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

In part 5 of this series, I will be going over the purpose of three step sparring, sam soo sik dae ryun, and how this aspect of Tang Soo Do training fits into the global self-defense system.  Three step sparring in some regards is just an extension of one step sparring so many of the same concepts will be discussed as where in part 4 – one step sparring.

Traditional karate techniques and practices are still useful in practical self-defense applications
Traditional karate techniques and practices are still useful in practical self-defense applications

As with one step sparring, three step sparring looks very unrealistic from a self-defense/fighting viewpoint.  No one will throw one, two, or now three punches at you in a long front stance and leave it out there fully extended so you can do a technique back to them.  As with one step sparring, this thinking is absolutely correct.  Three step sparring is yet another tool in our arsenal; another piece in the puzzle that gives us the complete self-defense package.  This post will go over how three step sparring fits into that picture.


Three step sparring teaches these same 3 principles as one step sparring.  Three steps take it a little further, however.  Targeting becomes more challenging because we need to target three blocks instead of one.  Targeting of our striking techniques becomes more difficult due to the increased number of steps involved.  Timing becomes harder since the timing of 3 punches is much different than 1.  It also teaches us to utilize both the right and left sides during the same sequence.  Adding multiple steps will also change the distance, especially after the third punch.  Being able to step back twice then step to the correct distance on the third punch requires more skill than if just one punch were thrown.

Angle/Control and Footwork

Again, as with one step sparring, three step sparring teaches the concepts of angles and control.  These two items require more skill when doing three step sparring versus one step sparring.  When you add more steps to the process, it is only natural that being able to execute techniques with proper speed, power, and control becomes more challenging.

When students start free sparring or need to defend themselves in a fight, they will need to move quickly, in all directions, and without much thought.  Three step sparring introduces this concept to students in an easy, controlled manner.  Three step sparring is also very predictable in that we know what the attacker is going to be doing so we can practice pre-determined footwork skills over and over to build muscle memory.


Even though this item was also introduced in the one step sparring post, I feel it is even more important when doing three step sparring.  It is rather easy to step inside or outside when you are in a stationary starting position.  It is more challenging to step inside or outside when you are already moving backwards.  In fact, I see most students who are newer to three step sparring simply step back 3 times rather than stepping inside or outside on the third step.  Learning to change directions quickly is another aspect of three step sparring that makes it important.

Three step sparring in karate teaches distance, timing, and targeting much like one step sparring
The purpose of three step sparring in karate is similar one step sparring

Three Step Sparring Teaches Flow

Another way to explain flow is no hesitation or no stopping and starting.  Three step sparring teaches students how to execute several techniques in sequence without hesitation.  This becomes the most apparent when doing counter techniques after the third punch.  Many students will pause after the third punch prior to countering as it is difficult to keep a consistent flow from start to finish.  Three step sparring helps students learn how to counter attack quickly.

Three step sparring is also important in that it takes partner work to the next level.  We start with one step sparring and gradually build more speed, timing, and footwork with three step sparring.  This will help students start to learn the necessary skills for the next step which is free sparring.  The additional skills mentioned herein are added to the skills we have already begun learning in basic techniques, forms, and one step sparring.  Through three step sparring, our partner fighting skills start to take shape.

Slow, deliberate techniques in three step sparring allow students to learn in small steps
Slow, deliberate techniques in three step sparring allow students to learn in small steps

I feel three step sparring is often overlooked when training.  Most of the time they are done simply as another variation on one step sparring.  There is actually a lot more to it and hopefully this post will help some realize the real purpose of three step sparring.

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