Monthly Archives: November 2012

The difference between sport and self defence

So after years of sport sparring most people develop a style that will at least keep them on the mat , some of these skills are of course transferable but what about mindset? over the years both in myself and in other i have seen quite a few issues arise from too much sport sparring i think some of these are true even for full contact competitors. These would be things like:

Playing by rules

OK kind of an obvious one but anyway, after some time in a certain sport you get use to the restrictions, no hitting to the back, no punching to the face etc. Whereas some people might think that when the rules are relaxed it becomes easier because you can go hell for leather anywhere on your opponents body. If you don’t have that experience however, it might not even occur to a person a strike some open target areas and a person may not be able to hit them correctly


In sport we are constantly told to keep our anger in check, this was a big one for me when I was involved in sport, as I had a habit of getting angry at people, it is bred out of some fighters as it can be seen as poor form or unsporting. I think that ‘losing it” to a degree can be really helpful in self-protection if you have spent enough time working on that edge

Fair play

ok maybe not for everyone, we have all met the person who is likely to kick you in the face while you are bowing but for a lot of people we teach them a code of conduct, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it is a code of conduct for a very special specialized situation, which is very different from the code of conduct for someone who has the impression you have just spilled their pint, in other words, sometimes sucker punches are OK

Giving in to fear

This is a kind of odd one, maybe because one way that martial arts sell themselves is to develop courage, and certainly in some ways they do, it takes courage to even get on the mat. After that, however, people can tend to ‘measure’ their opponents and spar them accordingly. if they are able to beat or match them then all is good, but a lot of the time I see people sparring with someone who is deemed to be better, maybe with a title or a higher grade, and taking it easy, not hitting them hard so that their opponent doesn’t get angry and wipe the floor with them. This is very dangerous to carry over in to the real world

Winning and losing

A lot of the time we aim to win sport fights, fight to some sort of an end. In real life situations this is a very dangerous idea, of course we must have the ability to fight, but running away should always also be an option. Sometimes we get too fixed on being the ‘winner’ by using some sort of made up criteria. Also winning and losing is a ‘double edge sword’ if you win a lot or even some of the time it builds confidence, if you are on a losing streak you can lose all confidence in your ability.

Marathon vs. Sprint

3, 2 minute rounds, is a very long time to fight, even the most conditioned people would find it hard to go full out for that length of time, so we pace ourselves. if you get too used to pacing yourself you lose the ability to go all out, or at least you definition of going all out becomes diluted, your ‘all out’ is someone else’s 80%.

Clean techniques

in sport to please the crowd and referees and just to feel good we love to deliver very clean, clear techniques and my goodness to feel the slap of a good round house going into your opponent’s head feels good, and then he backs up and tries to do the same. We need to largely forget that and in some ways not even try for it in self-protection, prepare to be messy


The 3 C’s of Tactical TKD

Whatever you do you have to have a plan, the less sure you are about what is going to happen the more open your plan has to be.

When we fight in a sporting arena, we are fairly sure about some of the parameters, there are a set of rules in place that both you and your opponent have to abide by. There is an open, flat, empty area that you will be fighting in, if you are fighting at a high level you will know the strengths and weakness of your opponent and can train accordingly. Therefore you can create a game plan

For self-defence however it is different, you don’t get to choose the place, the size, the number of people that you may have to deal with. So training in a way that is over planned i.e. he will do this and I will attack this way is foolish, however going in with nothing is also a mistake, you need a goal and tactics in mind. We can find a frame work for these tactics in the patterns. A framework for the purpose of this article I am going to refer to as the 3Cs of TKD


The beginning is made with contact. This can either be in the form of defensive contact as in where your opponent has made the first move or offensive contact where you are taking the initiative. A lot of movement in the forms we have our arms crossed up around our head, to me this is very similar to our natural in built reaction to anything coming at us. Any sudden threat or even loud noise we will instinctively bring our hands up around our head for protection. If this is our natural reaction it makes more sense to build upon that rather than fight against it. Take the beginning of Do San for example the pattern begins with our hand crossed to the right side of our head, this is a much better reaction to a hook that the following ‘block’ in the pattern and a much faster reaction to an ambush style attack.


