Taekwondo is one of the most popular martial arts on the planet and, as an Olympic sport, has a very well-developed competitive scene. The Korean martial art may be excellent as a combat sport, but how effective is Taekwondo for MMA?
As a purely kicking martial art, Taekwondo is only effective in MMA when practitioners learn enough skills in all other aspects of martial arts. Taekwondo kicks can become very effective with enough knowledge and skills in all aspects of striking and grappling. Still, it is severely lacking for MMA as a pure martial art.
We will examine how Taekwondo translates to MMA and some top MMA fighters who have done so successfully.
History Of Taekwondo
Taekwondo is a Korean traditional martial art, and the name roughly translates to “the art of punching and kicking .”The origins of Taekwondo can be traced back at least 2000 years, which makes it one of the oldest martial arts systems.
There are records of training in various forms of the traditional arts, Tae Kyon and Subak Do (the predecessors of Taekwondo), throughout the history of all the different Korean kingdoms.
The story of modern Taekwondo began with the end of World War II when martial arts schools called kwans opened in Seoul.
Different schools practiced different forms of martial arts at the time, and the term taekwondo was not yet coined. In 1955, the leaders of the kwans began creating a unified martial arts system. The military quickly spread through the civil population after its adoption. The first Korea Taekwondo Association was formed in 1959.
Today, there are two major organizations: the ITF and the WTF. The WTF, now known as World Taekwondo, is the governing body sanctioning the largest sports version of the martial art, which has been part of the Olympics since 2000.
Taekwondo has a vast following worldwide as an Olympic sport, boasting over 20 million practitioners. With the history lesson done, it’s time to learn what you came here for, and that is
Is Taekwondo Good For MMA?
Taekwondo is a good foundation for MMA and an excellent choice for a first martial art for children, but it is insufficient in its pure form for MMA. Taekwondo shares the same “illness” as other traditional martial arts: a lack of full-contact competition and sparring.
The other reason is the extremely limited rules, which prohibit punching, low kicks, knees, or any form of grappling. Taekwondo is essentially a game of outkicking your opponent for points.
As a result, taekwondo athletes never learn how to take a full-force strike, which is a necessary skill in MMA. Even the most skilled fighters will be hit, so you must condition your body and mind to tolerate punishment.
The lack of fundamental striking techniques like punches also leaves taekwondo fighters woefully unprepared for combat with other styles.
But it is not all bad. Practitioners of the Korean art become masters in managing distance and timing. They are swift, agile, and accurate with their kicks. Speed and timing applied correctly are invaluable skills in the MMA cage.
Many successful fighters in MMA and kickboxing credit their incredible striking to Taekwondo. Still, in each of those cases, it’s apparent that techniques from other martial arts have heavily enhanced it.
When comparing Taekwondo to other striking martial arts such as muay Thai and kickboxing, they teach defense against the techniques used in Taekwondo, whereas the opposite is not true. Each combat sport must be adapted and modified to be suitable for MMA, but Taekwondo requires a bit more extra work.
Effective Taekwondo Kicks In MMA
The taekwondo arsenal is comprised entirely of kicks, so here we will list a few that have made their way into MMA, mainly through Taekwondo.
Taekwondo is about managing distance, and the side kick is the best tool. It can be very versatile and is used at all three levels in attack and defense. In MMA, where fighters use a more squared-up stance as opposed to the bladed stance of Taekwondo and karate, the side kick works even better than it does in a taekwondo match.
Many karate guys also use it to significant effect. It has been adapted by fighters that do not come from a traditional martial arts background, like Jon Jones.
Here is a perfect explanation of how to do a taekwondo side kick:
And here is how they work in MMA:
Spinning heel kick
Flashy kicks are what sets Taekwondo kicking apart from other styles. While some genuinely insane moves, such as the two-touch spinning kick and the hurricane kick, are used in MMA, they are relatively uncommon. The spinning heel kick (also known as the spinning hook kick) is not, and it is one of the most dangerous weapons in the arsenal of a taekwondo fighter.
The spinning heel kick is not that risky if executed with speed and can bring great rewards. It has produced some of the most vicious knockouts in MMA, and taekwondo practitioners are complete masters of the move.
A clear and concise tutorial on the execution of a spinning heel kick:
Spinning back kick
The spinning back kick is another prevalent and highly effective technique for taekwondo fighters. It is a tremendous close-range weapon that can catch anyone off guard if set up correctly. The perfect spinning back aims to dig the heel of the foot into the opponent’s liver. If landed properly, this strike is one of the most painful things you can get hit with.
The taekwondo array of kicks is so vast that we cannot list each one. With the correct setup, almost all of them can be effective in MMA. In this video, you will see a good roundup of popular taekwondo kicks and their use in MMA and kickboxing:
Successful Taekwondo Fighters In The UFC
Many great MMA fighters have a strong taekwondo background. Fighters such as Bas Rutten, Benson Henderson, Rose Namajunas, and Valentina Shevchenko all hold black belts in the Korean art and have demonstrated their abilities in the ring.
However, there are a few fighters whose entire MMA fighting style is based on Taekwondo, and we would like to give them special attention.
The former WEC and UFC lightweight champion earned his nickname “Showtime” precisely because of his flashy fighting style deeply rooted in Taekwondo.
A 3rd-degree black belt, Pettis is also very proficient in boxing and BJJ, but in his prime, his flashy but deadly kicks were what propelled him to the top. He was a walking highlight reel with multiple knockouts of the night, fight of the night, and performance of the night bonuses. Today, Pettis fights in the PFL.
Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez is one of the brightest talents in the UFC and may very well have the purest Taekwondo in MMA. He, of course, is very good at wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Still, his unparalleled fluidity and creativity in his striking make him unique.
Rodriguez rose to the top 5 of the featherweight division thanks to his fantastic taekwondo kicks, heavily supplemented by clever punching and vicious low kicks.
There are many more taekwondo fighters that found success in MMA, and in this compilation, you see some spectacular feats of kicking prowess:
Daron Cruickshank is another successful taekwondo practitioner that fought in the UFC. He did not manage to reach the top of the UFC, but he still had an outstanding career and showcased his taekwondo background in the cage.
Both his parents are taekwondo black belts, and naturally, he began training at a very young age. He has a 2nd-degree black belt himself and also competed in collegiate wrestling. He compiled a 13-6 record in the Octagon with some highlight reel knockouts. After a tough losing skid in the UFC, he competed in Rizin FF.
Taekwondo is a great martial art to begin your martial arts career and teaches many valuable skills. It can serve as a sturdy foundation to further build upon as a fighter. Still, on its own, it usually gets destroyed in MMA and even in kickboxing. But as many fighters have proven, Taekwondo can be used in the MMA cage to great effect when combined with many other skills.