Tag Archives: taekwondo

How do roundhouse kicks work? Are they actually combat efficient?

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The roundhouse kick is a common kick seen in street fights, and for this reason lots of counters have been developed for it. So, it does work, it is effective, and easy to do compared to other kicks. It’s powerful (though not as powerful as the sidekick or back kick), but is the riskiest because it’s easy to trap.

Of the four beginning kicks, the roundhouse is the only kick that comes across the body. The others all strike directly. The roundhouse targets the side of the body or enemies in the fighting stance. This is part of what makes the roundhouse more visible than the other kicks. Your peripheral vision is great for noticing motion coming in on the edge of your vision, and circles are eye-catching. The roundhouse kick is an arc. Like all kicks, it’s one big body movement coming at you in flashing neon lights.

As a general rule, kicks are always riskier than punches. They’re reliant on speed and balance, and they come with obvious tells. Still, kicks are much more powerful than a punch, delivering more force at high speeds directly into the body. After all, with more risks come more rewards.

A single well placed kick can end a fight before it begins… if you can land it.

As for whether the roundhouse is combat efficient, that really depends on the individual and how limber they are. Cold kicks will punish you, pull your hamstrings, and wreck your legs if you’re not stretching on the regular. Your success with using kicks in combat is almost entirely dependent on your flexibility. When jumping into straight into a fight, you don’t get a time out for a five to ten minute warm up.

With that covered, let’s get down to the basics for the roundhouse.

The roundhouse is the second kick you’ll learn in most martial arts systems, after the front kick and before the sidekick. It relies on the rotational power of the hips to bring the leg across the body, striking with either the top or the ball of the foot. The attack comes on a diagonal, with points at either the head, stomach/ribs, or (in some variation) the legs/upper thigh. The structure of the roundhouse is as follows:

1) Beginning Stance:

Unlike the front kick which can be done from any forward facing, standing position, the roundhouse requires you be in a fighting stance.

A stance is a basic part of martial arts, but usually skipped over by Hollywood and beginners for strikes. Strikes are the big flashy moves that get attention because they are flashy. As with everything, the building blocks are often skipped.

Stances are what we call your “base” or how you set your body and your feet. Most martial arts disciplines will have a full set of stances from the front stance to the horse stance, and they will be referred to by different names. The fighting stance is easily recognizable. As it is the stance you’ll see everyone drop into on or off screen when they’re getting ready to fight.

The fighting stance is meant for basic defensive positioning, allowing you to move quickly. In Taekwondo, the fighting stance is one foot forward and the other foot is a step behind (about the width of your shoulders) on a diagonal. The back foot twists sideways roughly to a 45 degree angle, the front foot points forward. Your upper body turns on a diagonal following your back foot. Your hands clench to fists, and rise to your face. The hand over the front foot extends out, the other hand hovers beside your cheek. Your elbows come in, just inside the silhouette of your body. Your knees bend. Weight will adjust in a tilt slightly forward or slightly back depending on attack vector. The bouncing seen in sparring tournaments or boxing is meant to cover these weight shifts. In the fighting stance, you should never stand flat footed.

This is the basic protective stance for sparring. The It is more difficult to strike someone when the

Body Reader Note: Elbow, hand, upper body, and feet placement are all dead giveaways when someone doesn’t know what they’re doing. Failure begins with your feet. The hands especially, most beginners do not keep their hands far enough apart, their elbows come out too far from the body. Beginners will often leave the front foot flat on the ground with their weight unbalanced, slowing their reaction time.

On Weight Shifts: Leaning back generally means a kick as the upper body tilts backward
for balance when the leg extends. Forward for hands. Settled on the back
leg can also be a defensive posture, versus weight forward which is
more aggressive. You want to be on the balls of your feet because that means quicker response times.

2) Chamber

The chamber is the intermediary step between the fighting stance and the kick. This is when you lift your leg off the ground with knee bent. The transition between chamber and kick is where most of the classic mistakes happen. You chamber with either the front or back leg. For the roundhouse kick, the foot left on the ground twists on a ninety degree angle. Your foot to your body should form a perfect right angle. (This is why the roundhouse kick is easy, you only shift another forty-five degrees rather than the full 180 for the sidekick.) The knee is on a similar forty-five degree, ready to extend across the body.

