Taekwondo - an effective form of self defence

Taekwon-do - an effective form of self defence?

          1. Introduction

There is as much need to develop confidence in today's younger generations as there has ever been, if not more so. The speed at which the world operates, the speed at which messages, opinions and accusations spread around schools, workplaces, towns, and cities is immense, such is the power of the internet.

It's no surprise therefore that the scourge of bullying continues to thrive. This combined with a growing wave of unprovoked attacks in cities, train and tram stations means the need for self defence is greater than ever.

Those deciding to take some action to develop self defence skills will be confronted with a range of different options. When my kids were growing up we landed ultimately on Taekwon-do. 

However, when reading the internet today you could be forgiven for thinking that most martial arts are generally ineffective in self defence situations. In short the martial arts are charged with being more style over substance, or suitable for sports sparring type situations but not for use in a real conflict situation.

2. Criteria to judge

When I was considering how to keep my kids safe by equipping them with self defence skills I considered whether they would be taught to:
    1. prevent or avoid conflict situations,
    2. have the confidence to stand their ground in a conflict situation, and lastly
    3. if there's no other option, to be equipped with physical skills to deal with the situation.
Taking each of these points in turn.

Prevent or avoid conflict situations

There are many different options to learn self defence, ranging from boxing & wrestling classes; specialist self defence techniqes classes; emerging disciplines such as Krav Maga; and finally a plethora of different martial arts classes.

Following my initial review I separated the activities into martial arts and non martial arts. You see the main difference a martial arts class generally offers is that it starts with a philosophy and a discipline. Irrespective of which particular Art you choose, pretty much without exception you will find a historic backdrop which educates students into developing their skill with a mindset that physical force should always be a last resort.

Our chosen martial art was Taekwon-do. It was very clear from the outset that:

There is a Taekwon-do Oath. Amongst other things it calls out a promise to be respectful and never misuse the skills you will learn. This is an oath often repeated at the start of many classes as a reminder that the skills that will be learned are indeed very powerful (more on that later).

Within the Oath there is a reference to observing the tenets of Taekwon-do. In other words the values you will use to define yourself when practicing Taekwon-do and more generally in life. There are 5 of them and they include Self Control.

The point is that whilst I wanted my kids to be safe and be able to defend themselves, I did not want them to be learn self defence skills without understanding that they were only to be used in exceptional circumstances. The Martial Arts in general covered off this base very well, and Taekwon-do did so emphatically.

3. Confidence to stand your ground
Major General Shin Won Bae of the Blue Dragons – ROK Marine Division wrote:
“While Taekwon-do demonstrated its practical effectiveness on the battlefield, more importantly, martial arts training instilled the confidence to defeat the enemy in each Marine. I think this is the greater significance of Taekwon-do training."

General Shin notes: “For the US marine Corps which will encounter battlefields in various countries in the war against terrorism, Taekwon-do training on a regular basis is advisable.

Taekwon-do is a modern day martial art, whilst it's roots can be traced back to Karate and in turn ancient and ferocious samurai warriors, the reality is that it was largely developed as a complete self defence system after 1955, and the syllabus and style was not completed in it's current day format until the 1980's.

As a system of self defence it is battle ground proven, having evolved on the killing fields of Vietnam and in the Korean War in the 50's. (more on this later).

As a modern day system it has at it's some important parts which provide a strong scientific basis for the effectiveness of the techniques.  This in turn provides the student with confidence that the techniques will work in practice. The parts I would highlight are as follows:

Theory of power

Taekwon-do is based on Newtons Law of Kinetic energy. Without getting too technical Newton prove that Kinetic energy (or in other words power, when applied to energy through a fist or foot), can be summed up with a simple formula. This formula highlights the fact that increasing speed of technique is the most effective thing you can do to improve your power.

The entire design of the Taekwon-do self defence system is based on how you can increase speed in the application of techniques. For example, a standard system of self defence might show you how to block a punch and then launch a counter attack – perhaps punch the opponent back. A Taekwon-do instructor will show you that if you grab an attackers arm to block a punch and then pull them towards you as you punch them back, you will create more power and therefore be more effective.
      Understanding the body
Whilst generating all of this extra power is helpful, it's also key to ensure that any force used is proportionate to the threat you receive. Students need to avoid getting into a situation where they either hurt themselves by using an inappropriate attack to a given target area, or indeed cause lasting damage to their opponent. To do so may well cause the Student to end up in hot water.

