Posts Tagged ‘sport taekwondo’

The Danger Of Oldschool Olympic Sparring

        Olympic Taekwondo sparring of the World Taekwondo Federation used to be very dangerous and scary. It took a lot of guts to get in the ring and fight someone. Yes, FIGHT your opponent, because that is what it was, a fight. Just as the sport of boxing is a fight, the sport of Taekwondo sparring was a fight. Oldschool Olympic Taekwondo sparring was dangerous. By oldschool I mean the 80’s and 90’s. Here is a clip showing how it was dangerous and how often people actually got hurt in matches. The point of sparring was to show Taekwondo superiority by beating up your opponent as much as you could and scoring hard contact points; and hopefully knocking your opponent out. This is the same as how boxing is about scoring points and also hopefully knocking your opponent out.  Check this out:

I have to apologize for the extremely idiotic music choice for this video. Not everyone has good tastes in music and I did not make this video. So just mute it.

I remember Taekwondo sparring in the 90’s and how it was actually scary and took a lot of courage, and confidence instilled in me by my instructor to be brave enough to fight, especially in the black belt division. Olympic fighters were taught to have a serious fighting spirit and lots of aggression in the ring. You let loose, and went off on your opponent with all of your techniques, trying to cause him damage through the padding. As a teenager my training was so hard that every time I had to go to class I hated it. I never wanted to do the training because it was so stressful and so painful. I did it anyway! Besides regular Taekwondo class, I was in what we called “Champions Class” which was our dojangs competition team. As a color belt I was able to eventually be trained enough to go to the Junior Olympics in 1996 and represent Oregon Taekwondo.

Training was hard, we started off stretching of course (in full padding), then we did extreme plyometrics and a load of kicking and footwork drills. It was 100% cardio and endurance. Foot work and kicking drills could be anything from shadowing it and kicking in the air against nobody just to get the move down, kicking paddles and kicking shields held by a partner, and the majority which was kicking each others chest gear. We would kick each others chest gear hard doing certain kicks over and over, and the person receiving the kick just tried to stick his chest gear out to offer some more space between his body and the kick. It did not help much. So the partner receiving he kicks got beat up going down the length of the gym and the guy kicking would do a bit of foot work then a hard kick over and over until you got to the end. There were various drills and various kicks used with full contact. Then we switched and now the other guy would then be kicking and the previous kicking guy would then be getting kicked.  Also, if we were doing defensive drills we would have to block a kick with out arms and counter. So not only is the chest gear getting kicked hard which hurts your body, but your arm is taking kicks as well and bruising up. We often had bruised arms and legs and sore torsos after every class. Hopefully we recovered the next day before the next Champions Class. We did this for 1 hour with no breaks. There was no “Hey take 2 mins to rest.” It was non-stop. Also, in our class we were taught to keep our hands up the ENTIRE class, even when the instructor was talking to us and we were standing there listening to instructions for the next drill. If we for one second put our arms down we were forced to do 10 pushups. You did not want to do any pushups after all of the crazy workouts we had to do. An entire hour of keeping your hands up made our arms stronger, but extremely sore. It was hard just to keep them up and often students would then be forced to do pushups because they were too tired to keep their hands up. You did not want to have to do pushups when being that tired. It was not a relief to do pushups at all.  The floor was wet with sweat from everyone of us. We wore our sparring gear the entire time. Full gear. This made us extremely hot with drenched doboks underneath that added to the sweat on the floor. Our head gear caused our entire heads to be dripping. All of the hard workouts while wearing sparring gear took a huge tole on your endurance. Working out when you are burning up from the heat makes you even more fatigued. After 1 hour of training we spent 30 solid minutes with full contact sparring. So an entire Champions Class was 1 hour and 30 minutes long, if not more. Class was of course the last class in the evening and was done after standard class of basic Taekwondo training such as poomsae, basics, self defense, curriculum class.

