Fighting championships and tournaments like UFC and Bellator have changed a lot since the day they were created. Now, they are sporting events, with the toughest fighters from all over the globe fighting for victory. In the beginning, however, though the concept was the same, there was an added element of curiosity from martial arts geeks, since everybody knew what these competitions can result in as well: the ranking of separate martial arts. Many people have wanted to see actual, full-contact fights take place between practitioners of different arts and styles, and the rise of MMA brought about exactly that. In today’s article, we will be discussing one of the most famous martial arts, Taekwondo, and whether it is good for MMA or not.
Taekwondo is great for MMA, but it is not the best. As the past decades have shown, the footwork and kicking power of martial arts such as Taekwondo are very useful but are very easy to get around for many of today’s prominent martial arts.
However, that doesn’t mean Taekwondo isn’t good or effective. Some of the best fighters in MMA history like Bas Rutten, Anderson Silva, and Valentina Shevchenko all hold black belts in Taekwondo, and many others have also gotten their base from this popular martial art. Why is it then, that it is not mentioned among the best martial arts to study for MMA success? Read on to find out.
Is Taekwondo Allowed in MMA?
MMA is the abbreviation for mixed martial arts, but many people are left wondering which martial arts exactly does it mix. Online forums have a surprising number of questions about this topic, however, it totally misses the point of MMA and the competitions in MMA.
There are generally two types of MMA that we can talk about. One of them is street MMA, while the other is cage/competition MMA. Though there are many differences, and we will get into them in a minute, neither of the two exclude any single martial art. What MMA aims to do is to take the best things from all martial arts and combine them to form the best fighting style of all, substituting the mistakes of one art with the strengths of another one. For this reason, Taekwondo is accepted and allowed in MMA.
Cage MMA or competition mixed martial arts is basically the clean erosion of street MMA. In the cage, you aren’t allowed to do things like eye-pokes, groin kicks, bone-breaking, strikes to the throat, etc. Whereas on the street, unfortunately, these are probably some of the most effective. When fighting competitions were made, the rules were formed in a way that would restrict the use of the most harmful and dangerous techniques, all without compromising the authenticity of the fight.
The reason this is important to mention is that Taekwondo, like a lot of martial arts, actually contains quite a lot of pressure point use, groin-kicks, sometimes even eye-poking. If we take Taekwondo as a whole, containing these unorthodox methods as well, we could say that half of Taekwondo is allowed in MMA, while the other half is not.
Is Taekwondo Effective for MMA?
Now, we have a question that is probably the most important one when it comes to talking about Taekwondo in an MMA context. As we mentioned earlier, MMA and MMA-based competitions have supplied martial arts fans with heaps of info and insight into how martial arts fare against one another. The result was one that shocked many people, since one of the least visually aesthetic and flashy arts is the one that emerged victoriously, and it was Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Hollywood movies have taught us that the fancier the style, the more successful the fighter, but that isn’t the case. In fact, how a move looks has absolutely no effect on the fighter’s abilities. The factors which are much more important are endurance, power, speed, range-awareness, toughness, and more.
Joe Rogan, one of the most famous podcasters of all time, who is also a comedian and an accomplished martial artist, also has his martial arts roots in Taekwondo. He was the full contact Massachusetts Taekwondo champion for 4 consecutive years and went on to earn more titles. In one of his podcast episodes, he describes how Taekwondo is a great base to build up from, but on its own, it is quite weak. The reason for this is mostly range and the inability to use the arms properly or to block leg-kicks.
Taekwondo deals mostly with kicks to the upper body, to the head, and sometimes to the side of the legs, but that is rarer. For this reason, when Joe Rogan went sparring one of his kickboxer friends, he ran into a multitude of problems. First of all, his range was horrible. In Taekwondo, due to the dominance of kicking, the range is usually a lot longer than it would be with a boxer, and fighters from other styles can quickly notice this. If the opponent comes inside the kicking range, there is not much the Taekwondo practitioner can do and will get smashed by a boxer, or frankly any martial artist at that point.
One of the other main issues was that Taekwondo doesn’t deal all that much with leg defense. Ask any Muay Thai practitioner, or perhaps kickboxer, how it feels to be kicked on the side of your knees with a shin-kick, and you will see why it is so important to be able to defend your legs. The last, huge issue, is quite simply: punches. If a boxer and a Taekwondo fighter fight, the Taekwondo practitioner only has a chance if they can keep the boxer away from themselves, and if they manage to deliver powerful, properly executed kicks. If the boxer manages to get inside the line of defense, the Taekwondo fighter can only try defending themselves, probably without success.
Generally speaking, however, Taekwondo is effective for MMA, since it does in fact provide an amazing base to build on. If you get to a black belt in Taekwondo, you can transition to a boxing or jiu-jitsu class, which will teach you close-range combat, and you will be a force to fear in the cage. However, Taekwondo on its own is full of holes that other martial arts can easily take advantage of. This shouldn’t mean that you shouldn’t train Taekwondo, but if you are planning to become a UFC fighter, don’t think about doing that without combining it with some other art or fighting style.
Taekwondo Kicks in MMA
Now, to get a bit more precise, we will talk about a couple of the most useful and commonly used kicks in MMA which have roots in Taekwondo. All these kicks are great to learn if you want to diversify your combat skills, or if you want to get an intro into the type of power and technique you will come across when training Taekwondo.
Lead Leg Round Kick
The lead leg round kick is like the lead jab of kicking. It is fast, powerful, and can snap an opponent unconscious. The way it is performed is by taking a standard fighting stance (side stance), turning the back heel in order to generate power from the lead hip, lifting the lead knee in the direction you are planning to kick, and then snap your leg outwards, aiming with the lower part of the shin or more traditionally the front of the foot. This kick is a must-have for every fighter.
The sidekick with the lead leg is a very useful tool, not only for attacking but also for defending and keeping the distance. This is performed similarly to the previous one, with the back heel being turned, though not as far since the hip tension necessary for the lead leg round kick is unnecessary for a sidekick. After turning the back foot a bit, the lead knee is lifted, and with a snapping-turning motion, the lead leg is extended forward, hitting the target with some part of the sole of your foot. The reason it is called a sidekick is that at the end of the motion, your leg is basically extended sideways from your body, which is a result of the snapping-turning motion, which is also the reason so much force can be generated by this kick.
Spinning Back Kick
Although flashy moves won’t get you far in front of an actual fighter, the spinning back kick is a move used by many of the world’s best fighters and is highly effective if executed properly. The same “chambering” of the leg (lifting it and loading the kicking power, basically) is done as with the previous kicks, but there is a spin before it, which helps generate much more force than otherwise possible from a static stance. With this dynamic version of the sidekick, you can generate enough power to break legs and knock people out, even if you only hit their body and not their head. This kick is a real power tool in a Taekwondo practitioner’s possession.