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I am a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I have a few tournaments coming up and I am training in my sparring techniques. I am 12 years old with 2 national sparring championships (and on the shorter side) I have moved up in age division so, I will be sparring guys almost 6-12 inches taller than me. I do kicking drills on the bags and practice sparring with other black belts, unfortunately, they are my size and younger. What techniques can I add to get faster, get my hits, while maximizing my reach? I do have a good flexibility but I think I may be to short and slow to get the kicks to the head for points. Thanks E..

  • In competition when an opponent closes the distance on you, are elbow strikes to the head, head grab + knee, or throws allowed? – user421 May 1 '12 at 1:44
  • @Jason In many TKD competitions, they barely allow punching. I'm pretty sure that elbows, knees, grabbing, throws, and sweeps are all verboten. – Dave Liepmann May 1 '12 at 2:31
  • WTF or ITF-based discipline? WTF is very light on punching, but most ITF-based schools don't have the same stylistic issue with punching :) – rjstreet May 1 '12 at 13:28
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    Get close to your opponent so that their size becomes a liability. – Dan Madera Jul 27 '12 at 18:34
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    Loren Christian has some books and videos on speed training, might want to look into those. You need to move in, make contact, and get out again. – Wayne In Yak Jul 27 '12 at 19:49
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I'm going to be very precise with my answer here. Your technique will remain the same, your kicks and punches should still be the same as when you practice them. What does change though is your approach to your opponent so that you can deliver that technique.

Because your opponent is taller, you will have more issues than it just being harder to reach their head and therefore harder to score points. They will also have a longer reach, making it more difficult for you to get close to them. This sort of thing can be easy to remedy or adapt to in real life situations, but because you are participating in tournament Tae Kwon Do you have rules to adhere to (and specific targets that must be hit).

For this particular tournament, change your strategy.

  • Kick to the body instead of going after the money shot to the head. It may be slower to earn points this way, but you cannot earn any points at all if you can't reach their head and only concentrate on that.
  • Move off your center line before delivering a technique, this means you are coming from a different angle and are forcing your opponent to also change their direction. It is much harder to defend (and counter-attack) when the angle of attack is changing (straight line attacks are comparatively easy to deal with).
  • Own the center of the mat, make your opponent do all the moving around.
  • Look for oppotunities to close the gap to your opponent, watch for them telegraphing a move. When they raise a knee or tilt/drop their hips for a kick, step in - it is harder for your opponent to deliver a clean kick when you are in punching range.
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    The body kick strategy was the main way I scored against substantially bigger opponents during the short time I practiced at a Tae Kwon Do club that did WTF sparring, and you can get an advantage out of your shorter stature in this by directing your kicks a bit upward to unroot your opponent. You'll need to be fairly well committed and you will want to work on your front kick and side kick mechanics to maximize your hitting power and speed of development, but it can be done. – dmckee Feb 19 '12 at 19:06
  • Even though I'm a taller guy, I have an aversion to attempting to kick to the head. I'd much rather bring the head down to my foot. Since in a TKD tournament, you can't use jujitsu, strikes to the body are the best bet. Also if you do strike to the head, use your hand techniques. Judges see the strikes to the head better--but don't be a one-trick pony. – Berin Loritsch Feb 21 '12 at 19:30
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I'm a first dan black belt, and on the taller side. What really is effective on me is getting close, in other words, get past my legs so I can't kick. The problem is, if your tall opponent is fast, getting past is hard. I'd suggest (after having people do this to me numerous times) is let the tall person kick first, then 빠른 발, a kick that (I don't know the word in english) which means, "quick foot", and sounds like baumbai when pronounced in korean. 빠른 발 past there kick. 빠른 발 is basically, sliding over to your opponent, back foot touching front foot, lift your front knee up, and doing a turning kick/round house, what ever you want to call it. After that, follow up and keep kicking. NEVER give the opponent a chance to recover or he will be able to use his height to his advantage.

  • Second that, if you're shorter than your opponent you should move closer and trap him/her in as far as possible. Otherwise he or she will use their reach advantage and you won't be able to do much about that. – Pavel Feb 19 '12 at 7:06
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    Absolutely. That is how I spar taller people and they hate it. – Anon Feb 19 '12 at 14:31
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    6'2" and this is absolutely true - especially with the comment about not letting up once you're inside the guard. The only thing to watch out for is hooking techniques that end up hitting to the back of your head. – rjstreet May 1 '12 at 13:56
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    빠른 발 is normally called "fast kick" in English. This is also known in Korean as 발 붙여차기 or "foot pasting kick". That and 커트발 ("cut foot" or "cut kick") are the staples of modern Taekwondo sport competition. – Andy Jeffries Dec 1 '14 at 20:14
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I'm a 3rd degree black belt who doesn't have much tournament experience, but sparring was a huge part of my studio and I consistently sparred adults taller than I was throughout my 8 years of training. First some general drills that will help you, that you can still practice on opponents of your size:

  • Practice leaving more space between you and your partner. Generally when we spar, we are used to leaving a balance of our reach and the reach of our opponent. Your going to have to find a new balance with taller opponents. (practice this with close and open stances; closed is when you and your partner's chests are facing opposite directions, eg. both your left feet are in front; open is when both of your chest's are facing the same direction)
  • On a pad, or a partner during sparring/drills, practice hiding your telegraphing by not bending your back leg when you go to kick with your front leg. As you do this slide forward on your back leg and let the kick from your front leg propel you further without having to step up before hand. (I'm sure you've done drills like this before and know what I'm talking about, if not then please tell me and I can explain in more detail). Practice this ALOT, increasing distance from the pad, and pair it along with my first point to increase the distance you can close in and successfully strike your opponent.

As for the psychological/fighting aspect;

Don't let your opponent think that they are intimidating you.

  • As someone else said: "Own the center of the mat."
  • Be aggressive. Strike harder than you normally would, make them be intimidated by you enough to the point that they are wary to use their size as an advantage, make it an even playing field.
  • Right when the fight starts, within reason, throw a strike. Even if they can easily block it, it puts them on the defense.

Use the above tips within reason, assess your opponent just the same as you normally would and don't take any risks you normally wouldn't.

Lastly, this advice will be just my opinion of specific sparring style that is best against larger/stronger opponents which is usually what I was facing in my martial arts studio.

When facing larger opponents blocking hurts more, it's less effective if they are strong, and it just doesn't feel good. Try evading more than blocking, usually size also means larger movements, take advantage of this and be dynamic in your movement, set yourself up for success by evading instead of blocking and throwing a counterattack.

I've also found that this just creates more frustration in your opponents and makes people much more respectful of your skill. "I can hit him pretty well but he's blocking." versus, "I can't even hit him.". This may cause them to do something stupid, or at the very least have you be less tired from blocking a bunch of techniques.

Work a lot on your ability to read telegraphs, this will help a lot with knowing where to move, and knowing if you want to choose to move into your opponent or outside your opponent toward their back.

DO NOT BACK UP. This advice is good for anyone but especially if you are smaller than your opponent do not get in the habit of going backward. Use angles to go forward or at least sideways, this takes huge amounts of practice to know which angles you can cut to avoid being hit while also staying close/getting closer to your opponent but start, or continue, to practice it while considering the extra distance required for larger opponents.

I know that in tournament sparring blocking is usually not a huge component, usually just speed, which is why I had the most relevant advice for tournaments first. You sound like you are very skilled already, and you are already seeking help from others which is better than most.

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A good idea that's been suggested by my trainers is to keep moving. Side shifts are a good idea along with staying in close. Their legs would also be longer than yours, so staying in close will make it harder for them to kick.

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