Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

What the Hell Happened to Pre-Arranged Sparring?

Taekwon-Do Pre-arranged Sparring

I previously expressed my love for pre-arranged sparring, and I stand by that assertion. So know that I write this not out of hate, but out of love. Out of concern.

What the hell has happened to pre-arranged sparring?

Back in 2006, the ITF that’s based out of Spain brought in pre-arranged sparring as a new event. (Note: around the same time, the one based out of Austria brought in a similar event called “self-defence routine,” but that’s not what I’m talking about right now.) It’s a one-on-one choreographed fight, using taekwon-do techniques straight from the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do.

While I can’t confirm it, I’ve heard this is what General Choi wanted TKD sparring to look like. I’ve also heard that the ITF brass brought in the new event to add some excitement to tournaments.

At first, it was exciting. It was fun. It was this:

It was dynamic. It was full of fast-motion techniques. It was acrobatic. It was downright entertaining.

It was brand new, and no one quite knew how to standardize the scores. We knew the rules would be refined over time as judges got used to the event. I thought this refinement would continue to make it better.

I was wrong.

The new pre-arranged sparring

I’m no longer a member of that ITF, so I haven’t kept up with pre-arranged sparring competition for years now. So I was shocked to see this video from the 2016 World Cup:

It still resembles pre-arranged sparring on the surface, but it’s been stripped of its soul. More than 10 years in, the ITF’s fresh, exciting event has developed a not-so-fresh feeling.

Instead of a choreographed fight, we now have pairs patterns.

Don’t get me wrong: I love patterns. But they’re not flashy and exciting and fun. Not like a fight scene. Sorry, but ain’t nobody making a martial arts movie using the pace and rhythm from taekwon-do patterns.

The rules, refined

I looked up the current rules for pre-arranged sparring and I started to understand.

Here are some highlights.

You get a deduction for:

  • Inaccurate or incorrect sine wave (OK, fine. Not so bad. This is taekwon-do after all).
  • Inaccurate or incorrect stances (i.e. you have have to land in a proper TKD stance for every technique).
  • Inaccurate or incorrect motion (be careful with that fast motion).
  • Assisting your partner in any movement (no partner-assisted acrobatics).
  • Shouting at any time except during the final sequence (no added emphasis at any other time).
  • Performing more than three acrobatic sequences.
  • Failing to block or evade a blow at any time except for the final blow (correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t people usually take a hit or two during a fight?).

In addition:

  • Every technique has to be from official taekwon-do resources (such as the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do), except for your acrobatic sequences.
  • Every performance must end with a single, final blow.

Can you see how that would emphasize pattern-like performances, to the exclusion of excitement?

They also did away with mixed male-female teams for some reason I don’t understand.

And what’s with the team-vs.-team competition format? That’s just dumb. There’s no reason they can’t just assign a score to each team and be done with it. That would actually make things fairer, as the current system can lead to one of the same problems that plagues pattern competition.

Anyway, there’s nothing I can do to fix it at this point. All I can do is complain. And be sad. Very, very sad.