Is Taekwondo An Effective Martial Art?

December 20, 2021

Taekwondo is a well-known martial art that emerged in the 1950s in South Korea. In this day and age, it is a popular combat sport that has been a part of the Olympic Games since the 2000s. But we are here to answer the ultimate question: is Taekwondo effective for real fighting and self-defense?

In its initial form, Taekwondo is a martial art created with self-defense in mind. It is a full-contact system that trains you to use all limbs as weapons to strike with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows. It also covers some basics of grappling.

But, over time, the emphasis has moved from self-defense to competition and rules. These “point fighting” rules are in total contrast with what actual fighting is all about and impact the effectiveness and image of Taekwondo. Techniques you learn, habits, and reactions you develop are not practical on the streets.

Keep reading to find out why!

History Of Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a South Korean martial art, and its story begins in the 1940s, shortly after the end of WW2. It has origins in various Korean martial arts like:

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  • Taekkyeon
  • Gwonbeop
  • Subak
  • Karate

After the war ended, martial arts schools called “kwans” started to open up all across the country. It’s crucial to remember that these kwans used to teach their own versions of Korean arts.

At one point in the 1950s, nine main kwans have decided to unite and create a unified Korean martial art. The final result of their effort was a system called “Tang Soo Do,” which was a Korean version of karate to some extent. The man leading this project was Choi Hong Hi, an army general who is often seen as a father of Taekwondo.

In 1959, Choi Hong Hi and nine kwans would agree to change the name from Tang Soo Do, which means “The Way of Tang Hand,” to Taekwondo, meaning “The way of foot and fist.”

The Korean military was the first to adopt the name Taekwondo, and many schools would follow. It all became official with the birth of the “Korean Taekwondo Association” in 1959, but there was a big problem.

Hong Hi, the association president, wanted all major kwans to adopt his own style called “Chan-Hon.” Yet, most of the kwans didn’t want to do this because the main idea was to create a unified style based on the contributions of all kwans. As a result, Hong Hi left the association to create a new one, “International Taekwondo Association.” The ITF style of Taekwondo would later become very popular in the US and Canada.

Is Taekwondo Good For Self-Defense?

Is Taekwondo Good For Self-Defense

Taekwondo is a full-contact fighting system designed for self-defense. Its techniques are very practical and may help you stay safe and get out of trouble on the streets. But the biggest downside is the fact that most modern schools put too much emphasis on competition and kicks.

In modern times, students rarely do any self-defense drills at all. They also spend a lot of time doing katas or breaking boards, which are not the best methods to prepare for street fighting.

This sport version differs a lot from traditional Taekwondo when it comes to real fighting. Learning how to fight under the rules is not the same as training for real combat. These point fighting rules limit your fighting abilities and force you to develop bad habits and reactions.

The emphasis of modern Taekwondo is on fast and precise kicks, as these strikes bring you the most points. As for hand strikes, there are no punches to the head, just punching the body area below the neck. The action resets after every successful strike, which is also one of the reasons why sport Taekwondo is not that practical on the streets.

On the other side, the traditional form is all about street fighting and aggression. Students learn how to use all limbs as weapons to strike and some basics of grappling. The focus is on fast and powerful kicks since its founders believed that legs are a longer and more powerful weapon in a fight.

Unlike in sport form, students learn how to strike with full power, finish the fight as fast as possible, and spar a lot. The reactions, timing, and feeling for distance students develop in traditional Taekwondo is far more effective in a real fight.

The final answer is yes; Taekwondo is effective for self-defense. In short, you won’t have a hard time dealing with an average person on the streets, even if they are physically bigger than you are. But be careful as most modern schools focus too much on competition and teach you how to fight under the rules.

Is Taekwondo Good For MMA Fighting?

Is Taekwondo Good For MMA

Taekwondo is more than present in modern MMA, and its techniques fit well within the sport’s rules. But bear in mind that you can’t expect to switch over from Taekwondo to MMA and expect to do well, no matter how good you are at it. You still need to spend a lot of time learning other aspects like takedowns, boxing, clinch game, and many other techniques.

