Competition is a fun and exhilerating aspect to taekwondo that often refines skills and heightens focus in ways that are unmatched by other means of training. “Competition is a method of developing the full potential of the human body, both physically and technically. Taekwondo competition pursues the development and integration of fitness, technique, and strategy as well as a sense of humility and sportsmanship.”
Plus, there are several types of competition for people of different ages and sizes. The application of skills through competition is what gives taekwondo its unique identity. It’s like taking the martial art out of the books and movies and taking it into real-life for a true test of skill.
The Modern Taekwondo Sparring System is based on the systematic relations between techniques. Think of the game, “Rock-Paper-Scissors”: Rock beats scissors, scissors beat paper, paper beats rock. Success in taekwondo comes from an understanding of how to use the proper techniques at the appropriate times.
For example, a successful counterattack arises from consideration of two things: 1) Time and 2) Space. Time encompasses the striking and recovery periods of techniques; space is divided into open and occupied target areas. A simple example is that a roundhouse kick opens the attacker to a backkick to the body.
In a conversation in 2013, Professor Kuk Hyun Chung 4-time World Champion, 1988 Olympic Champion, Professor at the Korean Sports University, and considered the all-time greatest taekwondo competitor shared that the three essential components for competition success are:
Taekwondo has four different types of competition allowing people of all ages and temperaments to test their skills in a variety of ways.
Also known as gyoroogi, this is the most familiar type of taekwondo competition and is included in the Olympic Games: two people, wearing protective gear (one red, the other blue), use a variety of skills for attack and defense. Training for sparring is an excellent way to become more comfortable with applying techniques against a real person in addition to improving mobility, timing, and adaptability.
Overview: Olympic taekwondo matches are arranged by weight and gender. The time allotted for a match is three three-minute rounds, with a one minute rest between rounds. One referee observes the competitors and ensures the rules are followed and assign deductions for rule infractions. Four corner judges award points using an electronic hand-held system. The winner is the competitor with the most points at the end of the match. Local taekwondo matches follow the same general format separating competitors by weight, gender, age, and rank. There are usually one to two rounds of one- to three-minutes duration depending upon the tournament.
Protective Equipment: Competitors must wear headgear, mouthpiece, forearm pads, athletic cup, shin pads, and chest protector. Rule revisions allow for more points being awarded for punches to the body.
Basic Rules: Kicks are allowed to the torso and head. Punches are allowed to the torso. Kicks below the belt and strikes with any part of the hand other than the knuckles are not allowed. Points are awarded for solid kicks and punches to valid target areas as long as the attacker stays on their feel (i.e., no falling down).
Poomsae, competition is becoming a much more popular type of competition around the world. Forms are pre-arranged movements performed in sequence. Although no other person is involved, the techniques must be precise, fluid, and powerful. Forms training either alone or in a group is excellent low impact exercise for improving balance and coordination.
Overview: Poomsae involves the demonstration of a form in front of a judging panel. Upon the completion of the form, the panel awards a score. The person with the highest score is declared the winner. Poomse competition is growing in popularity around the world in its own world championships and the world university games.
Basic Rules: Competitors are divided by rank and age and must perform a form appropriate for a given rank. There is also a team competition as well as creative poomse at some competitions.
Kyukpa is a more recent addition to the competitive landscape of taekwondo. Breaking is an activity that has always been in the martial arts as a true test of skill and power. Requirements for breaking include degree of difficulty, precision, power, speed, and creativity. Board breaking is a visually exciting, rewarding, and satisfying challenge.
Overview: Breaking involves breaking one or more pieces of material (wood boards, re-breakable boards, and/or bricks or other material) using the parts of the human body usually hands, feet, and forearms.
Type of Techniques: Breaking competition includes a variety of kicking and striking techniques including:
Key elements: Breaking requires proper technique, power, speed, precision, and flexibility.
Hoshinsul can also be called “arranged sparring” and is a more recent type of competition event. Two or more people demonstrate pre-arranged self-defense techniques and/or situations against ‘attackers’ and demonstrate various ways to defend themselves. This is a very exciting type of competition that can be very creative.
