Training Your On-Guard

Question: Well, I have a problem with guarding in Taekwondo. I was sparring in class today (open-handed) when my master* told me to close my hands. It seems strongly stressed that you have to keep your hands closed while fighting, but I’ve been trained by my Karate sensei to keep my hands open.

I instinctively close my fists when I go in for a punch now, but when I don’t punch, I have my hands open and, eh, I’m a loose fighter. I move my hands around and move around my opponent a lot. It’s as if I’m dancing. I was even asked today if I was a good dancer by a classmate.

My Karate sensei taught me to be a freestyle fighter. But with my hands closed, I find moving around a lot more difficult because it’s uncomfortable and it makes blocking hard (I feel ridiculous fighting like this. I’m not saying the Taekwondo way is wrong, it just feels awkward to me). I block with my hands open also because I can either stop the attack in its track or have it pass right by me. With my fists, it’s as if I were trying to stop an attack with.. well, ANOTHER attack.

Now, my intention all along was to mix two martial arts while pursuing my goal of going to the Taekwondo Olympics, but fighting with my hands closed is tough. I prefer my Karate guard because it blocks my whole upper-body (the lower too, but it takes a bit more work). And I feel that it’s a bit disrespectful to ask my master if he can make the exception and let me fight open-handed because I am learning his art, and it’s not my time yet to tell him how I’m mixing an art with his. So, do you guys think I should confront my master about this guard problem, or do I just sit back and accept the guard for now? If any of you have had a similar problem like this, I’d be happy to hear them. Advice is always welcome.

Answer: If adaptability is one of the attributes that a martial artist should be well-versed in, then consider it your chance to try something new.

Here’s something you might want to try. Practice that hands-closed guard with boxing-type bobs and weaves. Hold your fists in a relaxed manner, arms loose. Bob and weave. Then incorporate some footwork. You’ll soon get the hang of it.

Then “tigthen up” the bobs and weaves. Meaning make the bobs and weaves much, much less obvious than the boxer’s. Call it “micromovements”. Pretty soon, you’ll have no problem with the hands-closed guard.

Master this (and combine it with occassional staccato-like shoulder/body feints) and you’ll also develop a good sense of “rhythmic control” where your opponents won’t be able to tell whether you’re coming or going. In short, they won’t know whether you’re feinting, bobbing-and-weaving, or actually attacking.