There are a couple of martial arts in the Olympics that I am asked about often, Taekwondo and Judo. I feel that I am pretty well versed to write on the subject. For years Olympic style Taekwondo was my life. I was a fourth degree black belt in Taekwondo. I was a sparring national champion (lt. wt. 33 – 40 age bracket). I coached several Jr. and Sr. national champions, many Jr. and Sr. national medalists, a Collegiate national team member, a U.S. national team member and even a World medalist. Like I said, for years the sport was my life.

Are Taekwondo and Judo self defense? My answer is “No, kinda and used to be”. Both of these disciplines are sports. Sports have rules, timed rounds, fight one person at a time, no weapons allowed in the ring, etc, etc. so the training isn’t really getting it’s practitioners ready for real world violence. BUT, they are good at what they do, hit very hard and (more importantly) are used to getting hit. Any Olympic level Taekwondo player can whip most people’s butts and would fair very well in a bar room type fight. In a one on one “fair” fight people who have trained in these sports would absolutely out perform any untrained idiot who is just throwing haymakers.

As far as the “used to be”…there was a time when these disciplines were the cutting edge of fighting. Judo was designed for the battlefield where everyone was wearing a hundred pounds of armor. You didn’t want to hit the ground so throwing someone to the ground while remaining upright was very good strategy. IF the warrior who hit the ground wasn’t destroyed outright he was killed while struggling to get back up. As far as Taekwondo goes centuries ago the best and the brightest were trained like knights to be the protectors of the kingdom. They were educated and taught art, poetry, etc but were also taught the best fighting techniques that existed at the time. Those high flying kicks were used to knock attackers off of a horse. The horse stances were practice for fighting while on horseback. The big front stances were for fighting on a ship. They were very well rounded warriors.

Some of the problems with these martial arts as self defense is that nobody ever taught them how to fight dirty! They have rules they adhere by, are taught to be fair, honest, etc. As we say in Krav Maga “if you are in a fair fight your tactics suck”! Because these athletes are getting ready for competition their sport is about all they practice. The Taekwondo athlete is in trouble if taken to the ground and the judo player is in trouble in a stand up fight. Neither have good answers for a knife, handgun or stick. They also need some aggression training…to realize that violence of motion trumps technique!

This sport training can be a great segway to Krav, however. I was speaking with Arlene Limas (1988 Olympic Gold Medalist in Taekwondo and USKMA affiliate) about her students when I was training them in Krav Maga. I had told her how good they were and how fast they were learning and she made the statement that her team (Olympic style taekwondo athletes she trains) really takes to the aggression of Krav Maga. They are used to moving, hitting hard and being hit as well. They were athletic and used to learning new techniques quickly. I had never made the connection before but they were prime students for Krav Maga because of all of that. Show them how to be aggressive and end things as well as the techniques of Krav Maga and they were first rate.

Judo and Taekwondo are cool sports. Those at the higher levels are World class athletes. They are participating in a sport and most of the one’s I have met realize this. Now, for real world violence, weapon disarms, multi attackers, etc give them some Krav Maga and they’ll be one tough foe! BE SAFE!


  1. Good points all. Mark is a very high level Tae Kwon Do competitor, and I’m a Judo black belt myself. I still say that although we may be able to pull some great techniques from these arts, what makes them in appropriate for self-defense is that they ignore (appropriately, as they are sports) many concepts necessary for survival in real-world violent encounters. Note that each time a Judo player is thrown, he/she freezes in place and looks to the referee to see if the score was Ippon, Waza ari or yuko, rather than scrambling and looking for other attackers. That’s an extremely bad reaction in a street fight. We can take much from them, but Krav Maga concepts make the system the best in the world for the real-world.

  2. I totally agree with your conclusions. However, I think your history info was a bit oversimplified (as it needs to be to not make the article too long). I would point out that Judo was originally created as a sport out of another art (Jujitsu I’ve heard, never studied, and probably can’t spell). Also, traditional taekwondo is very different from the modern sport of taekwondo. Again, as you said, traditional taekwondo was much better self-defense than is modern but still not as good as Krav Maga. I studied traditional taekwondo, then modern, then Krav Maga and recently realized that in traditional taekwondo, there were many of the same techniques as I find in KM but I was not taught the applications for the moves that is so obviously part of KM. Thanks for another great post!

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