What Taekwondo brings to the table is excellent footwork, fast and powerful kicks, great movement, and a great feeling for distance. First of all, its fighters rarely stick in one place and are always on the move, bouncing in all directions. They are masters in striking from both stances, making them very unpredictable in the standup.

And things get even better if we move to kicks since no single martial art would teach you better techniques. It’s even fair to say that, what boxing is for punches, Taekwondo is for kicks. Its fighters shine with all types of jumping and spinning kicks.

They throw them from all ranges and angles and are very accurate. This is why MMA fighters like Yair Rodriguez or Edson Barboza are so exciting to watch.

But, there are a couple of downsides, notably when it comes to defense. Due to the emphasis on kicks, students do not spend much time learning how to block punches or have good head movement. Yes, they learn certain blocks, but they all tend to lower their hands. Just look at any Taekwondo match, and you will see why.

This, on the other hand, is terrible for MMA as it leaves you open for just about every strike that comes your way. And the other obvious downside is the lack of grappling, ground fighting, and fighting in the clinch.

Is Taekwondo Worth Taking?

Taekwondo training has many benefits, but is it good for you? The answer depends on your age, what you want to achieve with your training, and many other factors. Let us bring you closer to what you may expect and help you make the right decision.

Taekwondo embraces a strong culture, tradition, strict discipline, and hard work as a true martial art. You won’t progress through a single rank or learn anything without hard work and dedication.

The classes are cardio intense, painful at times, and will push your body and mind over the limits. This has many benefits as this type of physical activity makes your body stronger, healthier, and more flexible. In fact, being flexible is a crucial part because you need to be very flexible to execute most of Taekwondo techniques the right way.

Is Taekwondo Good For Old People, Adults, or Kids?

Is Taekwondo Good For Old People, Adults, or Kids

Taekwondo training isn’t for people in their 50s or 60s. In fact, it is very popular among the kids as their introduction to the world of combat sports. You would rarely see people in their 20s or 30s joining the classes. This age group usually goes to boxing or Muay Thai instead. Most adults want to learn how to fight in a short period without having to wear a uniform, do katas, or break boards. Adults you may see in the dojo have been there since a young age in most cases.

What About Self-Defense Tactics?

Moving to techniques and skills, expect to learn some really valuable self-defense tactics. Taekwondo teaches you to fight at all ranges using basic boxing combos and advanced kicks.  Training includes a lot of sparring, which is the best way to learn how to fight and develop automatic reactions, timing, feeling for distance, and learning how to stay calm.

Is Taekwondo Training Safe?

Yes, Taekwondo is one of the few martial arts that includes full contact sparring and still has a low injury rate. This is mainly because there are no punches or hard kicks to the head. And on top of that, students always have to wear full-body gear while sparring.

Still, bear in mind that there is a risk of injury in any sport, notably in martial arts, where people trade punches and kicks. Overall, Taekwondo is safer than other arts like Muay Thai, Boxing, or Kickboxing. And this is the main reason it is so popular among the kids.

Is Taekwondo Better Than Karate?

Is Taekwondo Training Safe

Both karate and Taekwondo are martial arts designed for self-defense, and at first sight, these two may look similar. Students from both arts wear similar uniforms and use kicks and punches to fight in the standup. Which one is better is better comes down to skill rather than a martial art itself.

Karate has dozens of styles and forms, out of which the most popular are:

  • Shotokan
  • Goru-Ryu
  • Kyokushin

Some styles are full contact, while most focus on light contact, speed, and precision. The main goal is to mix fast footwork with quick punches and kicks to fight at all ranges. Instead of using sheer force, karate teaches you how to overwhelm the attacker with a high level of technique without causing severe injuries.

On the other hand, Taekwondo is a full-contact fighting system that focuses on hard kicks. The emphasis is on mixing fast and powerful kicks with footwork to fight at all ranges. It also teaches you some basic punching combos, but hands strikes are seen as a secondary weapon.

When you look at both styles, karate may have a slight edge because it is well balanced between punches and kicks. Combine this with elite footwork, and you get a more versatile martial art. On the other side, Taekwondo is a bit one-dimensional due to its emphasis on kicking.

