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Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

Is Taekwon-Do Good For Self-Defence?

Is Taekwon-Do good for self-defence? It’s a question that comes up often enough. People take martial arts for many reasons, and one reason is to learn to defend themselves. If you’re going to spend your time and money to learn self-defence, you’ll probably want to know that the art you’re learning works, right?

If you listen to a lot of the fighting-obsessed folks out there, they will say that Taekwon-Do is just a silly sport and that it’s useless for self-defence.

Well, it’s not that simple. The truth is that it’s not about what style you learn, but about how it’s taught.

The short answer is that TKD isn’t good for self-defence the way it’s usually taught. But it can be.

Self-defence, fighting and sparring are not the same thing

It seems like most martial arts schools talk about self-defence, fighting and sparring as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. Not even close.

  • Tournament-style sparring is a sport (no matter the level of contact). There are very specific rules and safety procedures.
  • In a fight there are no safety rules, but you’re still trying to win. But it’s not exactly true that there are no rules. You’re still subject to the law.
  • Self-defence happens when you’re trying to avoid an ugly situation, get out of an ugly situation, or even stay alive. Screw winning, you’re just trying to get away.

Now, depending on how you train, there are parts of these three areas that start to blend together, but there’s not a lot of overlap.

The way most martial arts are taught is not practical for self-defence

If most martial arts clubs talk about sparring, fighting and self-defence as the same thing (or even pretty close to the same thing), then they probably aren’t teaching practical self-defence. I once heard a TKD instructor talk about how important it was to practice sparring because you never know when you will have to use it to defend yourself. I cringed.

As you’ve probably guessed, typical TKD sport sparring is not that useful in a self-defence situation. But many of the tools already exist in Taekwon-Do to make your training practical. We have knees, elbows, low kicks, grabs and more. All of these things are useful, but we don’t practice them in sparring.

Then there’s the fact that no one in the real world attacks people in an 8-metre padded ring. Real attacks are up close and personal. That’s why a good instructor should also teach some grappling as part of a self-defence program. Unfortunately, even the grappling taught at many clubs as “self-defence” isn’t very practical.

There are a number of martial arts clubs that teach close-quarters, non-sport sparring, but this often ends up being fighting focused, even though they claim it’s for self-defence.

So is Taekwon-Do good for self-defence?

The answer to this question really depends on your instructor. The art itself is agnostic. In the hands of one instructor, Taekwon-Do could be an effective system. In the hands of another, it could be useless.

The real answer also goes beyond Taekwon-Do. Physical techniques are just one aspect of self-defence. On top of understanding the physical side, you’ll also have to understand the mental and behavioural aspects. These include things like awareness and avoidance. I’ve never seen a club spend more than a cursory amount of time on these things, even though they’re more important than physical training.

So if self-defence training is something you’re looking for in your martial arts training, rest assured that Taekwon-Do can work for you if your instructor knows what they’re doing.