is taekwondo useless?


Critics often say that Taekwondo is useless as a martial art.

“All they do is teach kicking” a critic might say.


“Taekwondo is useless in mixed martial arts.” another critic might say.

Now you can imagine, being one of the world’s most popular martial arts, there’s bound to be critics and haters.

Taekwondo has gotten quite the rap sheet over the years as being ineffective as a martial art.

But are these criticisms valid points?

Or is Taekwondo receiving an unfair amount of flak?

In this article, I will discuss whether or not Taekwondo is useless as a martial art, as least in my eyes.

What Are Your Goals?

If we try to define what your goals are for learning Taekwondo then we can better examine whether or not Taekwondo is useless or not?

While Taekwondo may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are certain benefits to learning it depending on what your goals are.

Weight Loss and Exercise

If your just looking to lose weight and improve your cardiovascular fitness then no, I would argue that Taekwondo is not useless, in fact it may be one of the better forms of exercise out there instead of sitting on your ass riding a bike at the gym or jogging on the treadmill.

You can expect to burn somewhere around 752 calories an hour doing taekwondo.

Now compare this to running on the treadmill at 5 mph for 30 minutes for a 185 lb person who only burns 355 calories.

Taekwondo clearly comes out ahead.

Not only will you be burning more calories per an hour of exercise, you will also be working more muscle groups as well instead of just your lower body muscle groups.

Self Defense

jumping side kick

This is a grey area because a lot of schools do not actually teach their students a lot of self defense techniques but instead focus on the sporting aspect of Taekwondo.

If your lucky and locate an old school teacher that studied Taekwondo from one of the kwans then you’ll probably get more of a chance of learning these self defense techniques.

My first Taekwondo instructor was an old woman that studied at one of the kwans (Jidokwan) and therefore was pretty old school in her teachings.

Rather then spending hours every week learning how to kick pads or those fancy taekwondo kicks that you see all the time during demonstrations or tournaments, we were taught self defense techniques and proper good form for everything.

Learning where all the vital points were and how to break someone’s arm and leg were all techniques that were taught in class.

Later on, when I moved away, I found myself a new TKD school near my house.

This school was the complete opposite of my first school.

The instructor focused more on the fitness aspect of Taekwondo along with a bit of olympic style sparring thrown in.

Classes focused a lot on kicking pads, and doing those Olympic taekwondo kicks such as throwing various roundhouse kicks in succession one after another while going towards your opponent.

While the class was fun, I really wished the instructor would teach more of the old school self defense techniques so that we could learn how to defend ourselves.

When it comes to self defense, I would argue that its a mixed bag.

If we are just dealing with your average Joe from every day live, then I would say that Taekwondo Practitioners do in fact have a leg up against them and can defend against them providing that they have their techniques down pat and don’t study at a Mcdojo (more on this later).

This means keeping a good distance from your opponent so that they can’t try and take you down to the ground, learning how to quickly recoil your kicks back as to not give your opponent an opportunity to grab a hold of it, and knowing when and how to deliver relatively well timed kicks in vital areas to take down your opponent. There’s also the psychological aspect of it as well.

Your everyday layman may just psych themselves up after seeing you throw a few flashy kicks around.

Now when it comes to someone with more of a fighting background, it can be a hit or a miss.

Provided that the Taekwondo student has learned proper self defense techniques and isn’t afraid of applying them then I do think they could come out on top during a street fight against other fighters some of the time. This means going for the throat, gouging of the eyes, striking in the groin, applying pressure to joints, all techniques that would have been taught at a respectable tkd school during a self defense class.

At the end of the day, I do believe that it really depends on the person and where they studied.

Although Taekwondo doesn’t place as much emphasize on punching as it should, its kicks are one of the most lethal out there.

Mixed Martial Arts Competition

mixed martial arts match

I believe this is where Taekwondo gets most of its bad rep.

Back in the early days of the UFC where multiple disciplines of martial arts competed including Taekwondo, you would often times see these so called “Taekwondo” practitioners get easily dominated and defeated.

