as martial artists, but I do feel that in the critisism against one step sparring this kind of doing one step sparring is the one People are critisising..




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