Taekwondo Self-defence

Self-defence applications are an important part of any martial arts curriculum. Taekwondo self-defense is known as hosinul and it forms one of the four main principles of the art. Realistic Taekwondo self-defense techniques would be difficult to score in sparring as they are designed primarily to cause injury or quickly incapacitate a dangerous adversary.

Therefore, in competition, self-defense techniques take the format of a demonstration event, much like poomsae. One person is usually designated the part of the Taekwondo practitioner, while several team mates take the role of common street aggressors who attack from various angles with punches, kicks and grabs common to street brawlers. Weapons may also be used, as Taekwondo has specific techniques for dealing with armed adversaries.

Taekwondo self-defense competition is an opportunity for students to display their understanding of Taekwondo self-defense applications and the ability to put together their own team choreography. Self-defense routines are often performed as displays for the public, in which case there are no judges present. Although it is not a prerequisite for ITF competitions, many clubs include self-defense in their regular competition circuit.

There are two main concepts in Taekwondo self-defense. An experienced Taekwondo practitioner needs to be versed in both as, in a real life combat situation, either may be needed:

  • Linear (or hard) techniques
  • Circular (or soft) techniques

Linear Techniques

These include mostly punching, kicking, headbutts and other striking maneuvers. Force is met directly with force and all four limbs are involved in stopping an adversary. Taekwondo kicks give superior reach, meaning that an adversary can be stopped at a distance. If the technique is done correctly, adversaries may be incapacitated with a single blow. This is particularly important when fighting multiple opponents, where prolonged grappling would leave the Taekwondo practitioner open to further attack.

Circular techniques

This is where an adversary’s strength is used against him – the harder he attacks the greater the pain he will feel. By intercepting and redirecting the force of an attack, the adversary can be manipulated into a position whereby a lock, stranglehold and/or finishing move can be applied. Grappling techniques are used in the linear approach to self defense both as a means of securing an adversary and freeing oneself from an adversarie’s grip. The advantage of soft self-defense techniques is that damage to the attacker can be limited and, in many cases, no permanent injury need be inflicted. A properly applied stranglehold or joint lock will quickly convince all but the most psychotic of attackers that further aggression would be futile.

Taekwondo Self-defense techniques demonstrated in competition may include:

  • Pressure point applications. The body has many sensitive areas that are susceptible to precise attack, these are known as pressure points or ji ap sul in Taekwondo. There are three types of pressure point identified in Taekwondo – pressure points which induce pain, those which induce paralysis and those which cause death. Nerve clusters can be attacked with fingers or grabbed and compressed in order to immobilise an opponent or cause so much pain that he loses the will to fight.
  • Throws. Known as too sul, Taekwondo practitioners need to know how to use an opponents force to their own advantage and throw him to the ground. Once on the ground the practitioner has greater control over his adversary and can follow up with subsequent controlling or finishing techniques.
  • Joint Locks. Otherwise known as kwan jyel sul in Taekwondo, these are particularly useful against armed attackers. Typically the attacking limb is grabbed and then manipulated to cause immense pain in the adversary. Joint locks can be applied on any joint in the body and are particularly useful for controlling an opponent who has been thrown to the ground.
  • Termination techniques. These are a range of strikes applied to an opponent downed by a previous throw or strike. Powerful downward travelling kicks and hand strikes are used to make sure the opponent stays down.
  • Choking techniques. In Chil sik sul, the idea of applying a stranglehold is to deprive the attacker’s brain of either oxygenated blood through the carotid artery and/or oxygen for the lungs through the trachea. In Taekwondo, a practitioner uses leverage from his arm and sometimes involves the attackers clothing in applying pressure to the sensitive neck area. Taekwondo choke holds are particularly dangerous and only taught to higher level Taekwondo students, as over exertion can crush the trachea or cause sudden death.
  • Freeing techniques. Paegi are taught to Taekwondo students so that they can quickly free themselves and neutralise the danger of being grabbed by an attacker. Competition demonstrations frequently involve one student grabbing another from behind. The science of Taekwondo is equally concerned with defense as attack so proper freeing techniques must be learnt.

Like other Taekwondo competition events, self-defense is marked by a panel of judges. When scoring they are looking at the following factors:

  • Aliveness. How realistic is the Taekwondo students demonstration? Does he move with the requisite urgency and do his techniques have the emotional content to make the judges believe in their power?
  • Technique. Are the Taekwondo techniques being demonstrated precisely? Are the kicks clean, fast and strong? Are joint locks and throws being performed accurately? Does the student have control over his adversaries or are they making it easy for him?
  • Variety. What is the range of the Taekwondo practitioners knowledge? Is he showing his understanding of liner and direct counter-attacks? Has he performed a realistic finishing technique after each throw or lock?
  • Difficulty. More difficult Taekwondo techniques score higher than simple ones if performed correctly. However, a badly performed technique will always score lower than a simple, effective technique performed well. Taekwondo students should always work within their personal limits and should not be demonstrating any techniques that they have not mastered.

Here is a nice old video of Taekwondo self defence (mostly demonstrating circular/soft techniques).