Taekwon Do is defined by the Founder of Taekwon-Do:

Translated literally "Tae" stands for jumping or flying, to kick or smash with the foot.
"Kwon" denotes the fist-chiefly to punch or destroy with the hand or fist.
"Do" means an art or way …

itf-information.com 1999

So when does a beginner learn how to jump, fly, kick or smash with the foot?

There is the front kick in Doh-san (the third form in the Chang Hon set of patterns), and the side kick in Won-hyo, the very next form. However, the next few only seem to feature variations of these two kicks. Only in Hwa-rang and Choong-Mu, the eighth and ninth featured patterns do you see a roundhouse kick and then a jumping side-kick.

This article attempts to look at possible reasons for the above discrepancy. The objective is to help the practitioner understand how Taekwondo forms positioned kicks as effective weapons. To do this, we will explore the issue from three perspectives:

                                      1.Background of Taekwondo's development,
                                      2.Purpose of forms, and
                                      3.Successful kicking factors.

We will conclude by forming some recommendations aligned with the practice of Taekwon Do patterns.

The Military and The Design of Taekwon Do
From information on the A-KaTo website (a-kato.org), we see that in the mid 1950s, there was effort to "unify the many" and disparate martial art schools in Korea. The Founder of Taekwon Do, General Choi Hong Hi proposed the name 'Taekwon Do' and was the sole architect of the original set of Taekwon Do patterns. This we can confirm from a recent interview with International Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Federation President, GM Kong Young Il, a 9th Degree practitioner and former first generation student of General Choi's (Ictf.web.com).

While the design of Taekwon Do must have drawn from existing practice, one cannot discount the influence that General Choi had on the formation of this new system. Some questions that may be asked in this vein:

"How much of General Choi's Shotokan Karate training filtered into the new system?

"How much of General Choi's role as an Army officer influenced his patterns?

"How did his vision to spread this new martial art affect its design?

In a recount of Taekwon Do's history (Morris 1999), it seemed that Taekwon Do's and the General's "greatest turning point" was during the Korean War in 1952 where President Syngman Rhee "ordered his military chiefs of staff to require all Korean soldiers to receive training in the martial arts." To this, we can assume that General Choi, as a military officer responsible to oversee such training and development, must have had to establish quality standards and ensure that soldiers learn effective martial skills that he demonstrated to President Rhee.

The first main point is this: Taekwon Do had to be taught to a great many soldiers and had to maintain the highest standards of effectiveness. This means the system that General Choi had to create would have to integrate itself into an existing military training system (see Appendix: Schedule of Military Training), and take into account a soldier's needs while outfitted with heavy military gear.

The design of this system, may have designed the martial art syllabus with no kicks for personnel during their initial basic and/or vocational training. Why? Stuart Anslow (3rd Dan) from Rayners Lane Taekwondo Academy in the UK offers the idea that may be "hand techniques are easier and quicker to master … than kicking techniques" (Anslow 2001). This ensures that the few devastating techniques taught would actually work when required.

The second stage of training from month 3 or 6 could then introduce one or two 'staple' kicks (along with variations), as evidenced from Doh-san to Toi-gye. This is reasonable if one thinks of the saying 'less is more' for combat personnel wearing heavy boots.

If this is true, then similar to basic military training, the student learns a few techniques at first so that each one learned is an effective weapon.

Purpose of the Form

What is the purpose of Kata? It is a popular understanding that Kata houses tactics that allow a practitioner to learn all the moves necessary for a particular purpose. However, the question still remains - why only two kicks for the first seven patterns? This may be because the pattern teaches only the required minimum tactics and the more important strategy for a particular combative encounter.

So advice such as from A-KaTo's Mike Proctor Sensei (8th dan) to 'raise your arms for coverage when the opponent is closer' should go into the 'close quarter combat' pattern. The pattern doesn't have to list down all tactics, but cover the combative situation well enough so that the practitioner can 'adapt, improvise, and overcome' during that particular encounter.

On this note, I remember one lesson by A-KaTo's Paul Hinkley Sensei's (5th Dan) discussing the kicks we were practicing. He put forth that many techniques in the martial arts teach parameters of body movement. What Mr Hinkley meant is that if you were taught a front kick delivered on a vertical plane, and then a roundhouse kick delivered on a horizontal plan, all slices between those two 'parameters' would describe an infinite number of variations that are plausible and acceptable.

Drilled then on the front and side kick, beginning practitioners schooled on Chang Hon patterns would first have the vertical plane from the front kick, and secondly a side thrusting motion. In addition, observing the roundhouse/turning kick of more skilled practitioners, they could apply different variations where necessary. These building block moves could conceivably produce almost all the kicking variations required for targets waist high and below.

If this line of argument holds true, then forms introduce kicking techniques with the knowledge that all strikes are strategically initiated. Rather than mere recipes of how to do a specific strike or all possible strikes, the forms show possibilities for practitioners to innovate and remain effective.