When we did full contact sparring we actually did full contact sparring. No one said, “Hey be light and easy on each other.” We just actually fought in class. Once in awhile a person would take a very hard blow and get hurt and have to sit out the rest of class. But often, our pads and our technique helped us to simply take a huge beating on our bodies and arms just short of shutting us down. It may have been better to get knocked hard so you could quit class, but the gear protected you from that and forced you to keep taking hard beatings. The padding does not exist to make sure nothing hurts, it simply exists to make sure you do not receive a serious injury (which you would if there was no padding worn). So padding still allows you to feel pain and get bruised up.

In tournaments we were told to just fight and go off and win. Just to try your best even if you lost was what made our instructor proud. Not to quit. One of the scariest tournaments I had to fight in was when my instructor forced me as a blue belt (5th gup) to fight in the advanced division of red/brown/black belt. 9th-10th gup and 1st dan and above. I was 15 years old and in the 15-17 year old division. I beat a brown belt and actually beat on him pretty hard and scored the points to win. It was a battle of endurance. I even gave him a 10 count. After that I had to fight a Korean American 1st dan who was pretty solid. I went off on him and did total aggression and did so many body punches he was literally hurt. The problem was, body punches did not “score” if they were hooked upward, or too close. A punch that scored was a straight punch of a full extended arm that created a trembling shock on the opponents body. That means it would have to move him back or cause his torso to be displaced for a moment. Close in punches may hurt your opponent and cause him pain, but they do not cause the kind of “off balance” shock the judges looked for. Also, this was the start of rule changes that awarded jump kicks a lot more points. A jump kick occurred if both feet left the ground even if it was 1 inch high. The Korean American kid worked the system by slightly hopping at moments and scoring chest gear points. I may have kicked him more and harder, but his few hopping kicks scored higher. I would say I lost this match by a point or 2, but I literally beat him up and he was hurt at the end and also very resentful. He was pretty pissed off at me after the match and did not even want to shake my hand when I went up to him afterward. It is because he knew he got his butt kicked even if he got the win. After this I realized the tournament rules were changing. The reason I went so crazy was because I was scared! I am a blue belt fighting advanced levels! I was fighting a black belt! I was proud that I was a true fighter in this tournament even if I lost and I made my instructor proud.

In the 80’s and 90’s Olympic Sparring was about fighting. You beat each other up through the pads. Now days with rule changes of various scoring values and electronic scoring gear, it has now become a game of working a system to register a point with the electronics in the chest gear and other parts of the padding. The chest gear is much thicker now and more like armor than padding. It is also very expensive now to buy such gear and only wealthy people can afford to compete at the high tournament levels. Olympic Sparring while having its rules for very limited techniques such as no face punches, was still a fight and still scary to do.

Olympic Taekwondo Sparring instilled in me a fighting spirit and the will to win. It was an important part of my martial arts training and was very valuable. Black belt division was when tournaments got really serious and more dangerous. Knockouts were legal and expected. I learned many lessons about combat through it all. Over time I began to be disenfranchised with it as the rules were changing to make it less combative, and I realized that I started martial arts training to learn how to save my life in a real life situation. I began more to focus on self defense without rules limiting how I could win a fight. This was also the very beginning stages of Mixed Martial Arts development in America. I began to see the possibilities of fighting and how Taekwondo should develop and progress through watching early UFC fighting and also experiencing my own problems with bullies and gang behavior in my own town. I also got hit by a car which caused sever injuries on my body which took away any athletic pursuits I might have had. I now focus on Taekwondo as a self defense art above sport, and prefer using Taekwondo for Kickboxing and MMA sport over Olympic Sport. Taekwondo has so many techniques that can be utilized and it is being explored because of the popularity of MMA and I find this great.

