Is Taekwondo All Kicks?  The BEGINNER’S Guide to Taekwondo


Taekwondo(TKD) is one of the most popular martial arts that has also been a part of the Olympic Games since 2000. But despite being such a popular combat sport, there are a lot of myths surrounding this Korean martial art. Of course, one of the most famous is that Taekwondo fighters only use kicks, but is this true?

Taekwondo is not all about kicks because students learn how to strike both with their hands. But the founders believed that legs are longer and more powerful weapon than hands so taekwondo training puts a lot of emphasis on leg kicks.

This is the main reason why people trained in Taekwondo use far more leg strikes, and why so many people have the wrong perception that this Korean art is all about the kicks.

Keep reading this article to learn more about the power of kicks in Taekwondo, different rules, and techniques.

Is Taekwondo All About Kicking?

No, Taekwondo is a versatile system that apart from kicking, also involves other techniques. Students learn how to throw punches, elbow and knee strikes, and even how to grapple and fight on the ground, or that’s how it is on paper. In reality, however, all styles and most schools put a lot of emphasis on leg strikes as the most effective weapon one can use in a fight. Here are the two main reasons why this is so:

Rules of competition

The rules of the TKD competition are very much the same across all styles when it comes to the way contestants score points. Leg strikes bring you the most points in a match, twice as more than punches to be more precise. For example, according to the WT rules used in the Olympic Games, a punch to the chest brings you 1 point while a kick brings you 2 or 4. Kicks to the head are awarded 3, 4, and 5 depending on how technical the kick was, while punches to the head are not allowed at all. 

As a result, most Taekwondo schools that prepare their students for matches focus mainly on leg strikes. In some way, schools are willingly neglecting other aspects of the art because of the competition. 

Philosophy

Taekwondo emerged in the 1950s in South Korea and it means “the way of the foot and fist”. Its origins come from various martial arts such as “Taekkyon”, which is a system that also puts a lot of emphasis on kicks. 

It all came together when the nine main martial art schools from all parts of the country called “kwans” have united to create a “unified” Korean martial art. They decided to put the emphasis on kicks because of the idea that legs are longer and more powerful weapons than punches. Mixing kicks with fast footwork allows you to keep your range, and do more damage from a safe distance than you would do with punches. 

Hand strikes are seen as a secondary weapon that you are supposed to use at a close range where you don’t have enough space to throw a kick. The same stands for other Taekwondo techniques like throws, elbow, and knee strikes.

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What Are The Different Types of Taekwondo Kicks?

As a martial art that primarily focuses on leg strikes, Taekwondo involves dozens of different spinning, jumping, and many other types of kicks. Bear in mind that each group of the following types of kicks has dozens of different variations.

  • Front kick (ap chagi) — front snap kick; front thrust kick 
  • Side kick (yeop chagi) — flying, jumping, skipping, spinning side kicks
  • Hook kick (huryeo chagi)- back hook kick; step to the rear hook kick
  • Axe kick (naeryeo chagi) —jumping kick; skipping kick; front leg axe kick
  • Crescent kick (bakkat chagi) — inner and outer crescent kick 
  • Jump Kicks (ttwieo chagi)
  • Fly Kicks (mondollyo chagi)
  • Roundhouse kick (dollyo chagi) 
  • Back kick (dwit chagi)
  • Spin kicks

How Hard Can Taekwondo Practitioners Kick?

A study performed by National Geographic has shown that a trained Taekwondo athlete can throw a kick that travels at around 136mph (220kph), and deliver 2,292 pounds (1040kg) of force upon hitting the target.

This study has also confirmed that fighters trained in Taekwondo are capable of executing the fastest and most powerful kicks out of all other martial arts. The force and speed are much higher than in other systems that emphasize kicks like Muay Thai (130mph, 1400 pounds), Karate (71mph; 1421 pounds), and Capoeira (99mph; 1800 pounds).

In comparison, the average adult not trained in martial arts is capable of generating around 1000 pounds of force in a single kick while kids kick with half less force, around 600 pounds. Of course, the exact number depends on many factors like physical condition, age, sex, or height.

Does Taekwondo Have Low Kicks?

Yes, Taekwondo students learn how to strike with all types of kicks, including the ones below the waist. But this is only the case when they are doing self-defense drills as they are not allowed to use low kicks in matches. The rules allow contestants to only kick the body area above the waist such as the ribcage, torso and head.

When it comes to low kicks, Taekwondo includes various types of side kicks, front kicks and roundhouse kicks. The main goal is to learn how to throw them quickly, from all angles, and with a lot of power to smash the opponent’s legs. Students learn all about hip rotation, balance, and how to generate huge power in a kick which upon landing can cause serious injuries and even fractures.

For example, the same low kicking techniques have become one of the main weapons in modern MMA fighting. You can see UFC fighters utilizing low kicks in every fight, and even finishing their opponents as Dustin Poirier did in his second fight against Conor McGregor.

Are You Allowed To Kick Hard In Taekwondo?

Yes, students are allowed to kick as hard as they want when they are doing drills on the heavy bag, breaking boards, or even when they are sparring. As mentioned earlier in this article, studies have shown that Taekwondo practitioners are capable of throwing the fastest and most powerful kicks out of all other martial arts.

