Thursday, 6 December 2012

Is Taekwondo really a "kicking art"?

I was going through all the Kukkiwon Poomsae the other day and suddenly it hit me. I no longer compete activly in the WTF sanctioned events where kicks are just about the only way of getting points, so my training in Taekwondo (not including strength, stamina etc) is centered mainly around basics, poomsae, matchoe kyorugi and ho sin sul drills (this includes practical application of poomsae). What hit me is that we are always looked upon as a kicking art from both other martial arts and people outside the martial arts, but if we take away our competition format of fighting we are left with an art that is very much centered on the use of the arms.

Think about it a little, you do Taegeuk Il (1) Jang and kick 2 times, one kick per leg, but the whole Poomsae consists of 18 poom (counts)....

Look at this table:

  • Il (1) Jang: 16 arm techniques and 2 foot techniques
  • I (2) Jang: 18 arm techniques and 5 foot techniques
  • Sam (3) Jang: 25 arm techniques and 6 foot techniques
  • Sa (4) Jang: 20 arm and 6 foot
  • Oh (5) Jang: 25 arm and 7 foot
  • Yeok (6) Jang: 22 arm and 8 foot
  • Chil (7) Jang: 19 arm and 4-6 foot (counting knees)
  • Pal (8) Jang: 15 arm and 5 foot
Do these forms convey a kicking art? The arm-foot ratio is so great that you could easily say that the Taekwondo that our Poomsae convey is anything but a kicking art. The Poomsae convey an art that relies heavily on the use of ones arms and not the legs. The wast majority of the kicks that are performed in these Poomsae are the most basic kick of them all the front kick (ap chagi), wich also support the "Poomsae Taekwondo" being a Martial Art very unlike the popular perception of Taekwondo as a primary kicking art.

So where does the kicking come in? Many will say that most of our kicking techniques are trained not in Poomsae but in Basic Technique training instead (one more reason why one should not neglect the different aspects of training). Well the Kukkiwon does make it very clear that there are 14 basic "techniques" or templates that one need to master before getting the black belt so I looked it up in the Kukkiwon Textbook to see just how many of these 14 techniques that were kicks and how many of them where arm techniques. The answer is this: Arm templates: 11, foot templates :3 ! Do not get me wrong there are tons and tons of kicks listed as being "Taekwondo kicks" but in the section of the basic movements that needs to be mastered to black belt is only 3 kinds of kicks... They are:
  • Ap Chagi (Front kick)
  • Yeop Chagi (Side kick)
  • Dollyo Chagi (Round(house) kick) 
All the other movements were arm techniques... So what does this mean?  Well people going to a traditional school with little or no emphasis on competition seeking a flamboyant kicking art are going to be suprised and not in a good way (well for those seeking "flamboyant". at least). Others might be pleasently suprised.

The Matchoe Kyorugi are not so much better in terms of arms vs foot techniques. Even here the arms are used a lot more than the foot, eventhough we do have our one steps foot sparring.

The reason why the arms are used so much more than the feet in basics, forms and predetermined sparring? It is a catalog of "old school" Taekwondo, from when Taekwondo was a Martial Art and not a Martial Sport. The Taegeuk Poomsae Series where made in the early 70s long before Taekwondo would become an Olympic sport. Matchoe Kyorigi are likewise and old training format going back to the 1930s Japanese Karate. I often wonder what would happen with a Dojang if they really threw out the whole competition setting alltogether and focused on teaching the art like it is conveyed through our Poomsae and Matchoe Kyorigi? If Ho Sin Sul again comes around and takes it rightfull place in our training then it would make for a rather well rounded Martial Art and a long way indeed from a Martial Sport..

PS: I am NOT critizising the "Taekwondo players" out there focusing on competition sparring. I think that competition has its place in Taekwondo, BUT I often feel for many the competition aspect steals away a lot of training time as most people do not start Taekwondo for becoming a high ranking athlete in sports but to get good excersise, self defense skills and maybe they are seeking a body-mind training method (wich is what traditional Taekwondo is).

I wish you all good training


  1. As time goes by in the era of information, the light will be spread and seen by all!
    Congrats for another great article! I even feel jealous now! I'm no longer the only who sees those things among my friends, because I'm sharing all of your articles! :D
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have.

  3. May I have permission to use the photo which appears with this article

    1. It's not my photo:-) I asked the webpage that I got it from if it was ok to use it, and they let me do it. This was back in 2012 though, and that page is long gone.