Taekwondo on the StreetBy Jennifer Shipp
Why bother learning martial arts if you’re not going to learn how to use it on the street? Street self-defense is all we teach because Taekwondo competitions don’t emulate real life. In real life, people aren’t sorted by weight or belt level and there are no rules that criminals follow when they attack. At the American Kick Association, we train for self-defense because what you encounter on the street is what really matters.
I remember reading about a woman who had a black belt in Taekwondo who was also a marathon runner. One day, a man nabbed her purse and she chased him down the street and then beat him up. She got her purse back. I’m not sure if the story is true, but it’s a fun one to tell, especially to female students. But more or less, when I tell it, I point out the problems and I tell the story as a warning about what not to do.
The goal of self-defense in Taekwondo is generally to remove oneself from the offending situation, not to chase it down. Some martial arts like Jiu-jitsu and Aikido are all about pinning opponents which is fine except that it’s hard to create distance between yourself and the perpetrator if you’ve got them in a headlock. Street-fighting using Taekwondo is a lot less merciful than pinning a guy down using Aikido or Jiu-jitsu. Self-defense is about incapacitating the perpetrator before he or she incapacitates you. Depending on your size, your willingness to take risks, and the knowledge you have about your opponent (like whether or not he/she has a weapon) you may decide that grappling or striking is better. Personally, I prefer strikes and blocks because I don’t want to be close to my opponent. I want to get away.
Most of the street encounters that I’ve had were during events when I would do security. The people that I approached were usually drunk or really angry or both. I never had to throw a punch or a kick because I carried a tazer. I did, however, light up the night with my tazer a few times.
But even with a weapon like a hand-held tazer, I still used martial arts to keep my distance from people. Often, there were groups of people that had to be corralled (thus the need for something like a tazer to keep everyone’s attention focused on me). My goal was never to provoke a fight. I never wanted to throw a punch or kick someone, but I was ready to if provoked. I used stances automatically. I sized up my opponent. But I never had enough information about the aberrant people that I encountered to feel confident that they weren’t carrying a weapon like a gun or a knife. That’s why I like keeping my distance. I don’t like to get close enough for someone to bite me or to exchange body fluids like blood. It’s too big of a risk, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean that people can’t be successful at defending themselves using grappling arts like Jiu-jitsu or Aikido. I just think there’s a little more risk involved in getting close to an opponent and if things don’t work out with a particular set of moves, there’s a substantial possibility that the grappler could get seriously hurt.