A peculiar flaw in Tae Kwon Do practice

Tae Kwon Do – Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I recently attended the Varsity Tae Kwon Do match between Cambridge and Oxford University.  I noticed, more than ever before, a very common flaw that was uniform across the 20+ bouts I watched.

There seem to be a total neglect toward guards while people are fighting.  In fact I had the impressons that fighters were in fact unaware that their arms could actually be kept in a convenient position to maximise guard and protection of their scoring areas while eventually blocking their opponent’s attacks.  Kicks were thrown without any attention about where the arms were and even when punching with one arm the other seemed to be totally forgotten that it existed.

Let’s face it it’s not easy to keep a decent guard while fighting; being a big fan of proper guards I spend more that 50% of my coaching time reminding people to keep their guard where it should be.   However yesterday I was seriously disappointed by the amount of scoring that Oxford managed to achieve by simply kicking unguarded torsos and faces.

Some Tae Kwon Do fights are full contact but likely not in this occasion; given the average skill I saw I believe it was mostly because of lack of performance and real power training.  If any of those scores, particularly to the face, were delivered with real power they would have needed some serious medical attention.

The kickboxing teach is very much based on kicks so I feel confident I could teach one thing or two to these young men and women if next year they perhaps want to actually beat Oxford.

The importance of a proper guard

I have recently coached my students of Cambridge University Kickboxing Society in a Varsity match against Oxford and then the University Kickboxing Championship in Canterbury (Kent – UK) and I had the inspiration to write this post because of what I have seen: most people have little or no guard and, for my standard, are simply asking to be beaten up.  Both during Varsity fight and the Uni Champ, with over two hundred fighters, it was very rare to spot people that were holding a decent guard, lasting even for just a single round.  Let’s analyse the facts.

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

When in a contact fighting situation you are often at a short distance with an opponent who has a single goal: hitting you in every area allowed, in order to score as many points as possible.  This simple rule applies in the same way to boxers, any kind of kick boxers and any practitioner of other striking martial arts like karate or tae known do.   Having a poor guard can undermine the quality of your attacks because you become way more vulnerable to your opponent’s attacks or counter attacks and have painful consequences.

A guard position imposes the fighter to control where her hands and arms are while she is performing other techniques with her legs or ensuring that at least one hand is in the right position, close to the head to protect it from opponent’s strikes, while the other is striking.  Instinct and balance doesn’t suggest keeping the guard in place: it’s easier to stand if you spread your arms when kicking.  At the same time a martial artist is supposed to be a controlled and trained person that can suppress and control her instincts and use her training for the best performance.  What best performance?  Once you run out of evasive footwork, proper use of distance and active blocks I hope we all agree that a decent guard is the only defence you have against an attack: the only shield to protect your head, face or part of the body.  If you can strengthen some part of your torso and chest with serious conditioning and abdominal exercises the same cannot be said for the face and the head.

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

Copyright and courtesy of Duncan Grisby

To some extent it is difficult for me to understand how and why people that teach kickboxing (in these cases) are spending long time at practicing conditioning, decent combinations of punches and kicks, ring strategy and so on without spending enough time to concentrate of keeping a decent guards all times.  However well your guard is trained it will perform worse when under great pressure.   When ever I am coaching a fighter more than 50% of all my suggestions are about keeping and closing the guard: that minimised her chance of being hit and she reduces the number of points scored on her and the risk of KO while she can save energy and be ready to strike back.

It’s more important to win 1-nil than 10-9: in the latter case you scored 10 points but 9 were scored on you.  Keeping a good guard will ensure to minimise the number of times your opponent scores on you.