Even so, I believe Olympic Taekwondo sparring is still important to study as a student, it is part of our martial art style’s culture. A decent amount of the footwork, endurance training, fighting spirit that is developed, and tactical maneuvers can be transferred into other types of fighting with effectiveness. Olympic Taekwondo sport is a noble pursuit even with the rule changes that I disagree with, and my hate for the electronic scoring gear. I still support WTF sparring and enjoy watching it during the Summer Olympics (but not much else). It is an avenue to develop skills and life lessons in students and should not be completely ignored. Supporting WTF sparring, even as a fan, still keeps Taekwondo relevant to society and might cause people to explore Taekwondo training which is good for Taekwondo. It hopefully will cause people to see the full martial art and all that it offers beyond sport. I may not like everything the WTF does, but still can appreciate the sport for what it is. I could never see how one can be a true Taekwondo black belt and never have once competed in a WTF affiliated tournament (such as your local state tournament every year). I personally believe WTF affiliated tournaments are a rite of passage for the Taekwondo student and should be mandatory to earn a black belt. It is an experience that cannot be taught in the dojang. It is okay to focus less on it than other things, but should not simply be forgotten. There is value in it.

WTF Olympic Sport Taekwondo Is Boring

        In this current age of Taekwondo sport competition, the WTF Olympic sport fighting has become extremely boring. Many criticize it as ballet and foot tag.

When Taekwondo sparring first started there was not many rules except striking and blocking. It included face strikes as well and they didn’t even wear any protective gear either. I am not sure how often leg kicks were used though, if at all for tournaments. Later, they took out face punching and limited hand strikes to punching only the chest. During my early years training in Taekwondo my instructor’s would tell me they took out face punching because people got hurt too bad and too fast to have a good match. This seems like a plausible reason, to make things safe and easier. They also told me punching the face is too easy and kicking takes more skill (this is a fallacious argument as anyone knows boxing is incredibly skillful and they only hit the face with no kicks). Taekwondo masters may actually have thought face punches did not take much skill, but I assume they also thought to train them back in the day. Now days many gyms never train face punching at all simply because all they care about is sport sparring. So whatever the reason, Koreans took out punches to the face.

The Jidokwan invented the hogu which is the chest gear/protector used by Taekwondo sport competitors. This shows they found out that people could last longer with chest protection as well as allow for less injuries which make tournaments safer and more people willing to compete. Even so, when the World Taekwondo Federation first started out the only protection they used was the hogu. They did not even have shin and in step guards or arm guards yet. They developed these later. Of course they did wear a groin cup and mouth piece. They also did not have head gear! Sparring was really dangerous even in the sport format where kicks limited to above the waist on the chest gear and head only. In the past Taekwondo sparring, even under Olympic rules (when it was a demonstration sport from the 80s-late 90’s)  actually looked like a fight. People literally threw kicks with serious intention at each other and used way more punches to the chest than they do now. Now days you barely see anyone punch. Back in the day people punches constantly after kicks and when people got in close. People kicked full contact to both the chest gear and the head (with no head gear on!) People got knocked out very fast and suffered injuries on the head. Later, they developed the head gear and made it mandatory for sport competition. Here is a 1980’s video showing early Taekwondo sport techniques as well as providing history and facts about Taekwond and the WTF. Watch the first few minutes for the sparring footage.

The beginning of that video shows actual tournament footage with no head gear worn and people getting kicked in the face as well as people punching the chest gear a lot. Back in the older days from 80’s-90’s all scoring was only worth 1 point exactly. No matter where you hit them with a kick or punch it was 1 point. Kicking the head was 1 point, spin kicks to the head was 1 point, flying and jump kicks were 1 point. This made competition way more realistic and combative where people only did wild moves when necessary to counter or to trick opponents. everything was rougher and looked like a fight and people won by either more damage or knockouts, or by full powered kicks that score more than the other guy.

Now days the point system is crazy with 1 point for chest gear kicks, 2 for turning kicks, 3 for any head kick (even a crescent/axe kick to the head from in close which takes little effort) and a turning kick to the head is 4 points. A flying or in the air jump kick I believe is 3 or 4 points but I am not sure. So now you’ve got Olympic athletes attacking each other with foot fencing strategy and twirling toward each other like ballet dancers. This has serious made WTF sparring so boring!