Still, whether you want to learn self-defense, get in shape, or participate in competitions, you won’t make a mistake choosing any of the two.

Is Taekwondo A Sport?

Taekwondo is a martial art founded in the 1950s in South Korea. Over time, it has become a very popular sport and a part of the Olympic Games since 2000. The layman who sees the matches on TV and during the Olympic games thinks that Taekwondo is just a sport. But this is wrong as we are talking about a famous martial art with a long history.

In its initial form, Taekwondo was a combat system designed for actual combat, while the sport version came much later. In modern times, most schools still teach these traditional techniques.

Training covers both the mental and physical aspects and would teach you all about real fighting. But students also spend a lot of time learning how to compete under the rules and doing things that do not have much to do with real fighting, like katas and breaking boards.

Can You Lose Weight With Taekwondo Training?

is taekwondo effective in a street fight

Yes, Taekwondo training is a full-body workout that activates all the muscles groups in your body. According to one study performed at Mayo Clinic, a person weighing 160 lbs can burn around 750 calories per hour, which is a lot.

Also, people over 200 lbs may even burn double of this. So if you show up three times per week on average, you may burn from 2250 to 3500 calories in a week.

In training, students do a lot of intense Taekwondo conditioning and strength workouts, and throwing hundreds of kicks per class is exhausting and even painful. So overall, Taekwondo has many health benefits. It burns many calories, makes you very flexible, and improves strength in all muscle groups.

Is Taekwondo Better And More Effective Than Boxing?

Taekwondo is not better than boxing when it comes to self-defense or MMA. Though it is more versatile and takes a longer time to master, Taekwondo is a bit limited. It focuses too much on point fighting under the rules and kicks as the primary weapons. This limits your skills and abilities in a real fight.

Boxing is also a popular combat sport, but its concept of training and rules do not steer your abilities away from real fighting. It is an intense system where the main goal is to throw each strike with a lot of power and knock the opponent out or score points. Training is physically demanding and includes a lot of hard sparring.

That said, boxing is clearly better if we are talking about self-defense. Punches are the most common way of attack in street fighting, where boxing shines.

Not a single martial art or system would teach you better blocks, head movement, or how to counter these types of attacks. Taekwondo is terrible in this aspect because it doesn’t include punches, nor does its fighters learn how to defend against these strikes.

Next, they need a lot of space to operate. If you are in a bar or any other closed space, you won’t have enough space to throw kicks or move around.

Final thoughts — Pros And Cons Of Taekwondo

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Full contact — Taekwondo is a full-contact martial art that teaches you to generate a lot of power in every strike. Although the rules of competition favor speed and precision, let’s be honest, the emphasis of Taekwondo as a self-defense system is on power. 

Sparring training includes a lot of full-contact sparring. Students spend a lot of time trading hard strikes, which is a great way to prepare for real combat. However, bear in mind that sparring in most schools revolves around competition and learning to fight under the rules.

Health benefits — Taekwondo training has many benefits for overall health. It puts a lot of emphasis on endurance, strength workouts, and stretching. Apart from the overall strength, Taekwondo burns many calories and would make you very flexible.


Lack of advanced hand strikes and low kicks — Taekwondo is all about the kicks as legs are seen as a longer and more powerful weapon. Students do not learn advanced punching techniques or how to throw low kicks.

Lack of defense and blocks is notably true for punches as Taekwondo won’t teach you proper blocking techniques.  

Too much oriented towards competition most modern schools are oriented towards competition and teach students how to fight under the rules.

Forms in training, students spend a lot of time doing forms (katas) and breaking stuff like boards. Although breaking things look spectacular, it doesn’t have much in common with real fighting on the streets. In some way, it is a waste of time regarding the effectiveness of martial art.

About the author 

Tomislav Zivanovic

Since 2017, Tomi has been working within the martial arts media, writing unique and creative articles about martial arts, and covering the most famous combat sports events. He works with some of the biggest martial arts blogs and websites like Middleeasy and Martial Arts Unleashed.


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