Successful Kicking

I spent 8 years in my first martial art before joining Bryan Robbins Sensei's (7th Dan)class. I was previously trained to have beautiful, fast and powerful kicks. Only problem was because I came from a 'light' contact style, it seemed I wasn't able to land any of my techniques during my first few months of sparring at Southern Methodist University.

Yet, a person trained in kicks like myself uses kicks more frequently when learning to spar, irrespective of whether the kicks land. The reason is that kicking "imposes respect of distance" (Yates 1988 17), keeping one 'safely' away from an opponent trying to knock you out.

After several months out of my comfort zone, I found increasing success with my kicks and hand techniques. Both seemed to improve simultaneously as I began to understand how to calibrate and land techniques.  As an aside, given my previous training and flexibility, I found no greater difficulty striking with simple kicks as I could with sophisticated kicks.

The following is an informal list of what I think are success factors in striking a person with a kick.

How much of the above can I attribute either directly or indirectly to effective forms practice? The table below shows my thoughts of whether forms have a positive, negative or no effect on the ability for a person to kick.

Table 1 Effect of Forms Practice on Kicking Ability

As you can see from the summary figures, I think forms did have some relevance in teaching effective distancing and teaching you how not to telegraph techniques. However, the majority of forms practice seems not to lead to any improvement of kicking ability. In some instances while it does not prevent the skills from forming, I believe it adds little to Speed Modulation and kicking Mobility.

What We Have Discussed So Far

The following table summarizes the issues discussed.

I believe that a solid grounding in forms practice makes up the "true essence" (Yates 1988 vii) of effective Taekwon Do practice. Practitioners looking at developing a range of sophisticated kicking techniques beyond this should bear in mind the following ideas prompted from the above discussion:

During a recent senior belt grading I asked what is the difference between the first side kick in Won-hyo and the second.

While there is no one answer, my take on the question is that the first side kick is a reactionary one where your opponent has thrown a mid level kick. The step back is to move the body out of the way of the oncoming strike, and pullback of hands to the 'teacup' position is either an attempt to control the kick or an elbow strike from the side to the oncoming leg. The first side kick is thus thrown 'in reaction' or 'defensively' to an oncoming strike and can aim anywhere from mid section down to support leg.

The second side kick while also featuring the same 'hands in teacup position' during the kick is done after a reverse hand striking technique. In this situation one can imagine a situation with several strikes toward the opponent, with opponent stumbling or pressured backwards. The hand pullback could be an attempt to control an extended arm and side kick is done from back leg. This kick is done for power and is intended to finish the encounter.

Using this comparative approach for patterns, if I had to form an instructional variation based on 'response to an oncoming kick' and
involving a jump kicking exercise, it might be with the student having a sidewards trajectory to bypass the oncoming strike. Otherwise a forward jumping technique after opponent disengages may be doable. This approach provides for the jumping requirement in the definition provided by the Founder, and can be re-applied to other aspects as needed

Just identifying a technique by name may not be sufficient in martial arts. How many times have you seen black belts use basic techniques and totally dominate sparring sessions? While a cliché, one must 'go beyond' the technique in order to draw the answers we are looking for.

About the Author
Colin Wee instructor of Hikaru Ryu Gendai Budo in Western Australia (
http://www.hikarudojo.com) is trained primarily by Sensei Bryan Robbins of the American Karate and Taekwondo Organisation. Colin is a 4th degree black belt with 20 over years of experience in the martial arts. Previously a national representative and coach in Archery, Colin uses his unique perspective to endear himself to thinking martial artists. Colin is passionate about the Chang Hon Taekwondo system but is equally proud of the self-defence courses he has developed over the last 15 years. Professionally Colin holds a Master's of Business and Technology degree and is currently working on IT projects.

About the Editor
Niaal Holder is a 2nd Kyu senior student at Hikaru Dojo. 

A-kato.org, 'A Brief History From Asia to America and the A-Kato' available at

Anslow S, 2001, 'Patterns: Are you missing the point?' as printed in Taekwon-Do and Korean Martial Arts March 2001, available at

Ictf-web.com, 'An Interview with Grand Master Kong Young Il, IX Degree' by Stuart Anslow Copyright 2003-2005 International Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do Federation available at

Itf-information.com, 'Definition of Taekwon-do: Taekwon-do … A Way of Life' Fifth Edition 1999 available at

Morris GR, 1999, 'The History of Taekwondo,' A Report for Recommendation Black Belt Testing 1994 available at

Yates KD, 1988, 'The Complete Book of Taekwon Do Forms,' Paladin Press.


Schedule of Military Training
My understanding of general military training involves three main periods: basic, vocational and advanced training. Each of these periods span about 3 months. All military personnel would typically undergo the basic military training (BMT) unless they were part of an infantry unit, which undergoes about 9 months of training. After BMT you are vocationalised; for instance you can train further as a radio signaller or a medic. Officer cadets are trained for the full 9 months.

