Sunday, 31 January 2016

The first rule of fight club...

Sparring (kyorugi in taekwondo, kumite in karate) is just punching people right? How different can it be for these two martial arts separated by only 500 miles?

The answer, of course, is very!

I've never claimed to be a true all-rounder, and I envy and respect those who can combine the grace and power required for patterns, with the speed, strategy and dynamism of the fighter. In fact, since the 1980s, of my forty-odd competition medals, only eight are for fighting. But there's no reason why we shouldn't be good at both as the core skills for both; speed, power, technique and timing are essentially the same... or so I'm told.

Even within each art, there is a difference between dojo/dojang sparring and competition fights. In class, sparring is more stand-up and close quarters, with fewer breaks and retreats. In a tournament, there will naturally be more focus on clarity of technique and target. But what I've found most difficult to manage as I move between TKD and karate classes is what I'm "allowed" to do.

Again, I'm going to qualify this blog by stating that this is my understanding as a taekwondo improver (I think I'm pushing it calling myself a beginner now) rather than a technical analysis...

The first thing you notice is how protected the taekwondo competitor is compared to karate. Generally, kumite in the EKF doesn't require head guards for adults and has only recently introduced chest-protectors. Karateka do not wear arm protectors. So is this difference indicative of the type of attacks likely to befall the fighter?

As an ITF school, my club adheres to sparring rules but this isn't quite a strict as the WTF Olympic rules - (basically what you'll see if you watch Jade Jones). This means you can punch and kick (no knees, elbows, knifehands etc) and you can target the head or the chest guard only.

Unlike the extremely unrealistic Olympic sparring rules which state you can't punch to the head (What?!) punches, including hooks, uppercuts and jabs are allowed. You'll also not see much guarding and blocking with the arms in Olympic sparring, (kicks are blocked with kicks) but ITF sparring does focus very heavily on guards.

Now, I'm never gong to spar at the Olympics (although hopefully young martial artists will have the choice of karate or taekwondo from 2020) so it's fine for me to focus on my dojang fighting and use punches and blocks - there's no way I could rely on leg flexibility to score - I have none.

So what are the big differences that get me into trouble? In karate, punches must be straight,  no hooks or uppercuts, so I either forget to use these at TKD, or accidentally use them at karate and get penalties.  All kicks are allowed in karate but you will rarely see much outside of turning kick and reverse turning so again I tend to rely on these and miss opportunities at the dojang. The biggie, though, is that I have a low centre of gravity and a quick hand, so my go-to technique is to collect the leg after blocking a kick and sweep the other leg for a takedown and finish. You are not allowed to grab in TKD so you very rarely have take-downs. This leads to my sparring partners hovering on one leg and repeatedly side kicking me(!) because there's no danger.

So who would win? Well, there are plenty of youtube videos that claim to answer this, but realistically you would need to have a no-rules bout to find that out. I'm not a huge fan of the WTF Olympic sparring, it's rule-bound and audience pleasing and doesn't bear a lot of resemblance to a real fight. WKF karate has fewer rules and allowing for punches to the head and take-downs means it has more realism. I sincerely hope these aren't lost if karate does become an Olympic sport.

Outside of the tournament arena, I love that I can throw hooking punches in the dojang, it's a new technique for me but it works. I do suffer from leggy opponents blocking with their legs - I can't get near them and I can't put them on their arse and basically legs are longer than arms so I'm going to be at a disadvantage in taekwondo.