However, the only problem is these Taekwondo “experts” barely even used any Taekwondo at all during the tournaments and instead turned it into a slugfest with their fists or grappling with their opponent.

A good example of this is Patrick Smith, a 3rd degree black belt in Taekwondo who competed in the UFC back in the early days.

In nearly all of his fights, he barely exhibited even an ounce of Taekwondo.

Instead, you see him choking his opponents, wrestling with them, or beating the crap out of them with his fists and elbows while on the ground.

In addition, a lot of the times, matches in mixed martial arts do not allow a lot of self defense techniques that are taught in Taekwondo or most traditional martial arts.

Things like going for the eyes, groin, throat, any sort of short joint locks are completely ruled out of competition.

Also you aren’t allowed to kick a downed opponent in a lot of these tournaments, whereas on the streets its all fair game.

This makes the environment much more favorable towards grapplers and now you end up playing by their rules.

This acts as a sort of handicap for traditional martial arts strikers and taken together, this renders a lot of the techniques of Taekwondo useless in a competition.

Another point I also want to address is the element of surprise for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and grapplers back in the early days of the UFC or any mixed martial arts tournament.

Up until that point, not a lot of of people around the world were ever exposed to these grappling types of martial arts so when they were applied during these early UFC tournaments, often times their opponents were surprised and caught off guard, not knowing how to defend against these submissions and take downs.

However as time passed, we started to see more strikers dominate the sport or at least have more of a mixed striking and grappling background.

Great examples of this are Anderson Silva who pretty much cleaned up his whole division for nearly a decade. He is a 5th degree black belt in Taekwondo among other martial arts disciplines.

You can sometimes even see him applying Taekwondo moves during matches to subdue opponents.

Then there’s Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović who was one of the most feared strikers during his Pride days and absolutely demolished most of his opponents. He started off his martial arts journey studying Taekwondo.

Despite these handicapps that mixed martial arts organizations have in place, Taekwondo when combined with other various styles of striking such as Muay Thai and kickboxing can actually be very effective and lethal during competition.

However when used solely by itself, there are a few weaknesses inherent in its style.

Lack of Punching Taught

Is Taekwondo useless? Yes because there's no punching taught

I believe this is one of the true weaknesses of Taekwondo at least with the WTF style (World Taekwondo Federation).

The ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) style places a bit more emphasize on punching and you do see them using it during competitions, although I still think it is an inferior form of punching compared to other styles that focus more on punches such as boxing or Muay Thai.

When you watch an ITF sparring match, the types of punches being thrown look quite comical and sloppy compared to punches from a boxer or Muay Thai fighter. Speed rather then technique and form are preferred to score points.

In Taekwondo classes, a heavy emphasize is placed on kicking instead of punching.

What this does is make the student one dimensional.

They are excellent at kicking but suck at punching and everything else in between.

Some of this may be due to the sporting aspect being so heavily shoved down students throats though.

I mean come on, what school wouldn’t want to be bragging that they trained Olympic gold medalist tkd champions?

It would be great for business and exposure.

In sport Taekwondo, especially the WTF style, more points are awarded for head kicks compared to punches.

In fact, not a lot of points are awarded for punches at all.

Hence why you see a lot of Taekwondo practitioners solely focusing on kicking.

Lack of Grappling Taught

This is another weakness present in Taekwondo.

There’s hardly any if at all grappling being taught in a Taekwondo class.

Instead you would need to show up to one of the other martial arts classes being taught in conjunction with Taekwondo such as Hapkido.

Without proper instruction on how to defend against take downs, submissions or even to apply those techniques to an attacker, it leaves many Taekwondo fighters clueless in these situations.

This was one of the reasons why Taekwondo fighters struggled a lot in the early days of mixed martial arts and were easily taken down.

They simply did not have an answer to defend against take downs and submissions.

Poor Quality Instruction From Mcdojos

Is Taekwondo useless? Only if you go to a mcdojo

To further add insult to injury, the Taekwondo discipline is plagued with crappy schools that offer poor quality instruction and only focus on making as much money as possible from their students.

