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Taekwondo in a Street Fight: Effective for Self-defense?

Before taking up a martial arts class, you might want to consider what your intended objective is. Do you want to do martial arts to get fit and lose weight, or do you want to learn to defend yourself in an unexpected attack? Many people considering Taekwondo wonder if the art will get them fit as well as fighting fit. I did a bit of research into the effectiveness of Taekwondo in a real fight to find out for myself. 

Knowing taekwondo can be useful during a real (street) fight. Although taekwondo is not specifically designed for a street fight, it can be, to a certain degree, an effective way of self-defense in one. Taekwondo teaches students several fighting techniques, including kicking, agile footwork, dodging, punching, blocking, among others.

For many, Taekwondo is about sport, health, and self-improvement. However, taekwondo as a martial art is intended to be a way of self-defense, therefore, it can prove useful if you are caught in the middle of a real fight.

With that being mentioned, just because a martial art or sport looks like it is a “fighting art” that would make a practitioner invincible in a fight, it does not mean that it actually is. While Taekwondo looks like a highly aggressive practice, some people might argue that it does not serve the fighter very well in an unexpected “no-rules” street fight. If you want to find more about this, read on.

Was Taekwondo Ever Supposed to be a Self-Defense Practice?

If you do a bit of online reading – and I have – you will find that many people criticize Taekwondo in terms of self-defense. Then, there’s the other side arguing that the information on Taekwondo put out there is confusing because they believe that Taekwondo was intended for self-defense. And my research proves that that very well may be true. In fact, traditional Taekwondo was developed as a form of combat and was intended for use in military combat. 

There are some big names in the traditional Taekwondo world, such as Nam Tae Hi, who was famous for being a lethal Taekwondo practitioner. Nowadays, the Taekwondo that students learn in schools and classes is not like the few Taekwondo styles that are still highly focused on self-defense as well as sport and competition. If you are interested in investigating these styles, you’ll find value in looking up Jhoon Rhee Taekwondo, ITF Style Taekwondo, and Chun Kuk Do Taekwondo. 

What are the Differences Between Martial Arts & Self-Defense classes?

There are fairly significant differences between martial arts and self-defense classes, but sometimes the lines are blurred, because they seem so similar, or because the general public just does not know the difference. Below are a few of the differences between martial arts such as Taekwondo and self-defense classes.

Traditions & Ceremony

Taekwondo is a form of martial arts that focuses on observing and respecting traditions and ceremonies, whereas self-defense practices are not. 

When you sign up for a martial arts class, you will be taught to bow when entering and leaving the practice area, you will be taught great respect for your Master/Instructor, and you will learn the ancient history of the art, so that you can understand the meaning behind the stances, movements, and techniques. 

In self-defense, you are taught to protect yourself by means of violence. There is no history to learn – the main objective is to prevent an attacker from overcoming you, as well as to get away as quickly as possible.

Rules & Regulations

Self-defense does not focus on a set of rules, whereas martial arts such as Taekwondo do.

This is quite a notable difference as the rules of martial arts, which are drilled into a student over many years, become second nature. When you are consistently taught that you can only kick and punch in certain body zones, you will not be able to think quickly in a fight situation to put those rules aside and defend yourself. 

Self-defense practices do not teach students rules. They teach useful techniques. The only thing that they drill into them is to do what it takes to ensure survival.

Way of Life vs. Violence

Martial arts is focused on teaching a way to apply the art to your everyday life, whereas self-defense is focused on violence and self-protection. 

When you learn a martial art, you are not simply taught defensive and aggressive moves and stances. You are taught an art that helps you to express yourself. You are also taught about a life philosophy and a belief system. When it comes to self-defense, there is no focus on any of these things. 

Self-defense is designed to teach people how to use violence, or defense techniques in various attacks include robberies, muggings, attempted rapes, and so on. 

Fighting Style (Intended Outcomes)

Martial arts classes such as Taekwondo will not teach you to continue to fight against all odds. 

In a self-defense class, you are taught to keep fighting regardless of if you are hurt. In many instances, self-defense classes are far tougher than martial arts in terms of mental focus and drive.

The difference between martial arts (such as Taekwondo) and self-defense, in short, is that the first is more about a way of life and a philosophy, whereas self-defense is about using violence to your advantage. In a martial art setting, fights are against just one opponent and are organized and controlled, whereas, in self-defense, students are exposed to multiple attackers at the same time and must also learn to deal with modern weapons.

Why Taekwondo Might Not Be Considered Self-Defense

Still, knowing all of this, when you watch Taekwondo, you might believe that it will be good in a self-defense situation. The art places a lot of emphasis on powerful kicks, and because the legs are longer and typically stronger than the arms, they can be great weapons in a fight. That being said, you would have to be fairly quick on your feet, especially as street fights are typically unfair and unexpected. 

Below are a few of the reasons why Taekwondo might not be considered a self-defense practice. 

  • Self-defense practices do not include sport and ceremony like martial arts practices, such as Taekwondo do. Self-defense classes aren’t teaching students a way of life. They are teaching students to survive. Taekwondo teaches students life betterment and new life philosophy, which actually goes against violence.
  • In Taekwondo, students are taught certain moves and techniques based on the expected and predetermined moves (allowed) presented by the opponent. For every kick, there is a certain type of block, for instance. Self-defense classes teach students to react in all types of situations, even unexpected ones. A victim will never know what the attacker is going to do as they aren’t “playing” by any set of rules.
  • Taekwondo is fragmented in that it aims at teaching students a variety of forms and drills. These increase fitness, overall strength, and duration, but very rarely will students know how to apply the drills and techniques on a resisting opponent. A practitioner might, therefore, find himself baffled as to what to do when confronted with kicks and punches that don’t follow the set rules of Taekwondo.

Advantages of Taekwondo Over Self-Defense

Just because Taekwondo might not be that effective in a real fight, it does not mean that it can’t be useful in a street fight. It just means that Taekwondo students are, usually, taught to react in situations that wouldn’t be the norm in a street fight. Below are a few things that Taekwondo students are privileged to that self-defense students aren’t:


In Taekwondo, both opponents know that there is going to be a fight, and this can do a great deal for someone’s fighting confidence, as well as emotions. Unfortunately, in an attack on the street, opponents – at least one of them – does not know that there is a fight coming up. 

The ability to concede or decline to a fight.

In Taekwondo, students do not have to fight an opponent. They actually agree to it before it happens. In an attack where self-defense is required, there is no option but to fight.

Proper preparation

In self-defense, students are always taught to be alert and prepared, but that is not always easy to do. In Taekwondo, fights and sparring are quite controlled and students are taught to prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally at least a few months before the fight. 

Rules that control the fight

In Taekwondo, opponents fight in short rounds of a few minutes each. There is a referee to make sure nothing “unfair” or “illegal” happens, and there are no weapons used. Self-defense students are not given the same convenience. They can be attacked at any time, there is no time limit to how long or how severe the attack can be, and their opponent can be carrying any type of weapon. 

In closing

If you are looking for a martial art that doubles as a great form of self-defense, Taekwondo might not be the best option. If you are looking for a martial art that increases fitness, stamina, and general health while helping you to improve as an individual at the same time, the competitive sport of Taekwondo is for you.