Taekwondo: Why TKD Takes So Much Bashing
Why do so many people bash Tae Kwon Do?
When attempting to compare one art with others in any meaningful way, I find it best to work along the lines of Philosophy, Strategy, and Techniques.
As far as TKD goes, we'll try to work first with the general PERCEPTIONS among other martial artists.
Let's start with the easiest first: Techniques.
Loosely speaking, Techniques are the conglomeration of punches, kicks, grapples, joint-locks, Weapons subsets, nerve strikes, blocking, slipping, redirecting, etc. that comprise an art. Basically, the actual nuts and bolts of an attack or a defense (both "hard" and "soft" see RMA FAQ). As a general rule, most arts are drawn from the same pool of techniques but typically include the most basic set of techniques from most or all of these "areas." That being said, we can exit "general rules" and get into more specifics in which we can say that a particular art may include more sets or variations of one class of techniques than others and may exclude other sets or variations.
Generally speaking, the perception among non-TKD practitioners is that TKD focuses far too much on kicks with very little emphasis on punching, particularly as influenced by Competition style TKD, seldom any joint-locks and almost never any grappling. This means that (according to perception), TKD is vastly myopic in its Technique selection. TKD *does* have a seeming endless variation of kicks but, selected instructors excepted, often little else.
Next there is the aspect of Strategy:
Perhaps the most difficult of the three to determine in specifics about any given art, Strategy describes the overall concept of how the set of techniques of an art are applied to combat or physical confrontations. Basically, the Strategy of an art prepares the practitioner to respond in certain ways with a given set of techniques to various attacks. It is concerned with elements of how Techniques are constructed or applied, particularly in reference to Linear versus Circular. One of the most famous and easily understood Martial Arts Strategies comes from Brazilian JuJitsu. Basically stated, BJJ's Strategy says: "All, or most, fights are comprised of only two combatants, and end up with both combatants 'wresting' on the ground rather than standing, thus, to be most effective, the greatest emphasis in training should be on 'groundwork'." Other arts have Strategies that are based on or include "angles of attack", etc. Some arts have the simplest of all Strategies, which is 'the best defense is a good offense', or stated another way, 'do as much damage as possible and keep doing damage until the opponent is no longer a threat'.
The general perception of TKD is that, it again focuses to exclusion upon kicking skills. The old saying goes, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Most TKD detractors believe that TKD's Strategy is fixated on a false assumption that TKD's range of kicks will be sufficient for most self defense or combat situations at the expense of other, perhaps more viable solutions that are completely left out of the TKD Techniques.Further, it is the perception that TKD focuses on *high* kicks nearly to the exclusion of low kicks. That is, TKD teaches a strategy that launches kicks at the opponent *above* the level of the waist. The feeling of many is that this leaves the TKD exponent in a position of weak balance that can easily be taken advantage of by even unskilled opponents.
As a subset of Strategy, let's briefly examine Training. This describes the methods and exercises used in learning and practicing the art in question. Training can differ radically from one instructor to the next within a single Martial Art, to say nothing of from one Martial Art to another. Thus, it is not really possible to classify training for a specific art in anything other than broad generalization. Training can, and frequently does, include exercises where a given Technique is broken down into small, easily digested, bits which, once understood are then moved into one, flowing movement, The Technique. In the Martial Arts world, there are currently two hotly debated Training tools, Sparing and Forms.
Sparing, sometimes called Randori (and its close relative, Competition, or Kumite) is where the Martial Artist faces one or more training partners where each engage in varying degrees of free form attacks and defenses. It is widely held that, in order to learn to use Techniques and Strategy "on the fly" or under stress, one must put them to the test in the most realistic practice engagements possible. Since it is undesirable to seriously injure your Sparring partner (who would you have to spar with if you put all your training partners in the hospital?), there is nearly always some level of holding back and/or protective equipment worn during Sparring.
It has been noted that in TKD, most sparring has a predilection (again) to high-kicks. This predilection towards high kicks becomes difficult and even dangerous to perform on some surfaces such as gravel or may be inappropriate for varying reasons, yet, because of his training, it is believed that the TKD practitioner would choose a high-kick by rote when a low kick would better suffice.
Though few people doubt TKD's wide range of kicking Techniques have some applications, most observe that they aren't exactly BatMan's Utility Belt and aren't appropriate for every situation. Many believe TKD's kicking (as taught and practiced) isn't even appropriate for MOST situations.
At this point, most TKD practitioners entering into debates with TKD detractors say something like, "Well, that's not the way we train at MY school!" or "We 'crosstrain' at my school!" (such as in Hapkido) Well, that may be true, however, the VAST majority of TKD schools and practitioners that most of us have come into contact with don't. Further, to pick nits, if TKD is so all inclusive, why would one *need* to cross train? Shouldn't all the nessasary components already be there?
We will skip Philosophy since it is difficult to identify any particular philosophy associated specifically with TKD other then "Be a better person."
Finally, outside of the discussion of Philosophy, Strategy, and Techniques, we should discuss the "McDojang" (McDojo) phenomenon within TKD.
A McDojo/McDojang/McKwoon (whatever) is basically a school that will give out ranks simply to paying customers, no or little actual skill is required. it's purely and *solely* a money making venture. These schools are typically marked by certain characteristics. Among these are an extremely fast promotion rate to "Black Belt" often within two years (it should be noted that most other arts typically require 5-7 years to "Black Belt"), numerous (seemingly endless) Gup ranks (sub-black belt ranks - Kyu in Jap.) including variations within a rank (Its not uncommon to hear of "Second Grade 'Decided' Yellow Belt" in TKD and such like), lots of testing and associated / non-associated fees, long and expensive contracts (often "guaranteeing" Black Belt within a given period of time). In other words, it's basically a school scamming its students for money and making them believe it's teaching them how to effectively fight, yet, there is little legal recourse if this is true. There is no (nor should there be) government regulation or standards regarding teaching people how to "fight" yet it rankles many martial artists who feel that these unsuspecting students are being "taught" by a scam artist and really aren't learning anything even remotely effective (this launches into the age-old RMA debate on "what is effective").
How does this apply to TKD? Well, perhaps it's just that TKD is more popular or there are more TKD schools on the average then any other style, but it seems that there is a HUGE number of TKD McDojangs turning out Black Belts who couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag and who are defeated by 13 year old girls (literally! as per a recent thread).
So, put all this together and I'm sure you can see why TKD takes so much bashing.