Control is maybe the ‘C’ that has the biggest difference from completion sparring and self-defence. Usually in a sporting arena people would use footwork body movement to gain the upper hand while relying on their (hopefully) superior speed, however for self-defence we have to approach the idea of control in a slightly different way. We should be trying to put to opponent in a position where he can’t hit back. Now of course footwork and body movement do play a part in this but a bigger part is played by grabbing, pushing and pulling the opponent or their arms and legs. Grabbing at clothing, pulling at limbs, tripping to get them off balance are all vital skills needed for control as well as higher level control skills such as large joint manipulation. All of these can be found in the forms, most basically with the reaction or pulling hand present in most motions. By putting that hand in to action to grab limbs or hair and pulling the opponent towards us we are doing a number of things, pulling them off balance making their attacks weaker, gaining a feel for where they are making it easier to hit back accurately, make sure they are moving towards us when we hit making the stike more powerful.


Counter the final stage, after the control the opponent should now for a split second be open for a counter attack to a vital area. Hopefully somewhere around the head, what’s needed here is short range power with whatever striking tool you have. After that continuing the attack until you can make an escape, even though in the forms a lot fo the sequences end in a single punch this is more just to signify that you should be attacking now. After one successful punch you should be able to continue to attack in accordance with the reactions of your opponent.

So this I s the basic framework of self-defence as I believe is put form ward in the patters of TKD. In most of the movement sequences you and see this simple and effective frame work repeated over and over again and it is something worth taking time to understand, and once you understand the framework you will be able to mix the movements from the patterns and see better how one movement from the pattern can flow in to the next and how TKD is a more complete fighting system that maybe you once thought.

Why Tactical TKD

I start training in taekwondo at the age of 16. I had never done any sort of serious physical activity before beyond the P.E. lessons that we were subjected to at school. Playing cricket in hail stones and trying to kick a football through mud.  I was less than fit and flexible but I knew it was something I desperately wanted to do, so week after week I would go and take part in the class my face would turn from red to blue to white and I invariable ended up sitting out of some of the class catching my breath.  It was only due to some great instructors and seniors in that club that I managed to get myself together. Years later my experiences and the things learned (in between mad dashes to the bathroom to throw up) are still a source of learning and motivation for me.

I have since moved away from my hometown and ceased serious practice of TKD, although I still practice the patterns. I have studied in a number of different countries and under different masters of different styles but all the way through be it shaolin kung fu, aikido or stick fighting I have looked for ways to link all my knowledge back through to taekwondo

The way I do this is through the patterns of ITF taekwondo which I believe are a largely mis understood and under used part of the syllabus. The usual applications for the movements, such as an outer forearm block to stop a hook punch or a low block to stop a front kick, are presented all with the underlying feeling of “yeah well, this is how they used to fight in Asia” or even more oddly “this is the art side of TKD, of course it would never work, but I am telling you this anyway” and then classes get on with the ‘real’ stuff of sparring. This is not a problem only in TKD but in most martial art that include forms practice in the syllabus. Students of the martial art for the most part seem not to want to study the movements in-depth and are satisfied with agreeing with the first application that is presented no matter how workable or unworkable it seems

This is mainly because forms practice in many arts has been reduced to a demonstration art, people spend years training to hold kicks in position or get the placement of a punch millimetre perfect without spending one training session examining the application of the movement. This has been compounded by the grading syllabus of many schools also requiring a demonstration of a form rather than demonstration of the understanding of the form.

Slowly through practices like this and the introduction of sport style sparring with gloves and rules that make many of the movement from the forms redundant (i.e. it is difficult to perform a knife hand with a boxing glove on) the true applications and essence of traditional Taekwondo is being lost.

Tactical Taekwondo is my attempt to present the information I have learnt during my years in the martial arts and how it can all be found in TKD if we look at the patterns closely.