The upper body doesn’t move that much with the roundhouse, unlike the sidekick where the whole upper body tilts onto a forty-five as the leg extends. It tilts ever so slightly to retain balance as you kick and your hips twist.

3) The Kick

As I said before, the roundhouse strikes horizontally or diagonally across the body. It is true to its name. It comes around in a circular motion. The leg extends and swings across/through the opponent’s body as the hips simultaneously twist. When done in a simultaneous motion, the supporting foot twists to a ninety degree angle at the same moment the hips turn over. The upper body tilts with the hips. The leg swings through.

If the hips don’t turn over, then the kick is what we call a “snap kick”. In the case of the roundhouse, this is a kick than snaps up off the knee on a forty-five degree diagonal. It is fast but without power, and usually performed with the front leg only.

Power comes from the hips. You can lay in as much speed as you like, but without turnover there’s no power. (Snap kicks find their best use as openers in point sparring.)

The second problem with most kicks is visualization. You don’t stop when you reach the enemy, you kick through them. This carries the impact and force further.

The roundhouse strikes with either the top of the foot or the ball of the foot. Ball of the foot requires you pull your toes back, or else you’ll break them. Top is the speed kick (light, fast), ball is the power kick (can break ribs). Top of the foot is generally only seen in sparring exercises when your feet are protected by pads, but it’s a good option when you’re wearing shoes and your toes can’t bend.

4) Recoil

This is the return to the chamber. After extension finishes, the leg snaps back out of danger. If your opponent doesn’t catch your leg in the moment before the full extension, they can still catch it after the fact. Quick recoil is as essential to a kick’s success as the extension. It’s also necessary to keep us from overextending.

After they’ve mastered the chamber and extension, beginners will often have difficulty with this step. It has all the same problems as the chamber, just going in the opposite direction. A good recoil is a sign of strong control over the leg.

5) Plant

Return to start or prepare for transition into the next kick. The leg comes down, plants itself on the floor, and the fighter is ready to either continue attacking or begin defending.

A poor plant means that you’ve now messed up your fighting stance. If the foot comes down in the wrong place, the stance becomes unbalanced. A stance that is either too wide or two shallow creates opportunities for your opponent to destabilize you and make it difficult to attack again without over extending.

Those are the steps of the roundhouse. Throw them all together and you’ve got the full kick. The roundhouse has a very specific usage in martial arts that makes it valuable. The purpose of the roundhouse is simple: it’s a kick built for striking an enemy who is also in a fighting stance.

When our bodies are turned on a diagonal our vitals are better protected than they are when we’re forward facing. It becomes difficult, or more risky for a direct forward strike to land. The roundhouse attacks in a circle, coming around from the side and on angle. It creates a new vector attack those protected vitals like the stomach.

This is why the roundhouse is a popular kick. It is simple, and effective at ghosting around the first, opening opposition. (It’s also easily blocked with both hands and legs, but that’s a story for another day.) However, this is not why Chuck Norris’ roundhouse became the stuff of legend.

Perhaps more so than the sidekick, the roundhouse is iconic in popular culture.
The roundhouse looks fantastic on film. 

It has a beautiful silhouette, it’s eye catching but also easy to follow. It looks more dynamic than most of the other basic kicks, and it’s simple. An actor you’ve only got three months to train before filming can learn the basics of this kick. They won’t look great, but no one can tell. It doesn’t require the same flexibility as the more advanced kicks like the axe kick. Nor does it require the finesse, balance, or control of the sidekick. It’s the sort of kick where general audiences can’t tell if the practitioner is new or their technique sucks, and blends easily with the stunt doubles. Audiences have a difficult time telling the difference between a kick with power and a kick without power.

The roundhouse is the most common kick seen in taekwondo tournaments, and very common in kickboxing for its speed. It is faster and easier than the front kick and the sidekick due to the twist necessary to throw the leg across the body. With the roundhouse, momentum will do most of the work for you. This is why it’s the most common kick to see untrained fighters attempt to mimic, and why it gets used on the streets.

