Taekwon-Do or Self Defense – which should I choose?

How does taekwon-do relate to personal safety and self-defense? I teach a Korean martial art, Taekwon-do. I am also a certified instructor for personal safety, self-defense, including rape defense, and workplace violence prevention. These certifications are based on different types of training by separate associations. When I think of the three areas of martial arts, personal safety, and self-defense, I view them as circles that overlap but are not identical.

Martial arts training will keep you fit. Its many benefits include increased flexibility, strength, balance, cardio-vascular health, weight control, endurance, focus, self-control, self-confidence, and self-discipline, to name just a few. While Taekwon-do engages your body, mind, and spirit, class time includes minimal verbal instruction and focuses instead on hard physical training.

Some students pursue Taekwon-do for a lifetime, forming lasting friendships with instructors and other students. Year after year, they attend class multiple times a week. And with that amount of dedication and time commitment, they can develop extremely powerful self-defense skills.

Self-defense training is more goal-oriented – its purpose is to increase a student’s safety and self-defense options in a relatively short time. Rather than aspiring to the perfection of an art, self-defense training is utilitarian. You won’t learn any elegant or complicated techniques. Instead, we concentrate on basic, simple gross motor movements that are relatively easy to learn, retain, and apply. We work with your natural weapons, such as your hammer-fists, elbows, knees, and feet. Invest in some self-defense training, stay fit, and these weapons can become very effective.

R.A.D. aggressor

R.A.D. Aggressor


The focus of our training is on two areas: first, what does real violence look like and how can you avoid it, and second, if you cannot avoid it, what can you do to increase your survival chances. About 95% of increasing your safety is risk management. That’s why we start out with risk awareness training, including a basic knowledge about violence dynamics.

Hi - 5s after completing self defense course

You’ve all heard the phrase, “The missing woman was a victim of a random attack.” But violence is hardly ever random. Instead, violence is almost always a process – and that’s true whether it’s stranger violence, domestic violence, or other non-stranger violence. This process includes certain stages, pre-cursors, and violence dynamics. Knowledge about these stages and dynamics, such as the violence triangle, can significantly increase your safety.

Your most important self-defense tool is your brain. In personal safety training, we explore the roles of your cognitive and limbic brains. We review when you should probably trust your gut reactions, and when you might avoid violence by reigning in your limbic brain responses.

We also review Justifiable Use of Force law. The old maxim, “Better judged by 12 than carried by 6” no longer sounds so good when you need to spend your life savings for lawyers fees, and when you face prison and the loss of your family and your job. You may also suffer lifelong psychological trauma from having seriously injured or killed another human being. That’s why our self-defense training emphasizes boundary setting, risk awareness, reduction, recognition, and avoidance, and physical counter-attack only as a last resort.

Effective self-defense training will empower you. Your power will come not from false and potentially dangerous over-confidence, but from increased knowledge about risk and danger management and basic, realistic self-defense skills. Personal safety or self-defense training cannot guarantee your safety. What it can do is to increase your knowledge of violence dynamics, and your safety options, should you ever be attacked.

So back to the original question, which should you take – Taekwon-Do or Personal Safety and Self-Defense courses? If you are primarily interested in developing or maintaining fitness, discipline and focus, and if you are willing to commit the time to martial arts training, I recommend Taekwon-Do. If your immediate goal is to learn self-defense in a relatively short time, then enroll in a self-defense course, or better yet, train in fitness and self-defense.

Ideally, you should do both. Invest in self-defense training and commit to ongoing martial arts training. You’ll stay fit and you’ll maximize your physical and mental safety and self-defense options.

3 Comments on "Taekwon-Do or Self Defense – which should I choose?"

  1. Art Jury says:

    Thank you this gives me some great ideas for answering that question when people ask.

  2. You are welcome, Art.

    I think it’s also important to remind our Taekwon-do students periodically of the differences between practicing Taekwon-Do in the controlled environment of a safety-oriented dojang versus responding to a real physical attack. No rules, no instructor telling you to get ready, begin, or stop; no warm-up and stretching; no padded or nice, even wooden floors; no friends sparring with you in friendly contests; no forbidden targets and weapons; you may be injured before you can react; no room to chamber your legs and perform “nice” kicks, etc. etc.

    When we test our power with breaking, we might also think about real violence, where you may have no time at all to “get ready” and where the target may move or be extremely close to you.

  3. I really like reading an article that will make people think.

    Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

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