These schools are collectively termed “McDojos”.

You may have come across some of these schools where you meet 10-12 year old kids that are 2nd degree black belts yet can’t even throw a proper roundhouse kick if their life depended on it.

Rather then having to earn their ranks and belts, students purchase them from the masters.

I remember encountering a few of these students that came from Mcdojos when they switched over to my school.

There was one case of a kid that was no more than 10 years old who was already a 2nd degree black belt yet knew absolutely nothing.

I remember his grandfather complaining to the instructor that his previous school taught his grandson absolutely nothing and that’s why they switched schools.

Now while there are some quality schools out there on the market, the unfortunate situation is that a lot of schools are simply not qualified to be teaching students due to the instructor also not being a very skilled practitioner nor teacher themselves.

What you get then are tonnes of schools pumping out “black belts” that are in reality only yellow or blue belts, who gives the student the false sense of security in their abilities.

Useful for Transitioning to Other Striking Martial Arts

Now while so far I have been mainly pointing out all of the drawbacks of Taekwondo, there are some positives associated with learning Taekwondo.

Taekwondo is a great starting martial arts for people interested in developing solid striking fundamentals, especially in kicking.

Assuming you pick a good quality school, you will be able to learn and develop the proper kicking mechanics as well as footwork for striking.

This can come in quite handy later on if you want to transition into another striking martial art such as kickboxing.

You will be able to quickly pick up techniques much quicker compared to someone starting out fresh learning that martial art.

Take for example, a lot of mixed martial arts figures that come from grappling or even just mixed martial arts backgrounds.

When you watch them strike, its an absolute joke because they never developed the proper striking fundamentals.

Instead they think that just because they spent a few months learning a few punches and kicks that it makes them worthy of going toe to toe with an experienced striker often to their own detriment.

An example of this would be Ronda Rousey who decided it was a good idea to go up against the more experienced striker Amanda Nunes and got destroyed.

A lot of the fighters that do very well in K1 come from Taekwondo backgrounds.

Guys like Peter Aerts, Maurice Smith, Branko Cikatić, all had Taekwondo backgrounds that helped them in the sport.

While Taekwondo may not be the best striking martial art out there on the planet, it does play a vital role in helping someone establish a solid base,especially in kicking that can later be applied in other striking martial arts.

Used as a Compliment To Other Martial arts

Is Taekwondo useless? not if you use it to compliment another martial arts

Most mixed martial artists that you encounter nowadays don’t just utilize one martial arts during competition but a multiple of different styles.

Judo, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling for grappling and submissions, Muay Thai, Boxing, Taekwondo, Karate for striking and everything else in between.

Now while Taekwondo by itself may not yield the best results when it comes to active competition especially in mixed martial arts, when it is combined with a few other martial arts, it can become quite deadly.

Numerous people have been knocked out cold by spinning back kicks, spinning hook kicks, even jumping round house kicks in active competition.

Anderson Silva has developed quite the reputation in the octagon for being an amazing striker that can apply multiple striking techniques to his opponents from a variety of martial arts including Taekwondo, Boxing, and Muay Thai.

Without having some of these backgrounds under his belt, I would argue that he wouldn’t be the same person in the ring.


With everything taken together do I think Taekwondo is completely useless?

No I don’t believe so.

Taekwondo is a great form of cardiovascular exercise and beats running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike any day of the work.

Its also a good martial arts to build a solid foundation that can be used to transition to another striking martial art later on down the line.

In addition, it can be useful as a compliment to other martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Boxing, making you a much more well rounded fighter.

However, Taekwondo does have some flaws.

These include the lack of punching and grappling techniques being taught in class, the questionable teaching quality of a lot of schools just focused on making money rather then teaching, and of course a heavy focus on competing in sports Taekwondo rather then the self defense aspect of Taekwondo that was taught in the past.

Taekwondo taken by itself is a incomplete system that should be complimented with other martial arts to make up for its drawbacks, however it is still a great starting martial art for anyone to begin their martial arts journey.