It can be effective without much training, but that person can be totally screwed when paired against someone who knows what they’re doing. Due to it’s vector, the roundhouse is the easiest kick to catch. Whether it’s caught and hooked under the arm for a knee break or the full thing gets caught and lifted into a throw, it doesn’t matter. A poorly performed or unlucky roundhouse can really screw you over. The other problem is that the circular motion of the roundhouse makes it the least camouflaged by the body and the easiest to see coming.

So, yes, the roundhouse can be combat efficient. They’re also dependent on your ability to follow through the steps on rough terrain where friction is not amenable to foot twists. They come with obvious tells for when the kick is about to happen, and there are a lot of counters developed to deal with them.

Whether coming or going, for one side or the other, the roundhouse has the potential to wreck your day.

 -Michi

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Are you differentiating between a Thai style cut kick and a TKD style? Are you lumping both under roundhouse?

And obviously target selection is huge. Common peroneal thigh vs side of waist, for instance. Or brachial plexus.

Low TKD roundhouse kicks below the belt are usually feints with a switchover to strike high in the same action, they combine into a double kick.

I tend to put the Thai kicks in their own separate category from the general roundhouse because the hip movement (specifically turning over to go downwards instead of lateral, which makes sense given the stabilizing foot stays mostly pointed forward), rotation, foot placement, and points of contact are all different. The Thai cut kick has its own name, it’s separate from the roundhouse though they’re visually similar… I guess? The traditional roundhouse will have difficulty targeting the legs due it’s chamber, which is the Thai kicks’ specialty. I understand the confusion, the snap kick version of the TKD roundhouse that is mostly seen in sparring doesn’t move the front leg much but it also lacks turnover. You lift the knee in a front kick chamber and strike on an upward diagonal rather than horizontal. It’s a point sparring kick rather than a combat kick. Thai kicks can be used at much closer ranges with hip turnover, which you know.

Still, we’re getting into the variant ranges of kicks that are visually similar (I guess?) but very different in execution. There’s more than three different versions of the TKD roundhouse. The one I’m talking about is the roundhouse you see on television, the general roundhouse. This is the basic martial arts roundhouse with slight, minor variations between styles from TKD to Shotokan. It’s going to be the most recognizable to the widest audience.

The Thai kicks are unique, even in comparison to modern kickboxing with the way they move. The major difference between Muay Thai kicks and kicks from other martial styles is the range at which they function, which you know. Thai kicks work in the hand range versus the traditional kick range. Plus, the option to strike with the shin.

Krav Maga is the same way, it’s a different kick.

Muay Thai is a creature all it’s own, and deservedly so. In twenty years (or less) do its proliferation in the West and adoption in MMA/Hollywood, it’s going to have it’s own recognizable and famous version. That’s probably going to be one of the versions of the low kick that utilizes the shin.

Roundhouse tends be used as a catchall for lots of martial arts kicks, including kicks that have nothing to do with each other. I went with the generic. If I was doing the straight TKD kick, I’d mention the variety of different chambers for it depending on stance. I’m going with the one most people outside the martial arts community will be familiar with.

Call it the Chuck Norris roundhouse if it makes you feel better.

-Michi

Got it. I was thinking they were roundhouse kicks, but different variants. Cousins maybe. Both work in similar arcs but with different mechanics. But those different mechanics maid them markedly different kicks.

I’d always been taught there are four kicks – front, side, round and oblique. And lots and lots of flavors of each

Yeah, those are the four basic kicks. (Though some systems just lump the back kick in with the sidekick as a spinning sidekick, the difference depends on the chamber and whether you’re striking with the blade of the foot or the heel.) There’s also the hook kick, the crescent kick (inside and outside), the axe kick, the mule kick, the push kick, and so many others.

The mule kick, for example, might initially look like a back kick because you look over your shoulder and strike with your heel. The difference is in the chamber which looks like a mule or horse preparing to kick backwards. It comes straight back and then drives up into the stomach, more similar to an elbow than a sidekick. The use for the mule kick as a combination kick in TKD is with the front kick. You kick the opponent facing you then, utilizing the momentum of the recoil, swing your leg down straight backward into the mule kick. You do it all in one, singular motion. The kicking leg never touches the ground.

