The Purpose of One Step Sparring in Tang Soo Do (Karate)

In part 4 of this series, I will be going over the purpose of one step sparring, ill soo sik dae ryun, and how this aspect of Tang Soo Do training fits into the global self-defense system.  One step sparring is probably the area of training that takes the most criticism.  

When someone sees one step sparring being practiced, they see one person stepping into a long front stance, executing a center punch and holding it there while their partner executes a series of techniques.  What I hear most often from people outside of Tang Soo Do is, “no one would actually throw a punch like that”.  These people are absolutely correct.  That is because one step sparring training is not teaching defenses against a punch attack.  Let me say that again, one step sparring is not punch attack self-defense.  When I hear instructors say the one step sparring teaches people how to defend against a punch, I cringe.

If one step sparring does not teach punch defense, then what does it teach?  As with basic techniques and forms, one step sparring is just one more piece in the overall self-defense puzzle.  One step sparring is the logical next step after basics and forms as we start to do techniques with a live partner.  Below are several of the new skills that one step sparring adds to the complete self-defense package.

Distance, Timing and Targeting

Being at the correct distance is critical in self-defense.  Too far away and you can’t counterattack, too close and you are in danger.  One step sparring teaches us how to be at the correct distance to use a variety of techniques.

Using a simplified approach with a single, telegraphed punch attack, one step sparring teaches reaction timing.  When practicing one step sparring, we do many different types of techniques which requires different timing.

In order to be an effective striker, you need to be accurate.  Striking an opponent to a non-vital target area is useless and could even result in injuring the striker.  One step sparring teaches us to target techniques to vital spots on a live person.  There are many, many target areas such as groin, knees, ribs, solar plexus, neck, etc.  One step sparring teaches you where to strike as well as improving accuracy by training with different size partners.

Angles and Inside/Outside

When someone attacks you, there are a finite number of directions you can step to evade the attack.  Whether you are stepping at an inside or outside 45-degree angle, straight back, straight in, or any other angle, one step sparring teaches you how to get to these positions.  One step sparring also teaches techniques from each of these positions.  Someone will certainly not attack you with a punch like in one step sparring but in the course of an altercation, you will most certainly end up at one of the positions I just explained, and one step sparring teaches you what to do when you get there.

As I mentioned in the section on angles, one step sparring teaches the concept of inside versus outside.  This is an important concept to understand since some techniques work only when on the inside of an opponent and vice versa.  One step sparring gives us plenty of options for both locations and through controlled, repetitive practice, we build the necessary muscle memory to be able to execute appropriate techniques depending on what location we end up at.


It is easy to always do a technique as hard as you can.  It is much more difficult to be able to control that level of power at will.  Like the volume dial on a radio, one step sparring teaches us to be able to use different levels of force depending on who our partner is when practicing or to what target area we are striking to.  Use of control is an important yet overlooked skill that is applicable in a combative situation.  We need to be able to control our power and emotions as every situation does not call for the use of lethal force.

One step sparring has a distinct purpose
One step sparring has been around a long time

In addition, one step sparring is an important step that helps bridge the gap from individual practice to partner practice.  The additional skills mentioned herein are added to the skills we have already begun learning in basic techniques and forms.  One step sparring helps build a foundation that three step and free sparring will expand upon.

So, the next time someone tells you that one step sparring is useless and no one will ever attack you with a punch like that, you have some ammo to fire back at them. They are not a pointless activity; there is a purpose to one step sparring.

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