I am just entering the world of Taekwondo and I have a few questions. I have been very interested in combat styles such as Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu, and Judo. I want to join study Taekwondo to develop my standup game. I have some specific questions.
As for your specific questions:
Q1: I see a lot of Taekwondo students using a low guard when sparring, is this advised and why?
There is a low guard and then there is no guard. Olympic style sparring uses no guard; two opponents just dance around and throw continuous kicks at each other. Any type of martial art that is involved in competition is heavily influenced by the rules used in the competition. The art adapts itself to the rules so that there is more of a chance for victory while competing under the stated rules. If you want to sin, you must use techniques that the judges will give you points for using, and avoid techniques that do not earn you points.
Traditional karate fighters use a low guard in competition because someone in the past determined that that was the way it should be done. Since both competitors use a low guard, any disadvantage to using the guard is equal for both competitors. Olympic Taekwondo rules discourage the use of hand attacks and kicks that do not hit vital areas with power do not score, so Olympic style sparring has evolved into foot fencing with the arms hanging at the sides, similar to Irish river dancing.
As a general rule, for close range, use a high guard, and for long range, use a low guard. In close, hands are deadly so you need a high guard. In addition, in close, kicks are difficult to see coming and they are fired from a high chamber so a high guard protects the head. At long range, hands cannot reach you without the opponent closing the range so a high guard is not as crucial. At a long range, kicks are fired more from the floor than from a high chamber, so the kicks are rising from the floor and are easily stopped with a low guard.
As with everything else, the guard you should use is the one that works best for you under the circumstances. The guard that works best for me is a high, extended, open-handed guard. With the arms extended rather than close in, I can pick off attacks easier, and the hands are closer to their targets.
Q2: I am very close combat oriented (hockey player) and I throw knees and fists a lot. Do I get points when I punch the dot in a match?
What constitutes point depends on the rules of the competition. Your instructor will be able to tell you what is a permissible scoring area and scoring technique under your completion rules. I too am a close in fighter. Close in fighters like to use counterattacks. Learn to block and then attack, such as blocking with an arm and then letting the arm continue into an attack, and learn to simultaneously block and attack, such as blocking with one arm while the other arm simultaneously attacks. When the opponent initiates an attack, you immediately close in with an attack. I will chance getting hit with one point when I rush in if I can get two or more points in my counterattack. Use legs for blocking. From a high guard, when a kick fires, lift your forward knee to your elbow. Then the arm is blocking high, the leg is blocking low, and both the arm and leg are chambered for a counterattack. Opponents find that kicking your shin hurts them more than you.
Q3: I would like to combine TKD kicks with a strong upper body style, any suggestions?
Back in my earlier years, I used to visit schools of different styles and spar with them. When sparring karate fighters who used a low guard and mostly hand attacks, I overwhelmed them with Taekwondo’s powerful kicks. When sparring Taekwondo fighters or fighters in other styles that concentrated on kicking, I would stay on them as white stays on rice and overwhelm them with hand attacks. When blocking kickers, do not just block; instead, knock and pushing them around with your blocks. Instead of hard blocking a kick, block and push the kick to knock the attacker off balance. When they kick, you rush in and slam into them. Make them feel as though they are being pushed around by a bully. Make them afraid to kick and throw them off their game. When you do use hard blocks, make them attacks. Instead of blocking the kick, attack the leg. The opponent will quickly learn that kicking at you is painful for them, and their kicks will become more tentative.
Q3: Do you have any good stretching advice?
Do it every day. Do not bounce; perform a stretch and hold it for a minute or so. You are not actually stretching anything; you are not making anything thing longer, you are relaxing. When you perform a stretch, the muscles tighten. What you are trying to do is train the muscles to relax when you stretch; so do not concentrate on stretching but instead concentrate on relaxing. Stretch the entire body for overall speed and flexibility, but, to perform better kicks, concentrate on stretching the body and legs in positions that are used when performing the kicks. You can have flexible legs but not enough strength to lift the leg as high, fast, and powerfully as need to be able to score. You can have tremendous strength in your legs but not have the flexibility you need to get a kick to a viable target effectively. If you want to be a good kicker, concentrate on things that will make you a better kicker. Perform many, many, many kicks everyday to a heavy bag while concentrating on using perfect form. Do not worry about speed and power. If you concentrate on perfect form, speed and power will just happen.