Yet, the story is a bit different when it comes to competition and the way they throw kicks in matches. According to WT rules, contestants do not have to kick hard to win points. The officials scoring the match would give the point for any clean strike regardless of the force behind it. As a result, contestants are more focused on speed and technique rather than on applying full force, which in the end, makes the sport safer.

Are You Allowed To Punch In Taekwondo?

Taekwondo is a martial art that trains you to use all limbs as weapons in a fight, including punches to the head. However, bear in mind that punches to the head are not allowed in competition. In tournaments, contestants can land punches only to the chest area below the neck, while they can strike the head using kicks only. This is the main reason why people tend to think that Taekwondo doesn’t include punches at all. 

But as a martial art designed with self-defense in mind, traditional training teaches students how to strike the head using their hands. Though these techniques are not as advanced as in western boxing, for example, punches you learn in Taekwondo are more than effective in real life. Training mostly focuses on direct and fast hand strikes, and on top of that, students learn blocks and how to mix punches with footwork and kicks to be more efficient and unpredictable.

Is Taekwondo Effective In A Street Fight?

Taekwondo as a combat system can be applied in a real fight. Most of the skills and techniques are very practical and may help you get out of trouble on the streets. But this is only if you train in a school that puts emphasis on traditional methods of training.

The biggest downside is the fact that modern practice puts too much focus on competition. Instead of learning how to fight, students train how to obey rules, score points, and win matches. This creates a big problem because the rules clearly have a negative impact on the self-defense aspect of the art.

For instance, the main goal in matches is to land a clean strike to win a point, and you don’t have to land with a lot of power. Next, there are no punches to the head, or strikes below the waist (low kicks), and the action resets after every point so there is no fluid action. The emphasis is on scoring more points than your rival by utilizing a high level of technique, not knocking them out with full power kicks. All of this would have a negative impact on your self-defense abilities out on the streets where there are no rules. 

On top of that, training also includes patterns and forms (katas) and students spend a lot of time doing these pre-arranged moves. Though this has some benefits in terms of muscle memory and maybe improves your focus, it won’t prepare you for a real fight.

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What Are The Differences Between The KTA, WTF, And ITF Styles of Taekwondo?

KTA, WTF, and ITF are the three main governing bodies that are also known as different styles of Taekwondo. Here is a brief explanation of all three styles and how these differ from one another.

Korean Taekwondo Association (KTA) — is the very first governing body founded in 1959. The first president was one of the founders of Taekwondo, H.H.Choi who after running the organization for 4 years, was forced to resign. After he broke off from KTA, he went on to form ITF together with some other members of KTA who left with him. KTA style is sports-oriented rather than combat-oriented.

International Taekwondo Federation (ITF)– is a governing body founded on March 22, 1966, by General Choi Hong Hi in South Korea. After he split up with KTA in 1965, Choi Hong Hi decided to form ITF with a mission to promote and spread Taekwondo worldwide. Like other styles, ITF also involves patterns but puts more emphasis on self-defense. Training involves a lot of sparring and strikes to the head and various drills where students train for real-life fighting. Competition is not as important as in WT for example.

World Taekwondo (WT)— used to be known as World Taekwondo Federation until it was renamed in 2017. Founded in 1973 the main mission of WT is to promote Taekwondo as an Olympic sport. As of 2022, it has 211 national member associations spanning five continents. WT differs a lot from ITF rules because contestants are not allowed to utilize low kicks, and punches to the head.

Is A Punch Faster Than A Kick?

Though this may be surprising to you, kicks are actually faster than punches. What most people tend to forget is the fact that kicks are powered by much larger muscles in the legs and hips. Also, legs travel a longer distance which allows a kick to pick up speed.

An average person is capable of throwing a kick that travels at around 60-mph. On the other side, people trained in martial arts such as Taekwondo can throw kicks that travel at 130-mph or higher.

When it comes to punches, an average person is capable of throwing a punch that goes around 15mph. Trained fighters, on the other side, can generate speeds between 32-mph and even 45-mph, which is still much slower than kicks.

Which Martial Arts Emphasize Kicks Over Punches?

Here is a list of the most popular martial arts that put more emphasis on kicks than punches:

Muay Thai — is often seen as a total package when it comes to striking. It trains a person to use all limbs as weapons to cause as much damage as possible with every strike. Students learn how to mix kicks, punches, and knee and elbow strikes to fight at all ranges, including the clinch, and even execute some basic throws. But though it is a versatile art, the primary weapon in Muay Thai remains vicious kicks.

Taekwondo — is the most popular martial art when it comes to kicks. In training, students learn dozens of flashy leg strikes like jump kicks, spinning kicks, and many other types. Training also covers other elements like punches and even the basics of grappling, but kicks are by far the most important one.

Capoeira — is a Brazilian martial art that is a mix of flashy kicks, flips, spins, and dance moves. 

Karate– is one of the most popular martial arts and there are dozens of different karate styles and forms. The emphasis in most is on mixing various types of kicks with quick movements and basic punching techniques. One karate style that stands out when it comes to the importance of kicks is Kyokushin karate, also known as the hardest form of karate.

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