Apparently in South Korea some guys got together in 2012 and decided to spar without head gear, this is the result:

Notice how cautious the fighters are where instead of just twirling and sticking a front leg sidekick out to tag for a point they are slowly feeling each other out. This is because without the points and also no head gear it is very dangerous and you can get hurt, as seen with the knockouts in the video. Taking away the stupid WTF gear such as gloves (which are absolutely unnecessary since you can’t punch the face, and chest gear is padded anyway! No one ever needed gloves in the early days of Olympic sparring, neither did I when I competed as a teenager and early 20’s because punching a chest gear does not hurt and a bare fist on chest gear does no more damage than if wearing silly gloves), adding electronic hogu that register scores, and head gear then you will get a more serious fight and a lot more action that looks exciting.

Here is some 1980’s sparring footage without head gear, and then the very end shows some head gear worn. The fighting looks more realistic and combative:

I remember when Olympic sparring was really respected since it was full contact and knockouts are legal. People would call sport Karate foot fencing. That is point fighting where you can only lightly touch each other and they stop the match at every point so no one can counter. This is because people would stick out a lead leg to touch for a point before the other guy could touch them first. It is really a stupid sport and one a disdain and have absolutely not shred of respect for. Even Shotokan light contact sparring is somewhat combative with only crisp technique scoring and combative movements (even that is boring to me). Now days with the point system of large points scored for head and turn kicks, no emphasis on punches scoring, the gloves, the electronic hogu (I guess head gear is okay and does not take too fun away and in a way is necessary for young people) Taekwondo sparring has simply become continuous foot fencing and it sucks. I really hope they change the rules because Taekwondo is going out of style fast, is no longer the world’s most popular martial art, and Taekwondo sparring almost got kicked out of the Olympics (instead they kicked out Wrestling, which is another issue in itself). If Taekwondo wants to remain relevant it has to adapt to more combative formats of competition and make them available. Sport competition needs various rule formats for Taekwondo for different types of sparring events: Olympic sport, Kickboxing etc. and whether knees and elbows are included or not; as well as an emphasis on self defense over sport.


White Dragon is a 3rd dan Taekwondo Black Belt with over 19 years experience in the Martial Arts and head instructor of the White Dragon Dojang Martial Arts Training Program. 


Old Australian Guy Says TKD Looks Like Ballet

        Some Australian talk show had a segment where some old guy had apparently said Taekwondo looks like ballet is is the most ridiculous thing he has ever seen. I personally believe his opinion is extremely popular among almost anyone who has seen it and thinks about what is and is not to be expected in martial arts or combat. I also think the old guy’s opinion is valid. I believe this segment was obviously staged as well and it proves nothing really, except that some old guy who totally sucks and acts like a jackass can get kicked really hard in chest gear.

I do not think this segment redeemed WTF sport Taekwondo or even improved Taekwondo’s image for the average person and our current UFC loving culture. It was pretty corny and the Taekwondo athletes acted really arrogant and hot shot style. Possibly the old guy agreed to get kicked and even rehearsed it before going on TV. Sure it could have hurt some but he touched it out and I really think the girl’s back kick on his chest gear was totally fake as he jumps backwards to fall. Sure the sport actually does hurt and it is somewhat dangerous and serious, but that does not stop it from looking incredibly ridiculous since spinning head shots are worth 3 points and both athletes in a tournament fight will spin toward each other like ballerina’s trying to score. Something has got to be done with WTF rules to make it more like a fight and less boring to watch. The WTF sport emphasis of most Kukkiwon Taekwondo gyms really leaves behind the wealth of combative knowledge and special techniques that Taekwondo has to offer and I find it frustrating. The Kukkiwon textbook is full of serious self defense techniques and theories that these sportists have no clue about.  I doubt the same result would happen if a typical guy who was not so old felt like insulting Taekwondo. I doubt such a dude would fall over when getting kicked with a chest gear on. I do not believe this segment changed popular opinion that Taekwondo looks stupid in the eyes of the average person who does not know much about martial arts. It’s going to take a lot more than a silly segment on TV to change such an opinion and I really hope more people start changing the negative view of Taekwondo in the eyes of the martial arts world.