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  • Reply
    David Joubert
    July 29, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    I see a lot of good points in your piece and it’s a pretty fair-minded and balanced account. I will focus on where I disagree a bit, from the perspective of someone who has practiced TKD (ITF style) and other martial arts as well.

    1. Weight loss and exercise: The figure you provided wouldn’t apply to all or most TKD classes, but only when kicking drills and sparring are emphasized. A lot of TKD classes incorporate forms, which is a lot less intense forms of exercise. So I think the figure may be a bit misleading. TKD also doesn’t do much for upper body fitness, as there is almost no punching used.

    2. Self-defense: The crucial point here lies in how realistic the training is, and what kind of movements are being repeated. Self defense situations are stressful and higher cognitive processes are shut down, meaning that what is relied upon is what has been trained repeatedly to become reflex-like (does not require too much conscious decision-making). TKD classes involve some self-defense training but none of it is natural since what is mostly being drilled is impractical and inefficient kicking techniques. So the usefulness of most techniques involved in TKD is likely to be very low. Their grappling “joint manipulation” techniques are low percentage moves because real fighting is too fast and chaotic, and the targets for these techniques are too small. Don’t rely on what the instructor is demonstrating in class, giving the impression that they know what they are doing, because that stuff would not work so easily in real-life situations. The majority of traditional martial arts are ineffective and downright dangerous in real life fights because they give a false impression of security. If you want to learn self defense, train in a way that is as close to real fighting as possible. Krav Maga would be a much better fit IMO. Brazilian JJ is also street-proven and effective. Wrestling is also useful, or something like Sambo.

    3. MMA: All successful MMA fighters train in the core disciplines of wrestling, kickboxing/Muay Thai, and submissions grappling. Early TKD training may be somewhat helpful in terms of developing core athleticism, proprioception, spatial awareness, speed, etc. But then again, so are gymnastics. At a certain level TKD becomes irrelevant. I don’t ever recall a fighter using TKD-specific techniques to win fights. Head kicks, spinning kicks, etc are not TKD specific. Patrick Smith was a high-level K1 fighter so he is not primarily a TKD guy. Same for Bas Rutten. TKD advocates who think olympic contests are “fighting” always make a big deal of MMA fighters having some background in TKD but the reality is that it takes very little place in their skill set. It doesn’t mean it “useless” same as Parkour training wouldn’t be useless.

    4. Transition to other martial arts: If the goal is self-defense or actual fighting, then yes I would suggest that TKD people transition to other martial arts, and do so as soon as possible. They don’t need TKD for striking fundamentals and it will give them very bad habits that are hard to break: letting hands down, hyperactive bouncing up and down, grabbing-and-wait until referee breaks up and restart the bout, etc. Even their kicking fundamentals are wrong, for instance using the foot to strike rather than the shin in roundhouse kicks. This will get you a broken foot if you don’t use padding and the opponent is using elbows to block.

    That’s what comes to mind. There’s a good interview with Joe Rogan on youtube in which he goes into what is essentially wrong with TKD… Must watch…

    • Reply
      August 5, 2021 at 1:09 am

      Thanks for stopping by David!

      As with all things, there are always a lot of variables to account for in martial arts, such as the lesson plan of the instructor, philosophy of instructor, their martial arts background and which style you are learning (WTF, ITF, etc.) etc. Some schools emphasize and focus more on the sport aspect of tkd which will involve a lot of kicking drills, sparring, etc while others make focus more on the self-defense or forms aspect, so you’re mileage will vary depending on the school. I have studied at several different schools myself and one in particular was very focused on the fitness aspect which involved a lot of high-intensity drills during the class a lot with a lot of upper body work such as push-ups and punching. Another one was very old school and focused a lot on self-defense techniques which was very practical for everyday use. It really depends on the school.

      There were also a few MMA fighters I recall that had TKD backgrounds and used some of the techniques during their fights such as Anderson Silva, Edson Barboza.

      I will have a listen to that interview with Joe Rogan when time permits, thanks!


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