Strategy and Tactics in Tae Kwon Do, Part 1

In his seminal military treatise, On War, Carl von Clausewitz wrote that strategy is devised to achieve overall success before conflict begins, and tactics are what is actually employed to achieve success once an engagement has begun. It is necessary not only that you have an understanding of military techniques, but also that you know how best to use them and when.

These points are well taken and need to be considered when training a martial artist. A good instructor has in mind strategy and tactics when he or she trains a student, particularly a higher-ranking student. Realizing that strategy and tactics are changeable, depending on an instructor’s emphasis, I wish to present some basic considerations from which individual strategy and tactics may be developed and taught.

A fundamental tenet of martial arts strategy is to engage the opponent and render that person harmless. This is accomplished with any number of learned techniques. A key element of developing a sound strategy is to understand that every individual is surrounded by a personal space within a defensive perimeter that will be defended. Strategy, therefore, must concentrate on breaching that perimeter, making a contact so forceful and/or sudden that an adequate response is not possible, and finally render the opponent harmless. To restate this, a basic martial arts strategy has three major points:

1. Breach the opponent’s defensive perimeter.
2. Prevent an adequate response to an assault.
3. Render the opponent harmless.

Tactics deliver on the strategy’s design. In tae kwon do, this means using the arts’ battery of kicks in such a way that the desired result, Strategy point #3, is ultimately achieved. This can be done in a number of ways:

Breaching the perimeter can be initiated through feints or “decoy” kicks intended to confuse the opponent, altering his or her concentration on defending the perimeter. Such kicks can be delivered at face height to obstruct the opponent’s vision, at a distracting angle or to a lower part of the body. These feints are not meant to be particularly strong. Their main purpose is to screen a much more powerful kick that is intended to achieve #2 of the overall strategy. Examples of such decoys include the following:

A. Front Snap Kick, face high or to the knee.
B. Round House Kick, to the face or to the knee.
C. Crescent Kick, face high.

It is important to remind the student that these kicks are not usually meant to render the opponent harmless, although a properly executed front snap kick to the face could do that. They are primarily meant to cause the confusion needed to breach the perimeter and make the initial moves into the opponent’s personal space.

Preventing an adequate response, point #2 of the overall strategy, may be achieved by one or two offensive kicks, delivered quickly and forcefully so that the opponent’s response is not well prepared or very strong. The tae kwon do practitioner must draw on those kicks, which are both powerful and highly offensive. By “highly offensive, I mean those kicks that will enable the practitioner to rapidly take advantage of any breach in the defensive perimeter created by a decoy kick.

I recommend using either a traditional sidekick or turning sidekick. By using a deep back step, a practitioner moves a sidekick deep into an opponent’s personal space, causing impact or forcing that person to step back in what could be disorganized defensive moves.

The turning sidekick, while not a forward moving kick per se, can be simply and quickly executed and by substituting speed for distance covered may generate the same results as the traditional sidekick.

Front snap kick can also be used, either to the face, the stomach or to the solar plexus.