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.
Read More: The Best Knife for Everyday Carry
Thank you for the detailed information.
“Some things are taking place that makes me feel that violence will become more prevalent in the futureI” – totally agree. The concrete feeling is also suppoprted by some serious research: Renè Girard, the greatest living anthropologist, makes this clear in his last book “Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre”. According to Girard, we live in an era in which the ultimate violence is more possible than in the past and the human race is maybe preparing the apocalypse.
Turning back to lighter topics, in the city where I live in Italy, there are some gyms where they teach Krav Maga. I already read something about it and I like the idea behind. I see that you also think it may be a good start, therefore I am going to give it a try (for me it would be the first MA experience). I am probabbly going to start with it next September. There is some friend of mine though that speaks about it as a bundle of different martial art techniques that are not deepened enough and do not create an indipendent uniqum. What do you think about this?
Michael Sebastian says
I think KM is a good place to start, but it is just a good starting place. The deficiency of the art is that it doesn’t have sparring. There is a big difference between practicing techniques with a partner and trying a technique upon an unwilling opponent.
For a long term martial art, something with lots of contact, like Judo, BJJ, or MMA would be better. So much to study, so little time!
Hey Michael, apart from TKD what other martial arts do you practise? I’d like to learn a good martial art but the only one’s I can learn here are karate and muay Thai. Are these useful?
Michael Sebastian says
Both of them are better than TKD. I give the edge to Muay Thai because of the amount of sparring that is involved. When I did full contact sparring, I learned that the Muay Thai style roundhouse kick is more effective than the TKD roundhouse kick. Lots of MMA fighters incorporate MT into their training.
That said, some karate schools also include a lot of sparring. Check out both schools and see which one is more appealing. It might even be worth taking a class or two to see which one you enjoy more.
Dude Muay Thai is a very strong art that builds resistance go for that one
Training in original warfare arts is a whole world unto itself. I met and trained for 2 years in a Chinese – Indonesian art kuntao, and not only the technique but the mindset of war was instilled. Every culture and every competitive art descends from actual battlefields where men had to war against multiple men with weapons in a completely chaotic, blood soaked setting.
Muy Thai Boran is a more weapon based art of Thailand, silat from Indonesia, kali from the Phillipines, and real kung fu(including bagua, shingyi and others-NOT the national sport) train the mind and heart to go immediately for the bone break, eye gouge, and weapon use. A knife should always be a part of a man’s wardrobe, we are tool using creatures to the core, and should not defend ourselves like monkeys.
Even good competitive arts like Mt are building restraint into the fighter over and over, even if the more deadly moves are discussed and taught. But as you said, the upside is lots of experience with contact. This has to be done extremely carefully in warfare arts.
Michael Sebastian says
This is so true. I haven’t studied any Filipino or Indonesian arts, but it sounds like these would be excellent arts for men who want to study true warfare arts.
I think most Eastern martial arts schools teach the form and the most basic application of their arts, but they skip the nasty parts that you mention. I studied informally with a Japanese vet from Hawaii. He was the person who taught me some of the real applications of these Eastern arts, such as tearing the skin on the lower abdomen, eye gouging, tearing at the face, and bone breaks. It’s no wonder these arts are ineffective in UFC style fighting—their real techniques are banned.
You are lucky to have found instructors that were willing to share this information.
Yes and in traditional cultures, blades are ubiquitous and according to my instructor they learn knife fighting first(e.g. Kali) , then move on to empty hand later. Unless you are a prisoner or in an airport there is no excuse to be without a blade.
This also leads to a more deadly open hand, because your martial mentality has been built on top of blades, not the other way around.
But hard to make a buck, because you can’t just teach everyone such things. So even these kinds of teachers make their money on the forms and belts, but continue the deeper traditions in the back room. My teacher trained directly under Dr. jo bang lee the Korean and said he was a prime example.
Michael Sebastian says
What knife do you recommend for an every day carry?
I always wanted learn martial arts from childhood , but due to circumstances beyond my control i was not able to join a gym . I tried to practise karate by books which were freely available in my city, but those were not much of a help, then during my high school days a close friend of mine joined a jeet kune do (bruce lees martial art) gym which had opened in my city, from him i learnt some basics of proper kicking and punching, the front snap kick and the sidekick etc. Then after graduation he moved to another city and i became busy in my life . But life took a turn for me , i became sick for more than two years; troubled with stomach problems , which made me loose lots of weight and all of stamina. No amount of medicine was able to cure me so the docs advised me to do some physical activity ,. I finally joined a TKD gym close to my home, and it helped me in slowly recovering my health, though i am not fully cured i feel better than before.
As i had studied the theories of Karate, Judo, And Jeet Kune Do , practised them practically & from books and pictures ; though i am a white belt (less than 6 months in training) I believe that TKD kicks are good but if they don’t add boxing, hand blocking and grappling techniques, in real life situations it would be really hard to use TKD to defend oneself against aggressors. What i believe & recommend is learn TKD and then learn supplementary martial arts 1. boxing 2. judo or 1.boxing 2. Krav Maga, because all martial arts have some down points. I dont know about BJJ but i think it is good because it has both combat and grapelling , similar i would say is Muai Thai, I would, for the time being, learn Tae Kune Do and add boxing and maybe judo as these are available close to my home, and if you are paranoid about mugging etc i would recommend you to buy yourself a pepper spray of a taser
Very accurate analysis. I am a 5th degree black belt in TKD and have been studying JKD, Aikido, and Kali for about a year now. I also appreciate how regimented TKD is as opposed to JKD and Kali. It gives you something clear to focus on. My TKD experience has given me a solid foundation to apply to the other styles; footwork, mobility, awareness of distance/angles, and of course, kicks.
