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Free sparring (Chayu Taeryon/ Jayu Matsogi)

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FREE SPARRING (Chayu Taeryon/ Jayu Matsogi)


“Free sparring is essentially an open combat with controlled attacking and prohibition of attacking to certain vital spots. In a free sparring there is no prearranged mode between the players, and both participants are completely free to attack and defend with all available means and methods with one exception: The attacker must stop the attacking tool just before reaching the vital spot.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.244)

Unlike other competitive sports, in Taekwon-Do sparring, only those blows are counted that are focused within two centimeters of a vital spot. Blows that are far away are ineffective blows and are not to be counted. The student should not perform sparring as if “chicken fighting”.

“In sparring focused blows, speed, power, balance, and strong and accurate blocking, skillful dodging and attitude are taken into consideration. […] Chicken fighting is caused by those students who use only stereotyped movement without any tactics and irregard for the opponent’s position at all.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.244)

Number of Sparring Participants

In free sparring, different number of participants can participate. Generally, the following combinations are performed:

——1:1 sparring. Here, one participant is faced with another participant.
——1:2 sparring. Here, one participant is faced with two participants.
——2:2 sparring. Here, two participants are faced with two participants.
——other combination sparring. Here, any combination of participants may be undertaken.

A brief example of free sparring

X: Right foot middle turning kick, and then a right L-Stance
Y: Right walking stance, and an X-knife-hand downward block

Y: Left foot pick-shape kick, and then a left L-stance
X: Pulling the right foot to form a left rear foot stance to C, and then a forearm guarding block

Y: Left foot reverse turning kick
X: Moving the right foot to B and forming a right L-stance

X: Moving the left foot to the rear and forming a right walking stance, while performing a knife-hand front strike
Y: Left foot side piercing kick

X: Dodging reverse turning kick, while flying away
Y: Dodging and moving back to form a left L-stance, while performing a forearm guarding block.

Hints for free sparring

1. Emphasis is on defense. Taekwon-Do is meant for defense. Therefore, one should defend oneself from the opponent’s attack. “[…] in free sparring it is advisable to take a step backwards immediately after the exchange of bows at the beginning of a match instead of rushing in with a headlong attack and then watch and study an opponent’s movements.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.246)

2. Instantaneous attack and counter-attack. In Taekwon-Do, “a victory can be instantly decided by a single focused blow and lost as easily by a telegraphed kick or punch. […] students should […] attack only when there is chance for a decisive blow. The student should constantly concentrate on finding or creating an opening, and should not miss the target of opportunity.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.247)

3. Using deception. Either the defensive position has to be penetrated by brute force or by luring the opponent to break the defense by deception. There are many techniques for luring out the opponent. For example, “a feint with a high punch or strike could momentarily raise an opponent’s guard long enough to score against the floating ribs with a side or front kick. A jumping or shout may induce the opponent to execute a premature move that the alert student can counter. […] attempting to flank him, can also induce the opponent to either prematurely attack or instinctively drop his guard. The opening […] may only last a split second, therefore, […] the student’s attack be carried out immediately.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.247)

4. Selecting a suitable target. A proper target should be selected and it has to attacked with a proper weapon. For example, in a close range, a kick would not be so effective as using a punch, elbow or knee strike, or a throw. For a small target like an eye, a forefinger would be more effective, and likewise for the windpipe, a knuckle fist would be more effective, rather than using the foot or the forefist. In a long range, flying kicks like two or three direction kicks, or combination techniques using kicks followed by punches, would be more applicable. “In other words, if the distance requires the artillery, use a gun and not a pistol; on the other hand, when the target is small and close enough for a pistol, it would be foolish to use a cannon.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.248)

5. Direction of defence and attack. For attacking an opponent to the side, a side piercing kick, side pressing kick, side thrusting kick, side strike with a knife-hand, cross cut with a flat fingertip, side punch or side fist are ideal. For attacking an opponent in the rear, a back kick, a back elbow, and a back fist are useful tools. For attacking an opponent diagonally, a vertical kick, a turning kick, a reverse turning kick, and a side back strike with a back fist may be used. For attacking an opponent who is in front, there are countless choices. The student should therefore, “familiarize himself with those techniques required for attacking and blocking toward any direction even without facing the opponent in order to save time while minimizing exposure.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.248)

