Let’s talk about cutting off the ring.
One important way to help yourself win a sparring match is to control your opponent. If you can control his or her motion while imposing your own, you have a huge advantage. And one excellent way to control your opponent is to limit the amount of space they have to move. If you’re lucky, you can even back them into a corner. You do this by getting in the way of where they want to go: being there first so they can’t move around you.
But cutting off the ring isn’t just about controlling your opponent’s movement. It’s also about creating pressure to make them feel trapped. If they feel under pressure, they’ll likely be on the defensive and you have an advantage.
Cutting off the ring isn’t easy. It takes good timing and you have to be fast and work hard to keep moving. Instead of turning to face your opponent as they move, you have to think about where they want to go. And then you have to move laterally (side-to-side) to block their path.
The easiest way to learn this is to start with your partner in a corner. If your partner wants to move past you on your left side, you have to move sideways to your left to cut off their escape route. Vice versa if they want to move past you on your right side. This is easier if you square up to your opponent (i.e. stand straight-on instead of sideways), but that will also mean you’ll be a bigger target. Knowing how to stand (and when) will come with practice.
Chances are, most opponents will be too good to stay stuck in a corner, so once you get the hang of managing this small area, you can move up to cutting off more of the ring. By moving laterally across a bigger portion of the ring, you can still control where your opponent goes. And this is also how you herd your opponent into a corner in the first place.
I couldn’t find any video examples of ring cutting in TKD, but watch how George Foreman squares himself off and moves sideways across the ring to make Kenny Norton go where Foreman wants him to go:
Now that we’ve covered the concepts, let’s cover some drills so you can put this into practice.
Drill 1: Learning basic ring cutting – Your partner stands in the corner and moves side to side to try to get around you into the centre area of the ring (i.e. to get on the inside so you’re now on the outside of the ring). You have to cut them off. When your partner makes it out of the corner, you switch roles, so your partner now tries to cut you off. There are no kicks or punches during this drill, just movement. Start slow and build up speed as you get used to the idea. The goal at first is not for the “trapped” person to get out of the corner, but for the “cutter” to learn how to move to keep their partner in the corner.
Drill 2: Fake outs – This is almost the same drill as number 1. But now that you’re more comfortable with the movement and have started speeding it up, the “trapped” person can make things a little more challenging by using fakes to get the “cutter” to commit to moving the wrong way. For example, you could fake right and then quickly move to the left.
Drill 3: Adding strikes – Same drill, but this time the “cutter” can use kicks and punches to keep their partner in the corner. Turning kicks and hook punches work well for this, because they come around on an angle. Only the “cutter” is punching and kicking at this stage. (Side note: I’ve seen many referees say that only straight punches are allowed in sparring, but I’ve never seen a single set of rules that confirms this. I don’t know where this fake rule came from. The problem with hooks, though, is that it’s easy to hit too hard, and we all know that excessive contact is against the rules. But if you can keep your hooks tight—not wild swings—and rein back the power, you should hopefully be OK. Hooks to the body are easier to control and/or disguise than those to the head.)
Drill 4: Adding strikes from the opposite direction – Now the person trying to get out of the corner can kick and punch, but the person cutting off the ring can’t. The “trapped” person will have to create space, so straight kicks (e.g. front kick, side kick) and punches will work well here.
Drill 5: Putting it all together – Now both people can kick and punch.
Drills 6-9: Making the area bigger – I’ve lumped these drills together, because they’re just like drills 2-4, except now you’re dealing with more of the ring, not just a corner. The person trying to get out will start either along the side of the ring or further out from the corner. The person cutting off the ring has to keep them confined to half of the ring, measured diagonally. You’re now dealing with a bigger area, so it’s no longer just a matter of getting out of the corner. If the “trapped” person can get past the diagonal line, or can get on the inside, so they are now facing outward while the former “cutter” is now facing the centre of the ring, you switch roles. Optionally, you could put a mark in the centre of the ring and if the “trapped” person touches the mark, you switch.
So there you go. The concept itself is pretty simple, but making it work well takes some practice. But these drills should help you on your way to becoming a real general of the ring.