We can’t do this with a back kick. Or, at least, we can’t without readjusting our hip position. The chamber is slightly to the side of our body rather than directly underneath it. The hips still need to turn over. With the mule kick, the hips are in the same position as the front kick. You just roll one into the other.

The push kick sort of looks like the front kick, but the chamber pulls the knee to the chest and then uses the whole foot to push forward. It’s a shove with your foot.

This makes sense when you realize TKD mostly focuses on the feet and legs as the primary weapons rather than the hands. When combat constantly progresses inwards and you’ve got an opponent moving into punching range, you need to force them back to where your kicks are effective.

It’s the opposite of a martial art like Muay Thai where the kicks are all about successfully using powerful legs strikes in close-quarters.

TKD is all about being able transition between and utilize multiple kicks with one leg, sometimes without ever planting between strikes. You can do an entire combination off just your front leg. Begin with an axe kick (top of the head) transitions into a roundhouse (side of the head), which transitions back across into a hook kick (heel strikes the other side of the head) then you can follow up with a more powerful roundhouse off the back leg to the head.

Traditional TKD is the art of how to win slap fights with your feet. It builds off the idea you’re going to be throwing three or four kicks in a row rather than just one. Blocks with your knee transition into kicks with the blocking leg or jump kicks off the back leg. If you come out of a non-kicking tradition then TKD and other martial arts like it are going to be a little weird, confusing, and possibly nonsensical. TKD uses its kicks like a boxer uses a jab. The kicks themselves aren’t finishers, they’re the set up for a powerful final blow. Spin kicks and jump kicks are chancy as hell by themselves, but if you’ve successful destabilized your opponent first then the risk drops. A TKD master should be able to create a 360 degree defense with just their legs.  As a discipline, it’s the “Look, ma! No hands!” of martial arts. 

“Let me feint with a roundhouse to your head, and then switch to a
roundhouse off my back leg while my front leg is still in the air.” 

I know, it sounds utterly ridiculous. If you ever wanted to know why TKD became one of Hollywood’s staples for stunt martial arts or it’s worldwide popularity, it’s due to the fact it is ridiculously fun to watch.

A hook kick with the front leg drops to become a slide sidekick with the front kick, then we roll into a roundhouse with the back leg and from there swing right into a wheel kick. The back leg becomes the front leg, and the front leg becomes the new power leg on the spin. ((If any of our followers are wondering, this is where most fictional fight scenes involving kicks fail. The author doesn’t understand kicks or their transitions well enough to make sense of the chain.))

For you writers, this is what I mean by thinking with your feet: front leg/lead leg roundhouse into a hook kick into a slide sidekick then into a running jump sidekick. ((If you missed it, that’s an entire combination on one leg.)) You lead with your feet, rather than your hands. We go feet first. Or, from a basic standing position, front kick into a popup jump front kick. The standing front kick steps forward into the fighting stance, from the fighting stance we with jump with both legs to pop up. The back leg switches, chambers, and strikes with a front kick. Then our leg tucks in recoil and we land back in a fighting stance, what was once our back leg becomes the new front leg.

Popup jump kicks are done from a standing position. You jump off both legs, and then your legs switch midair.

This is what makes the popup different from the standard pump with the front leg and jump off the back leg in a regular jump kick. If that wasn’t enough in the way of fun, popups can be done together quickly in combination. They just switch back and forth between legs.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

Lots of these kicks are referred to by different names in different systems or even within the same system but different schools. What differentiates kicks into their own family is basically hip position, strike vectors, and points of impact.

If anyone is wondering why I’m continuing this discussion it’s because I love talking about TKD kicks and what we can do with them.

I’m a huge nerd, and they’re so much fun.

-Michi

Hi! So I am a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do and I was wondering if I could ask you for some advice. How do I not get so frustrated at my lack of skill? A few days ago I was in the kids’ class and I started freaking out in front of all the children because my kicks were coming out sloppy, then later in the adults’ class I started crying for the same reason. And every test I have, I always breakdown during the forms because I get stuck… Advice?

You’re thinking too much, you’re stressed, and you’re possibly making bad comparisons about where you think you should be at versus where you are.

