Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: How Hard is Too Hard?

My boxing coach once told me an interesting story after class one day involving his views on sparring. Here's an abridged version:

A fellow coach had called him and asked if he could bring his boxer over to get in some sparring rounds with his students. Golden Gloves was coming up and all of the amateurs were putting in extra ring time, so he agreed.

That Saturday the “journeyman” showed up and got into the ring. Not even after the first minute his coach stepped in and stopped it. He said, “What the hell is your guy doing? Is he trying to knock my fighter's head off?” I thought we were here to spar, not try to KO one another”. My coach replied that in boxing there is no point in “light sparring” because of several reasons. Most importantly is that light sparring does not prepare you for a fight and once you actually get hit, you will not know how to handle it.

You see, he trains his boxers as if they were in an actual match every time they are in the ring. This sport requires them to go hard every time and it is important to never get it in your head that you can quit, or take it easy without very negative consequences. The training you receive at the boxing gym is meant to train you for a full contact fight – therefore full contact is mandatory in training.

There are many other arts where training at full contact is a necessity – Jiu Jitsu for example. Every time we “roll” in class, we are sparring at 100% power. The only time you lighten up is during a submission or choke, but every thing in between is 100%. Sometimes beginners (like myself) get excited when successfully pulling a submission and forget to lighten up; watch out for those guys! Jiu Jitsu is notorious for some bad injuries with the "noobies". Jiu Jitsu tournaments utilize full contact, therefore full contact is mandatory during training.

Nothing sucks worse than having some big dude flatten you out at full power!

This brings me to my bread and butter – Tae Kwon Do. TKD, at least the variation we train, works out to something like a kickboxing match when we spar. We are told that the intensity we spar at is entirely up to us. If you want to push it harder, go right ahead, just expect it to come back to you. If somebody is giving you hell, you are expected to give them hell back. But we NEVER encourage full contact to a degree that is out of control. Especially with the power that kicks can generate, it is foolish to spar full contact regularly in Tae Kwon Do. By full contact I mean what you would expect in a real fight, not that one time you and your friend went a little harder than usual in class and accidentally got a bloody nose.

We have an older black belt that I spar gear-less with sometimes and let me tell you – I am glad we don't take it full contact. Those punches and kicks hurt like hell with no gear, even at lower power. 

Not sure what this teaches you...

In TKD there is no reason to make it a full contact fight. The Tae Kwon Do tournaments we attend do not encourage full contact, but controlled techniques. Even the continuous sparring tournaments are this way and we are better for it.

To sum it up - there is a time and place for full contact. If you are in a martial art and are training for a full contact competition of some sort like a boxing match or a Jiu Jitsu tournament, then you need to train at full power. If your reason for training is self defense or involves a weapon, then there is little use for full contact sparring. I didn't say sparring wasn't useful – I said “full contact” sparring. The risk of injury is simply too high to justify regular full contact training. Nothing beats a good sparring match for practicing your skills, but going hard doesn't mean trying to kill one another.

Now if you are trying to go “full contact” simply so you can brag about that one time you did [insert skill-brag here)]against somebody in a real fight, then you need to reevaluate why you are training. There are plenty of MMA gyms out there that will show you what “full contact” really is and I suggest you go try it before calling that one time in sparring class you went a little harder than usual with your buddy and accidentally got a bloody nose “full contact”.

There is a wonderful benefit to full contact fighting, but it comes with a very high risk of injury. So the question is... how hard is too hard in your program?

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.

Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree. Playing with weapons also comes with a high risk of injury, but it' s too fun not to do it.  -The Stick Chick