Article originally written for A-KaTo. Reproduced with permission from the author.
Getting Your Kicks from Taekwon Do Patterns

by Written by Colin Wee. Edited by Niaal Holder
Set of targets: The targets available to your kicks are different than those for your hands. As your sighting mechanism is located closer to your hands than your feet, you need to expand your perspective to 'see' which targets on your opponent are accessible and possible for your legs. This can be partly accomplished by kneeling down and looking at an opponent from hip level.

Distancing: Beginners learn how to kick in the air or on a power bag. At best this trains you only on one distance and at worse it doesn't help you understand how to strike a human target. Kicks need to land on a body that is moving toward and away from you. This will introduce variations from the 'picture perfect' basics you learn. Learning how to modify kicking distances using your leg is also an interesting challenge.

Angle of entry: The opponent is not going to let you kick him. The kick will have to weave through the cover provided by arms and will have to strike perpendicular to the target. This means you will have to recognise holes in your opponent's coverage and match your kicking trajectory through those openings.

Vectors: Related to 'Angle of entry', vectors pertain mainly to the roundhouse kick. Knowledge of vectors allows you to place your foot on the target by going around and bypassing your opponent's arms. This is done by recognising that your leg is not straight, that all you need to do is to 'fit' your foot onto an accessible target rather than swing your entire shin onto the opponent.

Non-telegraphed moves: Mr Hinkley was always big on not telegraphing moves - and he's absolutely correct! One shift of your support leg or the habitual swing of your arms to pull that leg through, and your opponent will already know what you're doing. Legs travel further! So the less time your opponent has before knowing the kick is coming, the better.

Blind spots:
Your opponent has certain 'blind spots' caused by the positioning of gloves, lead shoulder, legs, or arms. So long as there is something between his eyes and the lower part of your body, a kick can be sent along this 'shadow region' with more likelihood of the opponent not seeing the initial movement of your legs.

Feinting: The leg travels slower, so if you want to hit someone, try making them think something else is happening. Feint with your hands or with your other leg.

Speed modulation: Kicks don't have to be done all at the same speed. I once knocked out a good friend of mine with the slowest front kick. The problem was that he was anticipating a faster kick, and I changed the speed it was travelling at. Try this: throw a front kick with slow initial speed and grunt accordingly when it's supposed to land. Then speed it up and change it into a roundhouse kick.

Mobility: It doesn't take more than 2 inches for most medium to high level kicks to lose effectiveness. All your opponent has to do is shift backward a little and you miss. Your support leg and hip flexibility helps reduce this problem a little. Hop. Stretch. Gain those 2 inches or more back.
No - Success Factors

1.Set of targets


3.Angle of entry


5.Non-telegraphed moves

6.Blind spots


8.Speed modulation

9. Mobility

Forms present straightforward targets for hand strikes and do not immediately emphasize targets only accessible by kicks.

There is some distancing training when you apply any technique from the pattern on a training partner. This directly helps distancing for kicks.

Related to 'Set of targets' above, forms present straightforward targets for hand strikes and do not immediately emphasize targets only accessible by kicks.

Related to 'Set of targets' above, forms present straightforward targets for hand strikes and do not immediately emphasize targets only accessible by kicks.

Patterns are about single techniques with little time-pressure on the practitioner, there is a low chance that moves will be telegraphed. Taking such movement into consideration will improve your chances of starting the kick without the opponent really understanding how your leg is going to travel.

Related to 'Set of targets' above, forms present straightforward targets for hand strikes and do not immediately emphasize targets only accessible by kicks.

Most patterns come with either the idea that each move is a devastating one or allows you to somehow grapple with the opponent. Unless the pattern comes with strategic guidance to mask your intentions, the practitioner will not think to use the preceeding technique is a feint to allow the kick more chance to land.

I have not seen any forms (except for the variations I practice) that use speed modulation beyond just 'fast' or 'slow' moves.

I suspect that this issue would be well covered by my WTF friends, but as such the first few patterns seem to encourage short range kicks with a very stable centre of gravity.





No Effect










Effect of Forms

Design of Taekwon Do

Purpose of the Form

Successful Kicking


Kicks up to Black Belt had a specific training purpose and considered learning and operational issues for the dissemination of skills to the masses.

Forms only present basic kicks, and encourage innovation; other drills complement the system. Sophisticated kicks learned later.

Successful kicking comes about from considerable practice; the overlap between what is taught in forms is tenuous when exploring more sophisticated kicking methods.

a.Develop the few basic kicks and ensure their effectiveness first.
b.Keep sophisticated kicks in perspective; innovate from the basics.
c.If forms are devastating enough, then kicks might be better used for gap closing or distancing the opponent from oneself.

On Training:
a.Form work helps develop physical ability for basic kicks, work on complementary (or sport specific) drills to prepare yourself for more difficult ones.

On Kicking
a.Not all kicks have to be done for distance; there are times when a kick may work at shorter distances.
b.Try doing kicks with your shoes on.