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Sparring in Taekwondo: Part 3

Part 3 of a 3 part Blog Post

In this post, we will be looking at a few aspects of what sparring actually involves, and sharing a few practical sparring tips for the newer Taekwondo student.

Sparring Basics for the Taekwondo Student


The kihap (pronounced “key hap”) is a very important part of Taekwondo training. Put simply, this special kind of yell combines sound with breathing, resulting in one explosive burst. Correct breath control can serve to focus the power of the technique being performed, which can also improve one’s stamina and speed.

  • Correct breathing in martial arts is performed using the diaphragm. A sharp exhaling of breath during movement, with a sudden stop on impact of technique tenses the abdomen and power and effort of delivery. Although called a shout, be careful not to use the vocal cords instead of the diaphragm, otherwise the benefits will be lost.

  • When you expel the kihap, you let out a breath. In muscular movement, exhaling makes for a relaxed muscle or longer muscle. A longer muscle is a stronger muscle, thereby improving the movement of the muscle.

  • The kihap is typically expressed at the same level (volume and power) as the technique or move being done. When moving around the ring for instance, it would be at a softer level then when breaking concrete blocks.

  • Using the kihap helps one control their breathing during a fight. It keeps the practitioner inhaling and exhaling properly, which improves oxygenation.

  • Intimidation. Using the kihap can be used as a psychological technique to intimidate opponents. But again, its delivery should correspond with the strength of the particular technique being carried out. One should not "over intensify" the kihap as simply an intimidation tactic.


Another one of the things you can control in a fight is your rhythm. The rhythm of your footwork determines the speed of the fight. If you do not do this, the opponent will, and will thereby gain an advantage. This does not necessarily mean being faster than the opponent, as there are techniques that move at different speeds. Rhythm basically equals control, and how you time your strikes to counter your opponent. Pace is one of the more important points because of your own stamina levels, if you move too fast and hard early, your opponent can hang back until you are tired and take you fairly easily.


The principle of fighting is the art of mobility: to get you close enough to your target to deliver blows or to avoid being a target. Mohammed Ali once said ‘float like a butterfly sting like a bee.' This quote speaks to the absolute importance of footwork in sparring, as it is what enables you to control your distance. So footwork and distance really go "hand in hand." A sluggish and heavy footed person with poor footwork will exhaust himself as he futilely attempts to hit his opponent.

The best position for your feet is where you can move rapidly in any direction and

so you are well balanced to withstand blows from any angle. The feet must always

be directly under your body. The on-guard stance present proper body balance and

a natural alignment of your feet.


Good footwork is what gives you the distance to allow you to evade blows, escape out of tight corners, and to conserve your energy. Distance is also what helps you determine which technique you are going to use on your opponent.

  • Close: This is the closest distance. This distance allows for grappling techniques, use of pressure points, or hitting with your knees and elbows.

  • Arm Length: At arm length (about 3 feet from your opponent), you would concentrate on punching. This distance is too close for your legs to effectively kick... so you would miss your target.

  • Body Length: This is considered kicking distance (about 5-6 feet away). It is too far away for you to punch but far enough away to land effective kicks.

You also need to look at your opponent. Are they taller or shorter than you? If they’re shorter keep them out and take advantage of your long legs. And if they’re taller than you – you need to rely on your speed and footwork. Move inside their kicking range. Score. And get out again.

In Conclusion

Sparring is a daily activity at some martial art schools, while at other schools, sparring is a rarely performed activity. Some people love sparring and some people don’t. No matter how you feel about sparring, it is really the only way you can get a sense of how you would feel and react as if you were in a real fight. Aside from preparing you for a real life self defense situation, it also offers many other benefits, both mental and physical.


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