You heard me. Taekwon-do sucks. …For some people. For others, it’s awesome. You see, taekwon-do isn’t good or bad by itself. It all depends on the person.
I’ll elaborate on why that is, but first allow me to provide a little background.
There used to be a blog that I loved, run by a guy named Rob Redmond, called 24 Fighting Chickens. Even though it was about Shotokan karate, most of it was applicable to the martial arts in general. Mr. Redmond came up with this theory that he called Redmond’s Axiom of Platform Dependency:
Axiom: Karate is not a person, place, or thing. Karate is only a set of instructions. Until those instructions are executed by someone, they exist only in the abstract. Karate has no philosophy. Karate has no shape. Karate has no effectiveness. Karate has no qualities at all other than as a set of instructions. The person doing karate gives it all of its qualities the way a glass gives water shape, the way computer hardware gives software speed and reliability.
Redmond might not have been the first person to ever come up with this idea, but he believes he was the first to put it into such detail.
Wherever it says “karate”, you could easily substitute the word “taekwon-do”. Or “judo”. Or “Ameri-Do-Te”. The martial art doesn’t matter. Every martial art is just a set of instructions. It’s the person who takes those instructions and makes them work well …or poorly.
Let’s look at this axiom in action. Let’s pretend that you were so inflexible that you couldn’t kick above your waist to save your life. You wouldn’t do very well in taekwon-do, would you? You’d never be able to execute your kicks well enough to have good patterns. That level of inflexibility would probably even affect your stances. And as for sparring, you’d never be able to land a legal point with a kick.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t enjoy taekwon-do, just that you would never be great at it.
But let’s say you had lightning-quick reflexes and good hands. Maybe you’d be amazing at boxing.
Now, let’s pretend that instead of being the inflexible person, you’re watching the inflexible person. Could you, in all good conscience, see this person’s ineffective kicks and say that taekwon-do is an ineffective martial art?
No, you couldn’t (I hope). But you also can’t look at an “ideal” taekwon-do practitioner and claim that taekwon-do is an effective martial art. You can only say that the person practicing the art is good.
No martial art is good or bad by itself. Only people are good or bad at achieving certain goals or objectives using the instructions they learned from that martial art.
People can’t even be good or bad at a martial art itself. I could be bad at fighting, because I can objectively win or lose. I can be bad at patterns because I don’t measure up to the ideals that have evolved for how patterns should be performed. But I can’t be good or bad at taekwon-do, because I can’t be good or bad at at set of instructions; only on how I follow those instructions.
Let’s look at this a different way. Have you ever stumbled across any of those “martial art X vs. martial art Y” videos online? Can you put any stock in those? Is taekwon-do better than karate? Or Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Nope. It can’t be. It can’t be worse, either. A taekwon-do fighter may beat a karate fighter, for example, but that doesn’t mean that one art is somehow superior to the other. Only that person A is better at fighting than person B, using the skills that they know.
And remember that every person is different and is able to execute the instructions from each art differently. I might do well with taekwon-do, but not with wushu, for example.
But it’s not just the art. It’s also how the instructions are given and interpreted. I could give the same instructions for a technique to two different people. One could perform it flawlessly and the other could perform it terribly. Not just because of physical differences, but because it’s up to me to find a way to communicate with both people so that they understand the instructions. People learn in different ways.
Rob Redmond likened it to trying to run software on two very different computers. While the software may be the same on both, you’ll get two different experiences—assuming it will run on both at all.
There are loads of factors that go into how well a person can perform a martial art and what they can do with it. So it’s really not possible to say that a martial art is good or bad, because it’s really all about the person.
So, yes, for some people taekwon-do sucks. And that’s OK.