6. Experimenting with techniques. In combat, the best applicable techniques should be used. However, in training, the student should experiment with different techniques, so that expertise can be obtained in various techniques. For example, if the student notices that the left side is not as powerful as the right side, then the left side should be practiced so that punches and kicks using the left hand and leg can be perfected. A newly learned technique should be practiced immediately, so that it is not forgotten. Always using the favourite technique may be not feasible. “Last but not least, in matches an experienced fighter will watch and pick out his opponent’s favorite technique. If is used once too often, the opponent will anticipate it and counter-attack.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.249)

7. Developing maneuver and tactic. In an open match or combat, the techniques to be used are entirely dependent on the situation; therefore, practising free sparring against an opponent who moves to a fixed scenariou would be meaningless. “Moreover, it would be indeed ridiculous if not impractical to set a sequence like the pattern of Taekwon-Do as it is impossible to predict each movement an opponent would use in the actual free sparring situation. […] At this point, the student must realize that the primary purpose of a free sparring is to develop tactics, maneuver, fighting skill, courage, self-control, extemporaneous sense and indomitable spirit. The exploitation of technques is the secondary.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.250)

8. Using dodging techniques. With dodging, the distance and target opportunity can be used to advantage. At a close distance, collision can be avoided and a surprise attack can be performed while dodging away. “With this technique alone, Taekwon-Do can be clearly differentiated from any other existing martial arts.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.251)

9. Performing counter attack. It is not always necessary to block or retreat from an opponent’s attack. For example, a counter attack may be more effective if an opponent kicks or punches. “Remember, however, the efficiency of the counter attack is maximized only when a student attains a position of superiority in speed and timing over the opponent.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.252)

10. Using multiple techniques. In free sparring, multiple techniques can be used consecutively, or in a combination, or double strikes, punches or kicks. While sparring due to weaving or bobbing, using multiple techniques may be effective, for is the first misses the target then the second would not miss it. “This technique is principally used while flying, though occasionally on the ground. A horizontal attack is used against a weaving opponent whereas a vertical attack for bobbing.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.253)

11. Changing the position. By jumping beyond the opponent, the opponent is forced to change direction, which can provide openings for a decisive attack. “This technique has an added advantage of providing a surprise attack while flying, and explains one of the reasons that flying techniques are stressed in Taekwon-Do, unlike other martial arts.”– Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.256)

Limitations of free sparring

“Of course, free sparring is very important part of Taekwon-Do to build courage, experience, sense of victory, ability of performance and significance of participation and so on. However, it should not be the only focus of the training. A student will see free sparring is not a real combat and is a very small part of Taekwon-Do due to the following limitations.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.257)

Free sparring is limited by the following:
—the vital spots are prohibited to attack
—attacking tools are limited
—attacking areas are limited
—space for fighting is limited
—attacking methods are limited
—safety equipment has to be worn
—full contact is prohibited

“Accordingly, in free sparring the player can have a chance to exchange less than a dozen fundamental movements, compared to the over 3,000 available. This is the reason why I emphasize correct training of fundamental movements rather than on free sparring.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.5, p.257)

Mastery of fundamental movements leads to mastery in sparring.


1. Choi H. H. (1965). “Taekwon-Do:The Art of Self-Defence”, Daeha Publication Company: Seoul, Korea.
2. Gen. Choi, H. H. (1985). “Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (Vols. 1–15)”, International Taekwon-Do Federation: Vienna.

Also see:

Sparring (Taeryon/ Matsogi) in Taekwon-Do: An Introduction
Three-step sparring (Sambo Matsogi)
Two-Step sparring (Ibo Matsogi)
One-step sparring (Ilbo Matsogi)
Semi-Free sparring (Ban Jayu Matsogi)
Foot sparring (Chokki Taeryon/ Bal Matsogi)


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