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Taekwondo vs Kickboxing – Key Differences and Comparison

Taekwondo (TKD) and kickboxing are among the most popular striking arts. But apart from few similar techniques, these two arts do not share much else in common. In fact, these two are a world apart when it comes to rules, emphasis, or history.

The emphasis differs between Taekwondo and kickboxing. Taekwondo is a martial art that emphasizes kicks, with hand strikes serving as a secondary weapon. In contrast, kickboxing emphasizes the use of all limbs as weapons, such as kicks, punches, and knee strikes.

Keep reading this article to find out more about how kickboxing and taekwondo differ from one another. We will explore which one is better for self-defense, MMA, and how do they compare against each other in various aspects.

History of Taekwondo

Taekwondo comes from South Korea where TKD is a national sport and a part of the culture. It emerged after WW2 in the 1950s as a fighting system created for the military and self-defense. After the WW2, a lot of schools called “kwans” started opening up all across Korea. Each of these kwans used to teach their own fighting systems, out of which most originated from China.

In the 1950s, all kwans have made a decision to unite, and create a unique Korean fighting system. The result of their work was a martial art called “Tang Soo Doo”, which was an initial form of modern Taekwondo. Later on, in 1959, they have changed the name to Taekwondo and found the first organization.

History of Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a full-contact fighting system that emerged in the late 1950s in Japan. It is a mix of karate, boxing, and Muay Thai techniques put into one style of fighting. It has many forms out of which the most popular ones are:

  • Dutch style
  • American kickboxing
  • K-1

The story of kickboxing begins in the 1950s and the fierce rivalry between Muay Thai and karate. This was a time when fighters from both of these arts used to fight each other in matches. To find balance between techniques and make matches fair, Japanese created a hybrid martial art called “Japanese kickboxing”. 

In the next two decades, kickboxing would expand beyond Japan, and become very popular in the western world. Some of the countries that pioneered kickboxing in the west were Netherland and the U.S.

What is the Difference Between Taekwondo and Kickboxing?

The main difference between these two arts is the emphasis and rules of competition. Taekwondo is a fighting system famous for putting a lot of emphasis on kicks. Its students learn how to throw fast jumping, spinning, and all types of other kicks while punches are a secondary weapon. Kickboxing, on the other side, also puts a lot of emphasis on kicks but, as its name suggests, it includes boxing techniques as well. 

Here is the easiest way you can spot all the major differences between these two arts. 

Taekwondo is a striking martial art famous for kicking techniques. It is a fighting system created for self-defense that is also a very popular sport.Kickboxing is a hybrid fighting system that focuses on striking. It is a mix of various Karate and Muay Thai techniques put into one style of fighting.
OriginsTaekwondo emerged in the 1950s in South Korea.Kickboxing emerged in Japan in 1950s.
EmphasisAlthough the art combines kicks and punches, the emphasis of Taekwondo is on fast and precise kicks. Punches are seen as a secondary weapon. The emphasis of kickboxing is on teaching a person how to use all limbs as weapons to combine kicks with punches. 
TechniquesTaekwondo teaches various types of fighting stances, blocks, punches, and all types of jumping, spinning and roundhouse kicks. Kickboxing teaches very effective punching combinations, and how to follow up the punches with fast and powerful kicks. 
AimIn its initial form, Taekwondo was a fighting system created for self-defense. But in modern times, it is a very popular sport that puts a lot of emphasis on competition and teaching you how to fight under the rules. Kickboxing was created as a combat sport in Japan. The main goal is to learn how to fight under kickboxing rules that may vary between styles and forms. But still, its techniques and the concept of training are very effective for self-defense and street fighting. 
Styles and FormsTraditional  Hong-style,  Songahm-style Jhoon Rhee-style, Kukki-style
Japanese kickboxing, American kickboxing, Dutch-style, K-1 kickboxing
OrganizationsAmerican Taekwondo Association, International Taekwondo Federation, World TaekwondoWorld Kickboxing Association, International Kickboxing Federation, World Association of Kickboxing Organizations

Taekwondo vs. Kickboxing: Which is More Effective for Self-Defense?