Taekwondo Looking More Like UFC A Possibility…Or Not

        World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) President Choue Chung-won in 2013 explains in an article about the loss of popularity that Taekwondo Olympic sport fighting has taken over the years. He said it is due to things such as spin kicks being given dominance and more points which causes fighters to spend more time on jump spin kicks making the sport look like a badly choreographed ballet. Also, punches are barely ever scored and taking away the punch emphasis is bad for Taekwondo. He suggested making the shape of the ring in an octagon with mesh fencing around it.

WTF President Choue Chung-won

Some traditionalists for Taekwondo WTF sport do not like this idea and claim it will make Taekwondo like the UFC, but President Chung-won says that is actually a good thing. The only bad idea I think he has is to change the uniform to look like a sports jersey. That would not help TKD but make it just like any average sport. The dobok is much like the gi in Judo. Changing the dobok would make most dojangs copy them only, and the self defense and grabbing techniques of Taekwondo could be lost since most schools would not worry about it by wearing basketball jersey type uniforms. Taekwondo is a martial art with wonderful traditions and it would be sad some of them got lost over a silly uniform change. Keeping a regular dobok would work fine. If they just allow the sleeves to be rolled up, or given shorter material on the arms it would solve the problem.

Imagine this shape with mesh fencing.

The changes the WTF president Chung-won is mentioning are actually good ideas, minus his uniform idea. But the whole wire mesh, octagon shape idea would be very hard for local tournament promoters to get since it would cost so much money. The electronic scoring itself is hard enough to come by and makes Taekwondo a sport for the rich. The problem with Olympic competitions and the USAT is they only allow the rich to compete in high profile tournaments with all of their money making schemes like buying a special uniform for that year, electronic scoring, and high tournament fees for example. I do wish the rules would change and allow face punches, leg kicks, and ever solid shot on certain areas should be only 1 point no matter what the technique. Making everything 1 point solves so many of the ugly and idiotic looking movements that WTF Taekwondo practitioners train for today, since all they worry about is how to work the point system in their favorite. So stupid technique that is not really something a martial artist would use in a fight is trained for in order to score points in tournaments. Making Taekwondo more combative and realistic will only make the entire world Taekwondo culture more martial in nature and Taekwondo can regain its focus on effective fighting techniques and self defense with a more combative sport on the side than the foot tag ballet they claim is full contact today. Hardly anyone is hitting full contact now since they don’t have to to score points. Just simply tag the censor and make the siren go off and that will help you win.

Taekwondo sport needs to be more combative with a larger range of target options with legs and face punching allowed. Even adding knees and elbows would be exciting but it is obvious that is pushing it. And to all of the people who claim “the real TKD is ITF sparring” you need to understand that ITF sparring is still point tag and officially it is not even full contact and ends up looking just as stupid as WTF competitions.

Finally, Taekwondo needs to have an option for post-amateur fighting. Where do Taekwondo fighters go after they win in the Olympics? Where do they go after they get through amateur competitions? Then what? There is no money in Taekwondo for professional competitions. if Taekwondo created a more serious and full contact fighting sport for paid professional fighters like they do for boxing then Taekwondo would stay more relevant. Boxing rules change a lot after amateur competitions with a lot more movements and punches allowed. Taekwondo needs to do the same thing only with kicks and knee strikes and more. Get rid of the silly scoring sensors and go to Taekwondo Kickboxing. MMA and Kickboxing as well as Boxing does not need electronic scoring to know who wins a fight. Turning Taekwondo into “Fencing” is one reason Taekwondo is boring. Watching Fencing is boring to me since it is not even like an actual sword fight. Taekwondo became that way when they made electronic scoring socks, gloves, head gear and chest gear mandatory.

With opinions such as WTF President Choue Chung-won it gives hope that some Koreans involved in Taekwondo are seeing the light and hopefully will stop commercializing Taekwondo as bad as it has been done the past couple of decades which made it nothing more than silly ballet foot tag and performance art and not a real combat system.  Hopefully more Grandmasters and officials involved in the organizations of Taekwondo will see the dominance of MMA as a reason to make Taekwondo more combative, which means more fun and more exciting, and more of a true Martial Art!