Think about it this way:

White – Green: Beginner

Blue – Red: Intermediate

Red – Black: Advanced

Blue Belt is the transition period, the beginning of the intermediate belt ranks, where everything starts to get harder. You take on more responsibility (in your case teaching), you’re asked to commit more time, and the techniques become more complicated. You’re stepping out of the honeymoon stage and starting to realize how little you actually know. It’s just like writing actually, where you write a story, fall in love with it, think it’s the best thing ever, then you come back three to six months later and all you see are the flaws. Right now, you’re in the flaws stage. You aren’t as good as you thought you were. That’s okay.

More importantly, that’s normal.

So, take a step back and breathe.

Your instructors wouldn’t have you demonstrate for the lower belt ranks if they thought your technique was shit. If they thought your technique was shit, they’d tell you. Trust me.

They’re asking you to demonstrate because you’re an assistant and they like your technique. Your technique is where it’s supposed to be at for your rank (or it could be better). They have a better objective view of you than you do. Objectivity is good.

This is where I say that you’re thinking too much. You are so focused on doing it right that you’re forgetting to do it. Like most martial arts, Taekwondo at the higher levels is actually based in muscle memory. The more you do, the less you think. You perform the repetitions enough times that you don’t have to think about it, your body knows. You perform better when you’re relaxed. All that worry and confusion is sneaking in, and it’s making your technique worse because you keep trying to force it. Then, you punish yourself for not doing it right and it becomes a vicious cycle.

This is even more important when it comes to forms. If you can do it in class, then you can do it in the test. So, relax. Breathe deeply. Trust yourself. Your body knows what to do. Or, the actual Star Wars line I like for this, “Let go of your conscious self and act on instinct”. Turn off your inner critic.

Your head is what’s tripping you up here. So, let go of everything else. Stress. Fear. Worry. Or any of the parts which give you trouble. Focus on doing. Think of it like moving meditation, let there be nothing happening upstairs.

1) Ask your instructors what you can do to improve. They know you and your technique better than I do.

2) If you’re breaking down and crying because you think your technique is no good, then maybe it’s time to move back to a less stressful position. Tell your teachers about your problem and ask that they maybe call on someone else for a little while. No shame in that. Honest communication between you and your instructors about your mental state is important. You may not be ready for the responsibility and stress that comes with teaching. That’s okay. Teaching is stressful. More than that, it’s a learning experience.

3) Re-evaluating your technique while passing it on is supposed to happen. That’s normal. We teach because it helps us become better. The first step is recognizing the issues. The second is acceptance that we aren’t what we thought we were. The third is patience. Improvement happens slowly, gradually, inch by inch. Be patient with yourself. You aren’t going to be equal to your instructors tomorrow. They and the older students been doing this longer than you. Forgive your mistakes. Focus on the technique itself, on what you can do to become better rather than chastising yourself for not being good enough.

We’ve all been where you are. We were all white belts once. We all had terrible technique once. (Some of us still do.) We all thought we had terrible technique when our technique was actually kind of awesome. (Some of us still do.) We’ve all suffered from fear and feelings of inadequacy. (Some of us still do.)

Keep working at it. Be positive. Trust yourself. You will be better.

Giving back to your community is important, but not if it’s driving you to a mental breakdown. Your health what is most important here and if your teachers can’t or won’t see that, then that’s not your issue. It’s theirs. You may need to find another school. However, I’m sure that if they know the extent to which this is troubling you that they’ll be more than happy to help. Think about focusing on just being a blue belt.

Give yourself time to adjust. Your at the beginning of a journey that may last your entire life. So, no need to rush. We all travel at our own pace.

Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

Smile.

No, I mean it. Smile. Are you smiling? Good.

You’re doing just fine.

-Michi

Hello, I have a character who is a black belt in Taekwondo. She does competitions and she uses it in combat. Is this realistic. And also do regular tournaments use the Olympic form of competition (with full contact) or another form.

Unfortunately, there’s almost no crossover between tourney competition and live combat. So, he or she is developing two separate skill sets and that means they’ll have to train twice as hard. Self-defense taekwondo relies mostly on hand strikes, using the legs as a base. All the kicking done is low-line, to the shin, knee, ankle, and groin instead of to the stomach, chest, and head. The reason for this is because kicks rely on friction to function and when faced with a variety of terrain, it’s very easy for the kicker to fall over. Once you end up on the ground in a fight and you’re opponent is still standing, you’re done (and not in the nice, everybody stop fighting way), so it’s better not to take risks.

