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Devastating kicks. Good breaks. Great demos. But when you have ‘look ma, no hands’ sparring and predominantly sport-based schools, Taekwondo doesn’t help itself as a martial art. Personally, I think sport Taekwondo is great for participants – look at the health benefits. Look at the pluses when you get into its competitive spirit. But does all of that improve Taekwondo’s hard hitting credibility it earned in the 50s, 60s, and 70s? You know when you close your eyes and those ‘Taekwondo’ moves in yet another K-pop music video, you’d be hard pressed to say yes.

Of course, I’m not going to apologise for any of what you think Taekwondo is. The weight of the martial art world does not fall in my providence. All I can showcase is what we do, how we are improving on ourselves bit by bit, and attempt to bring Traditional Taekwondo into the 21st Century.

The following is an unchoreographed and unscripted video (apologies, the audio is NSFW) of a regular training session featuring a type of sparring training. The objective of the exercise was to change the student practitioner’s mindset which equated sparring to kickboxing. By kickboxing I mean the idea that ‘I kick and punch, and then expect my opponent to return kicks and punches’. Staying in the melee range is a practice from the sportive arena, from Hollywood, also definitely from Bollywood. I believe if you want ‘realness’ in your training, you need to compartmentalise melee skills away from most of your training; by this I specifically mean to address sportive melee skills vis a vis practical tactics that help you self defend in the melee range.

Students were told to go light, create good cover with the use of the elbows and forearms, use open hand strikes and avoid punching, gap close and allow the hands to flow. As we progressed, students were encouraged not to just stay exchanging blows, but to gap close tactically, do what they had to do, then move away. Students who were new to this type of training showed good progress.

The snippet of video you see above was taken early on. When I got into the ring, I sought to increase forward pressure – to literally really get into my opponent’s face. While I kept the strikes light, I was close enough to headbutt and engage with both hands. You know the game is afoot when I pull out elbows and hands, headbutts, knees and feet. I went for shoulder grabs and locks, neck grabs and locks, and groin shots.

Best of all? No one got injured. Each person worked on their close quarter game. Their flow improved over that half an hour. And we got some lovely video to share!

Next sessions we work on incorporating some application training within this practice. Meaning I will name a few ‘types’ of attack that each need to deliver, and we will offer some prescriptive solutions to those attacks. I’m thinking maybe shoulder grab, cross punch defence and perhaps what to do against thigh kicks. Lastly, there’s a really good article on Tactical Taekwondo regarding Sparring Drills describing different drills which may be plugged in with our above approach and which I might use in later sessions.

For some non-martial arts inspiration, see Fast Shooting Compilation and INSANE Russian Counter Terror Drills.

Keep well.