Taekwondo is sometimes criticized as not being the most effective martial arts when it comes to self defense (hosinsool, 호신술). Arguably, there may be some merit to this critique: martial arts such as Krav Maga and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) intentionally incorporate new techniques from many diverse martial arts in order to maximize their lethality. Others, such as Kung Fu and Ninjutsu, prefer to stick to their traditional roots. Taekwondo tends to fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
For self defense, taekwondo is not without its advocates:
- When taekwondo was originally developed (see: Traditional Taekwondo), its focus was indeed combat (in fact, military combat) rather than sport. Pioneer practitioners such as Nam Tae Hi were famous for their lethality. Even now, taekwondo styles such as ITF-style, Jhoon Rhee taekwondo, and Chun Kuk Do place a strong emphasis on the self defense aspects of the art.
- More than some martial arts, taekwondo tends to emphasize kicking, especially high kicking, the idea being that your legs are longer and stronger than your arms and therefore should be more effective in a fight. That's if - and this is a big if - if you can train your legs to become as fast as your arms. Human reflexes in the arms are inherently, biologically faster than in their legs. With training, however, some people can also make their legs lightning fast. Especially if one wants the fight to be over quickly, the ability to close fast and strike hard while still out of your opponent's arm reach can be very effective.
In practice, most self-defense situations do not involve a "fair" fight. Most real-world situations are not one-on-one fights between two unarmed people. In practice, most self-defense situations involve muggers, rapists, gang members, etc. who come to the fight armed, in a group, and who ambush you. Generally speaking, the best self-defense is to be aware of your surroundings, avoid dangerous situations, and to know how to de-escale confrontations.
That having been said, in the very rare "fair" fight the style of martial art being practiced is arguably less important than other factors such as the sizes and ages of the opponents (bigger and younger usually win), fitness level (both strength and stamina), reaction time, and aggressiveness (who is willing to "break bones" first). The practice of any martial art is generall going to improve your fitness level and reaction time.
Self Defense Training
Taekwondo schools that train for self defense may incorporate many of the following elements:
- Training in street clothes rather than taekwondo uniforms
- Education in how to be more aware of one's surroundings, with emphasis on potential threatening situations
- Training in environments outside the taekwondo school (parking lots, alleys, etc.)
- Avoidance of combat via techniques such as verbal de-escalation and calls for assistance
- Training to escape or evade a threatening situation
- Self defense against armed attackers
- Self defense against multiple attackers
- Identification and use-of improvised weapons
- Self defense from ground positions (e.g., grappling)
- Self defense when at a disadvantage (hands full of groceries, protecting a child, etc.)
- Understanding of laws pertaining to the use of self defense
- What to do after defending one's self (getting to safety, calling the authorities, getting medical attention)
Applications of Taekwondo Forms
In Japanese, the term bunkai refers to the analysis of karate forms (kata) in the context of self-defense. The equivalent Korean term is hae seul. These analyses are undertaken to illustrate how techniques that are practiced in taekwondo forms may be used for self-defense. Some examples:
- Sang H. Kim's On the Use of Taekwondo for Self-Defense on Amazon.com
- Taekwondo Self Defense on Taekwondo Animals
Videos (Warning: Intense Content)
There are numerous "real world fight" videos on YouTube, many of which involve the kinds of high, turning kicks associated with taekwondo. Those types of videos are not embedded here due to their intense content. Examples however can be seen here:
The use of taekwondo or any martial art for anything other than self defense is not advocated, and in fact runs contrary to essentially all martial arts, including taekwondo. In taekwondo, this philosophy is symbolized by the fact that essentially all taekwondo forms (hyeong, poomsae, and teul) begin with a block rather than a strike. The assumption in all taekwondo practice is that the student is responding to an attack.