It might sound funny to say it, but being good at tournament sparring will most likely hurt your character’s ability to do general fighting (or vice versa). The reason for this is that because whichever they do the most of, their minds will settle on that variation (in this case, it’s most likely tournament) and they’ll roll with the kind of combat that they’re familiar with. Depending on their opponent, this can leave them vulnerable to people who don’t play by the rules that they’re used to. It works much like the historical Norman knights versus their Saxon foot soldiers. While it was possible for a knight to lose his life in combat (and many did), if they were captured they could expect to be ransomed back to their family or liege for a purse. Their version of combat had a complex set of rules which they naturally expected to apply to them, which made combat a little less life or death and a little more game. A foot soldier had no such luxury, if they were caught, there was a likelihood they would be hanged, have their eyes put out, their tongues cut out, everything and anything that a Norman noble would not inflict upon another.

You can apply this back to sport fighters versus those who have actually been trained for combat. The mental expectations that they’ll have when going into combat are going to be different from the expectation their opponent has and those expectations of rules (even in situations where those don’t apply because it’s what they are familiar with), beyond their general skill, are what can hurt a martial artist the most when fighting for their life.

One can achieve their first degree of black belt in only three years, but in Taekwondo, the black belt itself is not a symbol of mastery. The black belt has ten ranks and requires a lifetime of study. 2nd is five or more years of training, third is a sign of seven or more, and so on. It’s a mistake to assume that just because your character is a black belt that they know everything there is to know.

WTF (World Taekwon Do) recognized tournaments (the traditional point sparring) all use the same rules, the rules for the Olympics are the same way. Fighters who take their taekwondo on the road to other kinds of fights (MMA or underground street brawls) will obviously be used to different rules. An example would be Cung Lee from StrikeForce and MMA. So your character could be on route to doing different things with their fighting if they lose interest in traditional tournaments.

I hope that helps!

-Michi

Hi! I was wondering if you have any resources on Tae Kwon Doe fighting styles? I have a female character (16 years old) who has been studying it for about 3 years. She’s not a prodigy at it or anything, but she isn’t terrible, either.

Ah, Taekwondo. Yes, I can tell you quite a bit about it. It’s a good thing you don’t want her to be a prodigy, because in the land of competitive sport martial arts competition is fierce and competing is really the only way to get any real name recognition in the national (sometimes even just local) martial arts community. There have been a few prodigies to come out of the sport, one of the most famous in the United States is Ernie Reyes, Jr. Who at the age of eight in 1979 was the first child to ever qualify in the National Top Ten (in the Adult Division). His father Ernie Reyes, Sr has also had a rather illustrious career. This is the second (and most important half) that when coupled with phenomenal talent allows a child prodigy to be successful.

So yes, good that you decided not to go with a prodigy.

As far as things go, Taekwondo isn’t actually a very old martial art. It has it’s roots in taekkyon and subak but has since evolved into it’s own martial form. Taekwondo dates back to 1957 as the official name for Korean martial arts. The Korean Taekwondo Federation was founded in 1961 and since then has gained worldwide popularity and recognition. The World Taekwondo Federation was created in 1973, taekwondo was accepted into the Amatur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1974, and became an officially recognized Olympic sport in 1988 where it was a demonstration sport. It has since become a medal sport. Taekwondo is an internationally recognized martial art that is practiced by more than twenty million individuals in 112 different countries. (Taekwondo Techniques and Tactics, p14) It is primarily a sport martial art with competitions ranging from the state, national, to international with events in the Junior Olympics, Collegiate Championships, World Games, World Cup, Pan American Games, and the Olympic Games (Taekwondo Techniques and Tactics, p14).