Now, I take it simply for the workout and to keep progressing in rank. There’s nothing really earth-shattering that I haven’t already learned in TKD. It’s all small improvements and tweaks. Could do without all the damn forms though.
Michael Sebastian says
I’ve never studied JKD or Kali so I am very interested to hear your thoughts on their fighting effectiveness.
Agree on TKD’s excellent organization. It’s a nice fusion of traditional and modern pedagogy.
JKD is a great blend of styles focusing on flowing from one strike to the next. JKD actually translates to “Way of the Intercepting Fist” and most attacks begin with this principle in mind. If an opponent swings at you, we train to move in a way to negate their strike while delivering a strike of our own.
Kali meshes very well with JKD and a lot of the principles carry over. Most of the initial strikes in a confrontation will be directed at the hands of the opponent if they are using a weapon. The goal is to disarm them and then move in for the kill.
Both styles are great for those interested in self-defense. I would recommend studying them both at the same time.
Taekwondo is a very effective Martial art that gives us a better way of self-defense in a street fight I agree that hand teqniques are less but combining it with kicking teqniques can end a street fight in a single strike Taekwondo is a complete martial art and there is no need for doubting its effectiveness there is no need to go for another martial arts in BJJ and other martial arts like muai thai grappling and throwing teqniques are more but these grappling teqniques are not practical with a aggressive strong tall opponents and muai Thai type round house kick can offer more power but the problem is after kicking they rotate the leg in same direction of attack and keep that leg back turning after kicking affect your speed of next attack as well as if your opponent escaped from that strike he can easily attack you from behind so MT type round house kick is risky taekwondo is a effective martial art in a street fight never hesitate to choose it
Jean-Thomas Boisvert says
Honestly about the punch techniques what we do in my taekwondo training is that we learn boxe
I received my black belt (WTF) in the very early 90’s before the “belt mills” became a thing. Back then, it took about 4 years to get to 1st dan at my dojang. My sabumnim always stressed actual combat / self-defense applications of the art over competition; that was the mindset that stuck with me, for better or worse. When I’d train at other dojangs, I tended to piss folks off for being overly “rough.” I wouldn’t play front leg “roundhouse tag.” (Anyone who’s ever trained / sparred TKD know what I’m talking about…). Instead, square up and launch step-behind side kicks about waist high and I’d project through the opponent. Occasionally, Id slip one of those kicks under the chest protector. Dick move, but if you’re going to fight, you need to know how to take a hit. Most TKDers, even back then, would crumple or freeze if hit hard. There’s little to no conditioning re: getting hit and that’s one of the arts major flaws. Likewise, the whole honor / respect thing, while very important (esp to prevent injury) works to the art’s detriment in the real world. During sparing matches, I’d literally turn my back to the opponent and walk away. As soon as he’d lower his guard and start walking towards me…boom…pivot and launch that side step behind or jumping side kick. Never failed. You gotta play dirty if you want to emulate real combat. Finally, I can say without a doubt that TKD can be very effective. I spent years catching shoplifters in a high crime neighborhood of a major cities. Know how many times I was swung on? Zero. Oh, the folks I’d catch would puff up, get nose to nose with me and threaten to “beat my ass.” I’d simply reply, “No, you won’t.” They could tell I was dead serious, so they never swung. Its presence; its that indomitable spirit. It was TKD without ever throwing a kick or punch. And the two times I’ve been attacked? Both times I threw a single kick and it was over. TKD may get a bad rap in some circles, but depending on your approach / mindset to the art, you can unlock some of the most devastating techniques of ANY martial art… sorry for long rambling post… can’t sleep lol
Thanks for this. This comment from someone who has used it in situations where violence is a possibility is enough for me to give it a try.
I have a BBJ place by me, but I don’t like the attitude of the owner.
I’ll start with TKD.
Honestly i think forms are useful ,I’ll explain , im about to get my orange belt in taekwondo and if you think about it the forms help you with directional awareness and distance of striking aswell as turning quickly , before i did my white belt form i was pretty quick but by learning it i was able to turn directions in a fraction of a second . I can see this being very helpful when fighting multiple people as you will probably be turning alot and need to know distance coordination much better than constantly hitting a pad that stays 3 ft in front of you . As for hand techniques there are plenty that are devastating , they teach you the basic ways of punching, uppercut , jab , side hook , plus others back fist , tiger neck strike , palm strike , knife hand , reverse knife hand , elbows, bottom back fist . this aswell as the ways of blocking to defend yourself from punches , high block , middle block , side block , and low block . All of this without mentioning the various kicks that you pair up with these hand and arm techniques . To state that TaeKwonDo practitioners are weak up close is setting one up for a nasty suprise if attempted. Many taekwondo practioners however i feel are not all into it for the combat and protection aspect of it but rather the health benefits . I feel that it is one of the top striking arts available when done with dedication to learning to fight . The only thing needed is a grappling art to make a truly all around effective fighter .