IMPORTANT: Prearranged sparring is an important requirement for black belt exams. MSMAP considers this aspect of taekwondo as an essential component to improving the overall skill-set and mental awareness of martial artists. In other words, it opens up the possibilities for techniques and combinations.
Taekwondo competition and training is fun! Yes, competition can be very stressful, but the stress reflects a thrill and readiness not found in other types of activities. Also, learning to manage the anxiety of competition allows participants to better manage themselves in other types of stressful situations.
In his book, Olympic Style Sparring, Professor Chung shares that “the ultimate ideal of taekwondo practice is to achieve a state of mind in which the performer is acutely aware of the endlessly changing competition environment and can effortlessly react to such changes. This state of mind becomes possible through the mastery of a broad range of offensive and defensive taekwondo skills.”
Competition sparring training emphasizes speed, power, timing, and accuracy. The increasingly intricate techniques used in combination are blended together by smooth, efficient footwork. Drills emphasize not only striking targets well, but also reacting well to moving targets or partners where the speed and distance of the target changes.
Sparring training prepares the participant for competition combat and involves the key elements listed below. Each element is a challenge by itself. But, when they are combined together, the results of diligent training are truly phenomenal.
KICKING. Drills reinforce clean movement, accuracy, speed, and power. Combinations of two and more kicks in quick succession are considered basic components. More advanced teens and adults kick towards head level.
FOOTWORK. Greatly overlaps with kicking drills as kicks require efficient movement from one spot to another to be effective. Footwork drills reinforce quickness with balance.
POSITION. This topic relates to the distance and leg position relative to an opponent. It helps to clarify which leg to use (front or rear), if footwork is required to close or create distance, and how solid is the defensive stance relative to the opponent’s position.
STRATEGY. This brings all the above topics together into a useful plan of action based upon the skills and preferences of each opponent. Taekwondo sparring is sometimes compared to a chess match with attacks, counterattacks, defensive movements, and more. Taekwondo sparring is not hammering an opponent without thought and hoping for the best; it is leveraging intelligence and confidence to apply effective techniques at a good target at the right time.
FITNESS & CONDITIONING. Physical fitness is a requirement to fully enjoy sparring and the thrill of one-on-one combat.
RULES. Rules, etiquette, and scoring are introduced and continually reviewed.
Again, safety is the most important goal of the Mount Shasta Martial Arts Program. For contact sparring, whether during workouts or at tournaments, participants wear protective equipment and are required to follow the rules at all times.
The protective equipment used in taekwondo training and competition is a benefit to both the person wearing the gear as well as their partner/opponent. The padded gear minimizes the bruising injuries that will occur in this combative activity. Get some sooner rather than later.
Since 2007, MSMAP members and their families travel to the San Francisco Bay Area to compete in one of the largest taekwondo tournaments in the western states, the U.C. Open Taekwondo Championships at U.C. Berkeley. Collectively, we’ve won many gold, silver, and bronze medals in sparring and forms. Not only are the participants excited by the experience, their entire families are thrilled watching these tests of skill against similarly matched opponents.
Read more: Other articles about MSMAP’s successful competition experiences.
Go to: 2017 UC Open Taekwondo & Yongmudo Championships
Go to: 2016 UC Open Taekwondo & Yongmudo Championships
Go to: 2014 UC Open Taekwondo Championships
Go to: 2013 UC Open Taekwondo Championships
Go to: 2012 UC Yongmudo Championships
Go to: 2012 UC Open Taekwondo Championships
Go to: 2011 UC Yongmudo Championships
Go to: 2011 UC Open Taekwondo Championships
Go to: 2010 UC Open Taekwondo & Yongmudo Championships
Go to: 2009 UC Open Taekwondo Championships
Learn more about the UC Open Taekwondo Championships:
Go to: UC Open Information
Check out these exciting Olympic video highlights of taekwondo’s fast-paced action, artistry, and stunning power and see how fantastic taekwondo really is:
Watch now: 2008 Best Kicks - Beijing (3:10)
Watch now: 2004 Olympic Highlights (7:26)
Go to: More Taekwondo Olympic Action