Why do you practice non-contact? How can you know that you can defend yourself in a “real fight” if you practice non-contact? What are the benefits of non-contact training? These are a few of the questions that I was often asked in personal protection and self-defense communities and sometimes by our students when I taught Taekwon-do.
I’ve trained both non-contact at our Kim’s Taekwon-do School and full-contact at Grand Master Jung Sae Park’s Chung Do Kwan Karate school in Indianapolis. I’ve also trained with self-defense instructors outside the martial arts in Nevada, Washington, and New Mexico, both non-contact and full-contact with padded aggressors. Non-contact training combined with board breaking, if practiced thoughtfully and with appreciation for its benefits and limits, balances various training goals and benefits. I practiced Taekwon-do for several purposes, including physical and mental fitness, health, and fun to name a few.
Many students seek self-defense skills but list recreation, health, and fitness as well as self-control and self-discipline as additional reasons for joining a martial arts school. Many train with family members. Parents often first enroll their children and later decide to join themselves.
Non-contact training minimizes the risk of injury. Many families join martial arts schools to enjoy a physical activity together without much risk of injury. Many schools have more family members as students than individual students. Mothers and fathers with sons and daughters, brothers, and husbands and wives train together. Occasionally, students are divided into adult and children sparring groups. But most often, they spar together. Such family-focused training might be harder with full-contact training.
Of course, we don’t engage in non-contact sparring just to make Taekwon-do family-friendly. What, then is the reason behind non-contact training? In my opinion, one of its main benefits is its focus on accurate targeting of vulnerable points of the body – for example, the temple, eyes, throat, occipital protuberance, or solar plexus. Because techniques are pulled, accurate targeting of vital points is possible without major risk of injury.
So-called “full-contact” sparring, just like full-contact self-defense with padded aggressors, is still not full-contact. Padding and shielding, such as boxing gloves, shin guards, chest protectors, helmets, and other protective gear prevent truly “full” contact. There are also rules regarding forbidden targets. Since “full-contact” is not really “full-contact” it cannot realistically simulate criminal attacks in the street or in the home. Even in boxing, some targets are not allowed and the boxers wear wraps and boxing gloves.
Full-contact Taekwon-do is not, and as a sport, should not, be the same as a full-contact criminal attack. One is consensual activity; the other is criminal violence with no rules and no referees. In “full-contact” Chung Do Kwan Taekwon-do, students use helmets, chest protectors, arm protectors, gloves, shin and instep protectors, cups, and mouth guards. In self-defense training with R.A.D. Systems and other similar training systems, the students use helmets, eye protection, chest protectors, gloves, and knee protectors. The attacker uses a full-body armor suit.
“Full-contact” is a misnomer for any martial art or self-defense training, because none of these training modes realistically simulate “full contact.” If they did, these programs wouldn’t be in business for very long. Participants would be injured and possibly killed on a regular basis if the techniques were practiced effectively with full force and without rules or referees. Even Mixed Martial Arts or cage fighting has rules to prevent injury. For example, the following movements—all potentially valuable for truly incapacitating self-defense—are not allowed: eye gouging, eye clawing, strikes to the throat, elbow strikes to the spine, stomping an opponent on the ground, etc.
Non-contact Taekwon-do acknowledges that we practice in a controlled environment with rules and referees. Targeting, striking, and pulling techniques right before impact allow the student to practice accurate targeting while minimizing the risk of injury. When practiced together with breaking boards, with static bag work, as well as with dynamic, moving target work, a student should be able to maximize power and targeting, including striking moving targets, with minimal risk of injury.
Board breaking also serves to test proper body alignment for maximum power generation.
It should complement non-contact training. So should body bag, heavy bag, and dynamic target practice. In self-defense, we also include non-contact training, with accurate, slow-motion targeting of vulnerable body parts on a non-padded training partner. We add power and speed with body bag work and training with dynamic hand-held shields and targets. Practicing your targeting on an unpadded human body, however, is crucial for zeroing in on vulnerable body parts in an actual attack, with its extreme stress and fear-induced adrenal stress reactions
Non-contact Taekwon-do strikes a balance between self-defense skill development and training safety, maximizing each student’s opportunity for accurate targeting of vital points and range finding.