Category Archives: Sparring

How to categorize a transgender competitor?

The title gives it away, but I received an interesting question recently about a transgender competitor: Can he/she compete and fight against men/women?

Transgender sign

Transgender sign

According to the International Athletics Committee, a transgender competitor who is now a man (from a woman) may compete against other men. However, a transgender competitor who is now a woman (from a man) must undergo a testosterone test which will determine how far along the transition she is. Apparently, this will then determine if she has an unfair advantage or not. This kind of makes sense but it assumes that men are “better” than women…

In most martial arts and combat sports, competitors are grouped by weight, age, gender and grade. This is to level the playing field so, for example, I (a black belt heavy weight adult male) am not fighting a little yellow belt girl. Obviously I have an advantage here. However, if most of those dimensions were equal bar gender, it could be argued this is a fair fight.

I know some may argue that men are just naturally stronger/faster than women – the 100m sprint is a good example of this:
100m sprint men’s world record 9.58 seconds
100m sprint women’s world record 10.49 seconds

Females have some attributes that are better than men, the first that comes to mind is flexibility. Women tend to be more subtle than men. Therefore, do women have an unfair advantage over men? Some sports may be more gender neutral e.g. darts, shooting and horse riding etc. Does Taekwondo or Martial Arts fall into this category? Probably not.

Back to the question in hand, which category can a transgender compete in? Was a woman, now a man – fine. Was a man, now a woman – questionable. This all comes down to is there an unfair advantage? There are parallels to Oscar Pistorious who was not allowed to compete in the able bodied Olympics as it was deemed his blades gave him an unfair advantage, despite the fact he is disabled (no legs).

On reflection, there is an unifying force here and that is how it feels, irrespective of gender, to compete with the natural attributes that are given to you or that you train so hard to improve. Personally, I think it’s great that we’re coming to the age where self-expression is less frowned upon and tabooed. No matter who you are, we all face our own challenges before we step into the ring.

Coaching and Competitions

I’ve been coaching the GTI Squad which has been a great experience, although I did underestimate the amount of work required sorting out the logistics for competitions.Keen GTI sparrers travel up to three hours on a Sunday morning to train, which is greatly appreciated.  However, this is now becoming a barrier for some people, which is a shame and I’m not sure what the solution is…. I could rotate the squad sessions in different venues, but then if I go north, it makes it difficult for the people in the south and vice versa.  If anyone has any suggestions, it would be much appreciated!

We have our first “away” non-GTI squad tournament coming up, in Scotland.  I’m hoping this will be a good chance for people to bond and improve the team dynamics.  Things are looking good, although a long drive, it’ll be a nice little road trip and we can also enjoy the sites of Glasgow.

The following week is the PUMA World Championships, which I’m hoping a formal GTI Squad will be debuting.  I’ve made the next squad session compulsory for those who want to be considered to be in the team, we’ll see how that goes…

Two other points before I sign off: I’ve bought the squad a bunch of skipping ropes, which is turning out to be a great little investment – it provides an effective and “fun” warm up.  I do 3 minutes skipping, 3 minutes jogging and repeat this two times (will probably need to cut it down to two minutes and do three rounds – people were hanging last time)!  Final point, I used a round timer in the last squad session – big LED screen and loud beeps indicate rest period, round times and 10 seconds to go etc, and its programmable which means I can join in too 🙂

Skipping ropeRound timer
Worthwhile kit investment


GTI Fight Club/Squad Training/Competition Improvement?!

So I’ve been tasked with bringing back GTI (Global Taekwondo International) Fight Club/Squad Training/Competition Improvement – not sure what to call it yet as:

  • Fight Club sounds a bit thuggish (and cliche with that awesome film with Brad Pitt)
  • Squad Training sounds elitist and may intimidate others from training
  • Need something along the lines of what it is like Competition Improvement (but that sounds rubbish)… let me know if you have any ideas!
I’m a little apprehensive but excited at the prospect of heading it up and I’ve got the full backing of the committee which is great.  I guess it’ll be a good test for me to see if I can put on a quality sparring session with them all there and show them and everyone my vision for the team.

Sparring Strategy

Great fighters need more than just technique, power and speed. They also need a good dynamic strategy. Strategy ought to be tailored to a specific opponent or situation. It is also good to have a “default strategy” – a strategy you automatically revert to without thinking about it. In my opinion, the best method of this is continuous attacking (some followers of Kung Fu also adopt this approach). When you are hit, automatically hit back nonstop until your opponent is no longer a threat. This will minimize the damage to yourself.

This line of attack relies on the use of combinations of techniques, not just the one hit wonders which often miss. This is one of the reasons why I think TKD (and other martial arts which practice patterns/forms/katas) is better than kickboxing. TKD teaches patterns (a sequence of movements against an imaginary opponent) which can be adapted for use in default continuous sparring.

One advantage of this strategy is that for the majority of the time, you are in the dominant position. If you land your first attack, then your opponent will likely be hurt or stunned, but even if you miss, your opponent is prone to be “on the back foot.” They will be reacting rather than acting, which means you get to dictate the fight.

Obviously, this strategy should be used with caution. You shouldn’t go running in all gung ho. Timing is everything. Pick your moment to attack carefully, as kicking and punching thin air is just a waste of energy.