Kickboxing is better for self-defense because it is a more versatile fighting style that is more brutal as well. Students learn how to throw advanced kicks and punches with a lot of power to hurt or knock the opponent out. They learn how to mix footwork, kicks and punches to fight at all ranges. It’s fair to say that kickboxing is a complete standup art that teaches you all about striking.

On the other side, we can’t say the same for Taekwondo which focuses too much on kicks and Olympic-style TaeKwonDo. The initial forms did teach solid punches, elbow and knee strikes, and even some basics of grappling. But in modern days, Taekwondo is all about kicks and fighting under the rules. Students learn limited hand strikes which they can use to strike only the upper body area below the neck.

The other problem is that Taekwondo is a point-fighting sport. Fighters get points for every strike they land on the opponent, and each point resets the fight. This means that throwing fast and precise kicks is more important than power. You will rarely see fighters loading on the kicks, trying to hurt or knock the opponent out. This approach is wrong for self-defense because learning how to score points won’t prepare you well in a self-defense situation. The goal is always to finish the fight as fast as possible in a self-defense situation.

Taekwondo and Kickboxing are both solid options if you want to learn self-defense. But, bear in mind that the emphasis in both arts is on sports competition and fighting under the rules. You will spend every class learning how to fight under the rules, or in the case of Taekwondo, score points.

In the article, “Is Taekwondo Effective in a Street Fight,” I discuss in more detail why I think Taekwondo on its own will not prepare you well for a real fight.

Taekwondo vs Kickboxing: Which One is Easier to Learn?

On average, it takes less time for a person to get good at kickboxing than vice versa. Still, this doesn’t mean that Taekwondo is harder by any means. No, Taekwondo has a belt ranking system and strict promotional criteria. This is the main cause why the progress is slower than in kickboxing.

Students need, on average, around 3 to 5 years of consistent training to get a black belt. But this is also based on the style of Taekwondo, school, and how talented you are. In some schools, for instance, there is a minimum length of training time before you can earn a black belt, which is around 4 to 5 years.

Overall, Taekwondo training is safe, fun, and good for your health. It includes a lot of stretching exercises, grueling cardio workouts, and students throw hundreds of kicks per class. They often practice techniques alone in pre-arranged forms, and spar against other students.

Kickboxing doesn’t have a ranking system or any type of rank. As a beginner, you won’t have a hard time picking up the basics since the techniques are not that complex. You need to spend around 3 months working hard on the heavy bag, learning the basics, before you can move to live drills or sparring. On average, students need to train kickboxing for around 1 to 2 years to get good at punching and kicking.

The truth is, you won’t achieve anything in both of these arts in a short period of time, no matter how talented you are. Which one is easier to learn really comes down to your talent, the school you choose to train in, and many other factors.

Which One is More Dangerous to Learn?

Taekwondo is much safer than kickboxing mainly because it includes far less head strikes as the emphasis is on kicks. Yes, you can still get hurt in Taekwondo, but these injuries are also a part of other striking arts and sports in general.

Taekwondo is much safer than most other striking arts. First of all, all students must wear protective gear whenever they are sparring or doing any type of live drills. Even when they are sparring, the focus is on speed and precision, not power or to hurt the opponent.

