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I love taekwondo (and am writing this as I am waiting for my class to start), but I have never been fond of sparring. I’m not the best at it, it’s tiring, and forms just appeal to me more. I do want to improve, but I want to focus and compete in forms. But I’ve always had the impression that sparring is more important, and it’s more impressive if you win a medal for sparring anyways. But I really don’t want to fight, I’d rather master kicks and forms. Is it okay if I pursue that?

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    What is your current rank, and how long have you been doing TKD in total? Feb 16, 2022 at 5:35
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    Also, you said sparring is tiring. What feelings do you have when sparring? Try to imagine yourself sparring. What are your feelings? Are you afraid of getting hurt? Do you find that you don't want to be violent, because it's upsetting? In other words, does it upset you that you're supposed to hit someone else? Or are afraid of losing and looking foolish? Are you afraid of not performing up to your rank? Do you find yourself thinking any negative thoughts during this? Is there anyone in particular in class that you don't like sparring with?... Answering these questions might be helpful. Feb 16, 2022 at 5:41
  • Most Taekwondo schools do require sparring, by the way. It's not something most will allow you to not do. So, you have to think about what you want. If forms are your thing, and you want to go all in on that, I'm going to suggest that you treat TKD as a learning experience and then move on to Contemporary Wushu instead. There's no sparring in Wushu. The forms are much more challenging and athletic than TKD forms are. The level of excellence is high in Wushu. You will find a home there. My advice. Feb 16, 2022 at 19:56

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Everyone gets something different from martial arts

If sparring doesn't do anything for you, it doesn't do anything for you. Some people do martial arts to learn how to defend themselves. Some learn it as a competitive sport. Some do it for exercise. Some just like to collect new techniques and trivia. Ultimately, no one can tell you that your way of doing a martial art is wrong for you.

Sparring is useful, though

From the perspective of defense, sparring puts you under some degree of pressure testing. Within the rules, you learn what works and what does not. You learn instinctive reactions and how to plan during the fight. You practice throwing techniques spontaneously, and often from non-standard positions, which will also exercise parts of your body that you might not have. And it is good for stamina.

Your organization can require sparring

Lastly, while no one can tell you that you're enjoying a martial art the wrong way, they can tell you that what you're doing doesn't work for your school or organization, and may refuse to promote you. If sparring is part of the curriculum, then teachers may not be happy if you refuse to take part in part of the class, and if some amount of sparring is part of testing (usually not "you must score more points than your opponent to be promoted", but a more general "you must demonstrate you've learned fundamentals of distance, choice of technique, and defending yourself under pressure"), well, that's part of the test that you are not completing. I don't think I've seen a competition where everyone is required to spar to complete other parts of the competition like forms, but I could see a possibility of tournaments being run in an "iron man" format where you must participate in all events, forcing participants to train overall, and conserve their efforts.

It might be worth figuring out whether there's a way you can make sparring work for you

As others have noted, it's worth examining exactly why you don't like sparring. You note that it's "tiring" and I totally get that. Not only is most sparring fairly continuous movement for several minutes at a time, it's also being forced to throw techniques at a moment's notice, which not only involves more energy expenditure but also having to keep yourself in a state of readiness, which is wearying in and of itself. And lastly, there is that stress of the risk of hurting someone else, or being hurt.

Do you think you might enjoy sparring more if you didn't feel as tired? That's sometimes just a matter of conditioning, sometimes a matter of learning good habits in terms of a proper amount of tension and proper breathing (it's amazing how many people hold their breath for significant amounts of time while sparring), and sometimes a matter of getting more comfortable with it. Maybe you'd enjoy sparring more if it was less unpredictable? While free sparring is, by its nature, a bit unpredictable, running through sparring drills where you practice responses to specific attacks can make it more predictable by giving you the tools. You start off at slower speeds, knowing when the opponent will attack , and gradually bring it up to speed, eventually allowing the opponent to attack without warning, and to start throwing in other techniques (just having them throw one of a set, like they can throw a front kick, side kick, or roundhouse, and you have to recognize and respond to it, can cut down on the stress while teaching you to see what's coming).

Ultimately, like I said at the beginning, the most important thing is what you enjoy, with the caveat that your school can also decide what's important to them. If possible, try to find some ways to make the sparring more enjoyable for you so that you can experience more of the full gamut of what your style has to offer, and to keep your teachers happy. And maybe see if there's some room for compromise. Most teachers will make accommodations. I know that I have lousy stamina, and am prone to injuring myself if I try to work tired, so my current teacher in Capoeira understands that I may not stay in the roda for as long as others, and that, if tired, I will engage in non-fighting techniques (Capoeira has a number of semi-ceremonial movements that are kind of a mix of "I need a break here", "we need to take a break to cool off" (usually after things have gotten heated or someone took a blow), and "I'm leaving an opening here. I dare you to try it") or something more "clumsy" (much like the boxing clinch, it's possible to jam an opponent up by staying too close to them, and when I'm tired, I will do that because it takes less energy, and requires less thinking on my part because I'm not really throwing attacks). Participating in the sparring is basically required (he doesn't actually force people into it, but it is considered an integral part), but he recognizes that everyone engages on a different level.

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Nothing is wrong with not wanting to spar, but in order to make progress, yes, you must spar. Sparring makes you learn things you don't learn in other aspects of the art, such as footwork, timing, and pacing (you can learn to manage your activity to mitigate getting tired).

When my instructor learned my least favorite form, my instructor told me to practice that form even more. This is part of the discipline of the art. Eventually, I no longer considered it to be my least favorite form. This doesn't mean you must eventually learn to like sparring, but you should come to see the value in it.

Forms is stylized sparring against multiple opponents, where you know in advance how each opponent is going to approach you and what you must do when they do. You may think of sparring as spontaneous forms against single opponents, if you like.

It makes no difference if you aren't good at sparring, winning no tournaments. Whether you do your best at it is the important thing. The biggest benefits of tae kwon do are mental, though the physical ones don't hurt to get, either.

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