One of the most important areas of training is free-style sparring. During sparring, the student brings together all aspects of his or her training into one application. Blocking, kicking, punching, endurance, and stamina are all integral components of free-style sparring. We as members of the USA Tae Kwon Do Masters Association, and all students under Grandmaster Duk Sung Son, have been taught that no-contact sparring is the guideline to follow within our system.
Many times we are asked, usually by new students and lower belts, why this is so. Some of the reasons for no-contact are as follows. When repeatedly placed in a contact sparring situation, the students find improving technique becomes very difficult, instead the students must concentrate on defending themselves against injury. Also when physical contact becomes the goal, technique and control are forfeited, and free-style sparring practice becomes sloppy and loses its objective. The more junior students find it particularly hard to learn and are easily intimidated and defeated by more experienced students. This defeat is more than physical, it extends deeply into the psychology of training. Even after one sound beating, the students begin to question their abilities, reasons for training, and self-worth. Performance is bound to decline.
Contact sparring proves nothing in terms of who is the better Tae Kwon Doist, only who is the stronger fighter or better yet, brawler. Naturally, junior students cannot expect to outwit or outfight more senior members, who in turn would be defeated by Black Belts and Instructors. If the students are confident within themselves (and isn't this one of the goals we strive for?), then the need to "prove" themselves in or outside the Do Jang does not exist. Another unfortunate byproduct of contact sparring is, that for some students, the opportunity for aggressive, violent fighting tends to promote a knock-down, knock-out mentality and the real purpose of Tae Kwon Do training is lost in favor of more destructive practices. Instead of trying to improve themselves, students become obsessed with learning and practicing methods of inflicting pain and injury. The inevitable injuries inflicted by such individuals are certain to disrupt and severely affect other students in the school. Fear or concern of possibly receiving a serious or painful injury is quite likely to intimidate and turn away many potentially good students.
Despite the haranguing of pro full-contact martial artists, no-contact sparring must still be regarded as an effective means of training for self-defense. If a student is practicing correctly, and powerful kicks and punches are being "focused" only inches from their intended target, then in a self-defense situation the focus point needs only to be slightly adjusted to apply overwhelming force onto an assailant. It must be remembered that at Tae Kwon Doist's development is not just physical. The important mental and character forming side of training will never be achieved by a student who trains only for fighting. Control, respect for fellow students, and conditioning of inner self must be pursued with the same diligence as strengthening the body, if one is to hope to become a true "student of Tae Kwon Do".