Taekwon-do instructors have a full understanding of the different parts of the body, which areas have weaknesses irrespective of size or stature of an opponent, and what attack to use against these. 

For example, in the section above in which we describe a punch it is unlikely an instructor would advocate punching to the head. Rather they are likely to encourage you to punch to the solar plexus or sternum which are relatively soft but also flexible. 

The opponent would be severely winded and unable to continue, thus allowing you to move away, but there is unlikely to be any lasting damage. Furthermore, the technique is simple and since it relies on speed can be learned and applied effectively pretty quickly. 

Other techniques relying on the development of mass or muscle cannot be achieved overnight and still rely on you being able to out muscle the opponent.

Range of techniques and application

There are a huge range of different “vital spots” on the body so a system which shows you how to use different “attacking tools” which are appropriate for the various vital spots is important. 

Taekwon-do identifies around 50 key vital spots and has in excess of 250 variations of techniques which can be used to deal with different options. This is important because until a situation presents itself, you will not know which viral spots are accessible for an attack.

Structured syllabus

Finally, self defence benefits if it has a structured syllabus. In other words, there are some simple techniques which can be used by anyone irrespective of physical shape. The techniques initially taught recognise this and are suitable for all comers to the Art. This means that you will learn practical techniques for everyday situations right away and then continue on your journey to add to your skills as your body develops in line.

The thoroughness of the design of the syllabus; the scientific basis of the Art; the study of the anatomy to understand vital spots ensure that the student can be confident that the system is based upon proven and effective logic.

4. Equipped with the physical skills

Of course all of this logic and theory is great but it helps to instil further confidence if there are examples of it being used in practice. 

It's fair to say that there is a great deal of evidence that is the case with Taekwon-do. In fact it is the back bone of military training in the US Army; Korean Army; used extensively in the RAF in the UK, a key part of the Malaysian army and used generally in many other defence forces around the world.

Taekwon-do came to maturity during the Korean War and was also deployed in the Vietnam War. A couple of exerts below from accomplished military personnel and onlookers will help illustrate the point.

The Battle of Tra Binh Dong Vietnam 1967

Lt Col James F Durand wrote article titled “The Battle of Tra Binh Dong and the      Korean origins of the US Marine Corops Martial Arts prgoramme"

Time Magazine - “It was knife to knife and hand to hand and in that sort of fighting the Koreans, with their deadly Taekwon-do are unbeatable. When the action stopped shortly after dawn 104 enemy bodies lay within the wire of them eviscerated or brained”

The Battle on Yongmun Mountain

Describes the efforts of Taekwon-do pioneer Nam Tae Hi to survive and his influence of the battle, writing:

In the dark... the only way to distinguish friend from foe was by grabbing at a head, because communists had crew cuts and South Koreans had slightly longer hair. In that trench, Nam felt short hair — almost bald — and he struck. His enemy fell.
...He could not use a bayonet and fought with his hands all night, thinking of nothing — no mind — stumbling through the dark, striking , kneeing, moving. When he fell, he would stand again. The next day, the communists retreated from the trenches …... during the retreat, Nam wandered to a spot where he had fought during the night before. He found many dead bodies and counted more than two dozen with no bullet or knife wounds.... Seeing the Chinese divisions weakened , all the South Koreans, including the main line ten kilometres away, counter-attacked and chased the communists over Yongmun Mountain. Thanks to Nam and his battalion, one Korean division backed by an American division defeated three communist division.

5. Summary

I read many comments throughout the internet regarding the ineffectiveness of martial arts in the street. The reality is that effectiveness of self defence is a function of the student, the instructor, and the system. 

The points above are made to illustrate that the system of Taekwon-do has the appropriate philosophy to ensure students are trained to use their techniques in only very limited circumstances, but when called upon they can be confident that the skills are based on years of research and have been tried and tested. 

Selecting a properly accredited school is therefore the main selection decision to make when choosing a school.  Within the selection of school, there are some who will focus on teaching the Art, and others on the Sports or sparring component of the art.  Those emphasising the sparring component are less likely to develop self defence skills and vice versa.


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