But what makes Taekwondo really safe is that it doesn’t include punches to the head. According to the rules, fighters can land punches only in the upper body area below the neck. This is crucial when it comes to safety since punches to the head lead to brain damage. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get hurt in Taekwondo training. Throwing hundreds of kicks per class and sparring on a daily basis leads to many injuries like:

  • Joint strains
  • Joint dislocations
  • Leg, rib, and foot fractures

Kickboxing is more dangerous than Taekwondo because it includes more strikes to the head. And, there is no scoring points for each strike in competition. The focus is on throwing strikes with a lot of power to hurt the opponent or knock them out. This means that there’s a lot of hard sparring where, despite wearing gear, you can get hurt. The most common injuries are:

  • Ankle sprains
  • Contusions
  • Lacerations
  • Concussion and brain damage
  • Facial cuts and fractures

Training in both of these arts is dangerous because students do a lot of sparring where they exchange hard kicks and punches. And wherever we have full contact striking, there is a high risk of injuries as well. No matter what you do or what type of protective gear you wear, the risk of injuries is always present in striking arts.

Which One is More Effective for Hand Striking?

Kickboxing is much more effective than Taekwondo when it comes to hand striking. It teaches you really good punching combos, the same ones you can find in boxing. It is a much better option if you want to learn how to punch as Taekwondo will only teach you how to throw basic hand strikes. 

As its name suggests, kickboxing is a mix of kicks and boxing hand strikes. In training, students learn the same punching combos as in boxing, but not all. For instance, a Dutch style of kickboxing is famous for putting a lot of emphasis on hand strikes. Dutch-style fighters would often throw three or five punch boxing combo before landing a low/high kick.

In modern days, Taekwondo schools won’t teach you advanced punching combos. You will only learn how to punch the upper body area below the neck using basic hand strikes. Back in the early days, the traditional form used to teach the students how to throw punches to the head. But this form is not popular anymore. 

Which One is More Effective for Kicking?

Taekwondo is a much better option when it comes to kicks. And the truth is, not a single martial art out there will teach you better kicking skills and how to use legs in a fight than TKD. This doesn’t mean that kickboxing is bad by any means, but its kicks are simply not as versatile.

The founders of Taekwondo believed that legs are the longest weapon one can use in a fight and can cause the most damage. Since day one, the emphasis of the art has been on kicks while punches are often seen as a secondary weapon. Most of the time, students learn how to execute fast and precise kicks from all ranges and angles. They are masters in this aspect of martial arts and no one could come even close to their kicking level. Techniques consist of various jumping, spinning, and other types of kicks. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Tornado kick
  • Axe Kick
  • Side kick
  • Back kick
  • Front Snap kick

Kickboxing also teaches you good kicking skills but it’s not as versatile as Taekwondo. 

Which One is Better for MMA?

Kickboxing is better than Taekwondo for MMA fighting because it is a more versatile style that fits better within the rules of cage fighting. It trains you how to use kicks and punches to fight at all ranges, while Taekwondo focuses too much on kicks and point fighting. This doesn’t mean that TKD is bad, in fact, some elements work really well in MMA. But kickboxing is much better.

When it comes to striking, MMA is a sport where fighters exchange strikes at distance, close range or in the clinch using all limbs. This is where kickboxing plays a big role because it teaches you just that. Each technique you learn in kickboxing works really well in MMA fighting.

The biggest downside is, you won’t learn how to grapple or fight on the ground. But when it comes to the standup aspect, kickboxing is close to ideal for MMA.

Taekwondo is too one-dimensional for MMA where fighters use all limbs as weapons to strike, grapple, or fight on the ground. Yes, the kicks you learn work really well but the lack of advanced hand strikes is why kickboxing is a better option.

Taekwondo vs Kickboxing: Which One is Right for me?

Which one is right for you really comes down to your personal preference, and what you want to achieve with your training. The best way is to attend a trial class in both schools and see which one is better for you.

Kickboxing should be your choice if you want to learn self-defense or shift to MMA later. It is a complete striking style that will teach you advanced punches, kicks, and how to mix them together. Training includes a lot of sparring, which is good for both MMA and self-defense.

Taekwondo is better if you want to learn the best kicking techniques, basic punches, break boards, become flexible and get in top shape. Depending on the style you choose to train in, you will learn effective self-defense tactics that might help you get out of trouble. But overall, you will spend most of the time learning how to fight under the rules, score points and win matches.