If you’ve read some of the other posts on this blog, you know that I am a big advocate that every man learn some form of martial art. Actually, it is not a bad idea for women either. The relative safety of modern society has lulled us to sleep when it comes to potential violence. Some things are taking place that makes me feel that violence will become more prevalent in the future, so every man needs to have at least a modicum of fighting skill.
But what martial art should you study?
The first martial art I formally studied was TaeKwonDo. I got a black belt in the art and then went on to study several other martial arts. But is TaeKwonDo a good martial art? Is it worth studying? This article will answer those questions.
Why did I take TKD?
The first thing that I should point out is that when I started studying TKD, there were not any Brazilian Jui-jutsu or Krav Maga schools near me. My choices were Chinese martial arts, karate, or TKD.
Before taking TKD, I’d learned a hodge-podge of techniques and weapons from my friends. I had some decent knowledge, but nothing systematic. So my first goal was to study one art in depth.
The advantage of TKD is that it has been standardized by the Korean government. I felt this standardization was a benefit in comparison to other martial arts schools where what was taught was up to the whim of the instructor.
I also liked the idea that TKD was a modern art. Yes, I know that it makes some pretense that it goes back a thousand years, but it is definitely a 20th century creation. Because it was developed in the 20th century, I felt that TKD might have eliminated unproven, ineffective techniques that might plague other martial arts.
What are TKD’s good points?
Balanced fighting. TKD is the only martial art that I am aware of where fighters are trained to be effective from both an orthodox and a southpaw stance. A TKD fighter may switch his stance to surprise his opponent. The ability to fight from either stance could be a benefit in a fight. If the right knee of a TKD fighter is injured, he will still be able to deliver kicks with his left leg.
Strong leg techniques. TKD probably has the most diverse repertoire of kicking techniques of any art. Lots of martial artists criticize the high kicks of TKD, but those kicks can be powerful and effective. I’ve seen high skilled BJJ stylists felled by a single roundhouse or axe kick to the head. Of course, being able to execute those kicks takes a high degree of skill.
Building flexibility. Because of its emphasis on high kicks, TKD emphasizes flexibility. If you train regularly, you will see dramatic improvements in your flexibility.
Safe way to learn fighting. TKD has developed a safe method for sparring. TKD sparring is fun and it teaches the fighter basic concepts such as distancing, timing, and the ability to open an opponent up for an attack. It goes without saying that any full contact sport is not going to be completely safe.
Training of the character. The founders of TKD built it upon Buddhist philosophy. One of the things that they emphasize is indomitable spirit. If you implement the TKD philosophy into your daily life, you will achieve more than if you had no character training.
What are TKD’s bad points?
Useless forms. I know there is this big debate in martial arts circles about the usefulness of forms. Having studied several arts I can say with reasonable certainty that forms are almost worthless. TKD forms do not teach real fighting technique. The “block punch” structure of the forms is completely unrealistic in a real fight or even in TKD sparring.
Unfortunately, if you take TKD, you will spend a lot of time learning the forms. This is a complete waste of time. It could be better spent sparring or striking pads.
The one thing the forms do teach is balance, but that can be obtained in many other ways.
Weak hand techniques. TKD has hand techniques, but 90% of the emphasis is put on kicking. Because of this, the hand techniques are undeveloped. Also, the TKD style of sparring minimizes the effectiveness of hand techniques. Most TKD stylists are effectively foot fighters—good at long range but ineffective if the fight moves in close.
I feel that TKD needs an infusion from some other martial art to improve its hand techniques. I suggest boxing, Thai-style boxing, or Chinese Sanda.
Too little emphasis on throws and grappling. TKD has some throws and even some grappling techniques, probably borrowed from the other Korean martial art of Hapkido. These techniques get short shrift in most schools.
Bad self-defense. The self-defense techniques are not realistic enough. Too much time is spent learning the “block punch” method of self-defense. Trying these techniques in the street will get you killed.
Too long to become proficient. I believe that most TKD black belts can adequately defend themselves. Senior level black belts can be certified badasses. But it takes years to get there. It shouldn’t take that long. A year of serious, dedicated training should make you very proficient in self-defense.
Although I still practice my TKD kicks from time to time, I no longer actively practice the art. If my son wants to learn it, I will enroll him because I think there is some value in learning TKD, especially for children. But I will not steer him in that direction either.
I think that TKD instructors can do a lot to improve how their art is taught. I think the necessary pieces are there for a complete striking art, I just think that the emphasis needs to be different.
If you are already taking TKD, I would not quit as there are some valuable things that you can learn, but you should be very diligent in your training. Train daily even when you are away from the dojang (TKD school). Take fewer classes that teach the forms and more classes that teach sparring. Ask your instructor to spend more time teaching hand techniques.
If you are new to martial arts and your goal is to learn self-defense, pick something like Krav Maga, Brazilian Jui-jitsu, or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as your first art.
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