Taekwondo is primarily practiced as a competitive sport, but there are many dojangs that do focus their training on health and fitness or train for self-defense. It is not really practiced as a combative martial art outside of South Korea. So, if your character is serious about her martial arts career, she may be on the tournament circuit. If she wants to go to the Olympics, she’ll primarily focus on point sparring, if not it may be: forms, creative or open forms, breaking, and weapons to name a few. Most competitive martial artists do all of them. In today’s world of sport martial arts, she may also be into tricking which like the open forms above is a combination of precision kicking, high flying gymnastics, and dance routine choreographed to music. (Technically, any martial artist who focuses on kicks can do tricking, including karate, capoeira, different kung fu disciplines, etc. Taekwondo with it’s almost total focus on precision kicking at the upper belt levels just makes it a natural fit for the creative and gymnastically inclined). To train in Tricking, she’ll probably be taking gymnastics and dance lessons on the side. If she’s not, then there will probably be at least one or two (if not a whole subset) in her school who do. In a community sense, those kids who are into tricking or the tournament circuit will be the school’s rock stars, however, the flip side is that their entire life will pretty much be based out of the dojang (life, school, friends? what’s that?).

After three years in the taekwondo system, she’ll either have just received her black belt (1st degree, choganim) or be in training to take the test. This is at least a four day a week commitment to the school with early Saturday mornings thrown in for extra conditioning (she’ll probably have started doing these at blue or brown belt). How that test is run is going to depend on the size of the school and the instructors involved, my black belt tests were through the Ernie Reyes World West Coast Martial Arts Association which had the involvement of twenty or so schools and they were (are) huge, day long affairs with hundreds of testers participating and thousands of audience members who come for the night show in the evening. Your character’s school may be much smaller, possibly somewhere between 40 to 100 students with a testing group that could be anywhere from two to fifteen. The school will probably shut down on a Saturday or Sunday every two to three months to run belt rank tests.

Taekwondo: Taekwondo as a martial art is pretty much all about kicks. There are quite a few hand techniques which are mostly used in the different forms (sometimes sparring), but the primary focus is on precision kicking. The upper belt ranks and self-defense training steal a few joint locks and wrist breaks from jiujutsu and depending on the dojang, the curriculum may be padded out with some MMA ground fighting (jiujutsu/judo).

Character building:

Ask any white belt with two or three months of training what he has learned from his martial arts experience and the answer may surprise you. Certainly he will talk a lot about improved flexibility, strength, and overall fitness, but he is likely to conclude by pointing out improved self-respect and self-confidence. Through many long hours of arduous training and struggle to overcome fatigue and other physical limitation, the taekwondo practitioner perseveres to forge his will and enhance his life.

The taekwondo school (dojang) is a special place, a world unto itself. You take off your shoes before entering the dojang and when you step onto the practice floor. In the dojang, you are introduced to a code of ethics and morality that teachers nurture and strictly enforce. Respect, discipline, self-control, and honesty are words you hear—they are concepts you learn to live by. The new adult student will learn a lot about humility. Everyone comes to the school at the same level, regardless of race, religion, economic, or professional status. No one is given special consideration, and everyone is judged on diligent practice and dedication to the school, the art, and to each other.

(Yeon Hwan Park and Tom Seabourne, Taekwondo Technique and Tactics, p 2)

This is important to understanding and building your character and the supporting characters from the school including the instructors and the other students. In a Taekwondo studio, the instructor’s favorites and the school rock stars are going to be the kids and adults who spend the most time at the school. They’ve earned their status and they’ve earned the recognition they get from their fellows through years of dedication. They will also often be humble and spend a lot of time giving theirs back to their community. Higher level students are expected to donate and volunteer in lower belt classes. When your character started at 13, she may have had assistant black belt (1st, choganim and 2nd, busabumnim) in instructors helping the Head (3rd degree, sabumnim) and Master (4th degree bukwanjangnim or 5th degree kwanjangnim) teach the classes who were her age or slightly younger.

This can be frustrating for some students, especially adults, in the early years at a studio because physical age has almost nothing to do with showing respect. The color of the belt around the waist means everything.

It’s not just talent that sets someone apart in the school, it’s time. She’s probably already volunteering her time after school and before her own evening classes to work with the younger students.

Taekwondo dojangs develop a strong sense of family and community, the longer she’s been with the dojang, the more time she’ll spend there.

Most martial arts programs are actually fairly racially diverse, so her classes will usually have one or two (or more) ethnic minorities of either gender (though the instructors may or may not be white). For example: in my school, almost all the instructors were minorities and they ranged from African-American, to Hispanic, to Chinese, and Japanese. The uniform and rank are what you see, the rest stops mattering.

Lifestyle Hint: Quite a few black belts in their teens and in college pick up summer jobs working at their school once they’ve spent several months (or a few years) volunteering. They also can develop contacts among the parents of the younger students and pick up babysitting jobs on the side. After I joined the dojo, the people my parents hired to babysit myself and my brother were always late teen and twenty something instructors from our martial arts school.

Martial Arts Schools:

If her head instructor is a martial artist full time, then it’s important to understand that martial arts schools are a business. They have to attract a student population to survive and it is a very, very, very competitive thing. One of the few things that a martial artist can do with their knowledge (beyond becoming a stuntman) is teach, so many martial artists attempt to open their own schools. If the school is successful, then it has a high level of involvement in the community at large.

So, it’s important for you to come up with how she found her school before she received her training. What got her inspired and involved? She could have discovered her school a number of different ways.

Through a friend: this one is common, she may have had a friend who was a student at the school recommend her. Or through a birthday party, this is more for kids under ten, but often martial arts schools will host birthday parties for students and provide a freebie lesson with special activities.

Through a sibling: in a successful school, many kids who have a participating older sibling often get enrolled by their parents.

Through a parent: families sometimes sign up together as part of a family activity. Though, the parents are often the ones who stay long after their kids quit or have gone to college.

Through a demonstration: many martial arts schools put on volunteer demonstrations at local elementary and middle schools as a means of attracting students. They may participate in football half-time shows, special assemblies, or parades.It may have been something like this (which was how West Coast lured me in).

Through a desire for self-protection or a self-defense seminar: many instructors offer self-defense seminars in their local area and this can be one of the major ways they attract students.

Through a workout class: most martial arts schools offer workouts like kickboxing or yoga or other kinds of routines on the side to draw in the fitness crowd. If her mother or father is a health nut, this could be how she found the school.

Through an ad in the local paper or magazine or a flyer at the YMCA or at her school: this one is self-explanatory, but many martial arts schools advertise this way.

Martial arts schools have a fairly high turnover rate (less than 50% of all students make it to black belt) and they’ll offer classes for a range of ages, beyond just belt ranks. When she was younger, her parents may have used the martial arts school as a proxy “After School Daycare”, which would mean that she spent a lot of time there. Martial arts schools primarily make their money with the little kids, so there may be a higher focus on the small ones over the big ones. Kids have more free time in the afternoons and Adult classes will be later in the evenings (after the adults get off work).

These schools are often closed in the morning and open at 2 or 3. The classes happen in descending order and are often arranged by age, the youngest and the lowest belt ranks are earliest starting with the littles (4-6) and working up.

The school’s average schedule per day may look something like this and most classes last an average of 30-45 minutes:

White (poss Orange) (5-8): 3:00pm

Yellow -Green (7-10): 3:45pm

Blue (poss Blue I) (7-13): 4:30pm

Brown (poss Brown I) (8-13): 5:15pm

Red (poss Red 1, Red-Black) (9-14): 6:00pm

Black (10-15, Adult included): 6:45pm

Adult: 7:30-8:15

This is the weekday. Weekends: Saturday Morning: 9:30-10:30M. Often, they’ll be closed on Sundays. Saturday Morning Trainings will happen at a local high school or park and will be devoted to practicing techniques on a variety of terrain and conditioning. 7am to 8:30am is the usual.

Because the adult classes are smaller, they tend to have more belt classes lumped in together.

This is getting long in the tooth so: Recommended Reading:

Taekwondo Techniques and Tactics by Yeon Hwan Park and Tom Seabourne: this book will be very handy to you because it covers all the important bases from forms, to techniques (including combinations), how to choose a school, and the rules for point sparring competitions (and diagrams of the layouts). Everything you’re going to need to know to build your character’s base is in here, including tactics for how to use Taekwondo for self-defense.

We did an article on Basic Kicks: it’s a three part series

This article on Training and Physical Contact which may also be useful to you.

Commonly known fact: because of the focus on kicks, Taekwondo practitioners are notorious for dropping their hands when they fight and forgetting to guard their face. This can occasionally get them in trouble when they face practitioners from a different style.

Hopefully, this will help get you started.

-Michi