Almost all martial arts practiced today have origins in the need for self-defense. Taekwondo is no exception (see the History of Taekwondo page here). That’s why you hear self-defense talked about by martial artists, web experts, and gurus who claim to have the "best systems" on the market.

A Taekwondo school should focus on aspects of self-defense without promoting aggression. (Check out our “Choosing a School” page.)

What is self-defense? Quite simply, it’s the ability to avoid serious harm to yourself or others by escaping or stopping potential harm from another person (or animal).

In my first term of college, I had a job working at the mall. Since I didn’t have a vehicle at the time, I rode my bike, sometimes late at night. One night I was heading home from the evening shift when two drunk men, who had obviously walked out of a nearby bar, decided to stop me. I got off my bike and tried to walk around them, but one of the guys stepped in front of me and pushed me, making me drop my bike. While I don’t remember the conversation too clearly, they did say, “Hey, what’s up, punk?” One of the guys started to grab my fallen bike. The other, the guy who had pushed me, threw a haymaker punch.

I responded without even thinking; I sidestepped the punch and delivered a side kick to the outside of his knee. The puncher fell down on his face, cursing. The other guy looked shocked. I picked up my bike and hustled to the gas station next door to the bar, went inside, and asked them to call the police. I waited there until they had apprehended the drunks. I filed a report but chose not to press charges, since I didn’t get hurt. The police told me that I had broken the puncher’s fibula (his outside lower leg bone). But they didn’t have any problem with the way I handled the situation, especially since two witnesses told the police what they saw.

I don’t tell this story to boast about myself or my skills. Happily, I have rarely had to use Taekwondo skills in such situations, but they have has served me when I have needed them. I worry about how this could have gone had it been someone else. I didn’t want to fight, but when I was attacked, I reacted to preserve my well-being.

You may be surprised at how early in your Taekwondo education you acquire a few self-defense skills. In fact, even a white belt with only a basic front kick, side kick or punch may be able to discourage an attacker. That said, however, Taekwondo does not teach students to be aggressive, or to be bold enough to attack other people. It is for defense, not offense. If you are attacked, you must use just enough force to escape.

Here are some practical tips for self-defense:

  • Avoid being in unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations. Carry a phone with you (if possible) and have a friend or family member whom you can always call in an emergency. Avoid dark parking lots, alleyways, or rooms of strangers. Know your surroundings.
  • Use the buddy system. When you go out at night or to an unfamiliar part of town, take someone with you.
  • When you walk to your car, have your keys already in your hand before you even go outside.
  • Try to talk your way out of a dangerous situation. It might work.
  • If your attacker demands some physical possession (purse, wallet, phone), give it. He or she may leave you alone.
  • Keys can sometimes be a deterrent. Strike the attacker’s head, face, or eyes with your keys. Set off your car alarm to draw attention.
  • Make noise! Scream and yell! Holler “FIRE!” or “RAPE!” (even if that’s not the situation) to get attention. Someone may hear and call the police.
  • If you are in a possible rape situation, vomiting on yourself can disgust your attacker into leaving you alone.
  • If your attacker has a weapon (gun, knife, etc.) and doesn’t have you trapped, run away if you can. A gun or knife is much harder to use on a moving target than a still one.
  • Some people say you may be able to avoid a situation by letting your opponent know that you study Taekwondo. There is a story of a woman who, when attacked, came to attention and bowed to the attackers, taking a fighting stance; the attackers ran away, intimidated. However, some attackers will look at this kind of statement as an invitation to fight.
  • If there is no way to avoid striking the attacker, do it quickly, disable your attacker and run. Knees, insteps, face, stomach and groin are among the vulnerable targets. Do not try to disable your opponent or “hold her until the police come.” Get away from there, to another building if possible.
  • If you are in your home when a burglar breaks in, call the police (9-1-1 if appropriate) first of all. Gather family members to one safe spot. Then make noise, turn on lights, turn on the TV, and let the thief know in other ways that you are at home and awake. Do not confront a burglar, if possible.

Here are some safety tips for kids (including teens):

  • Always be sure your parents know where you are, whom you are with, what you’re doing, and what time you will be home.
  • Never allow strangers into your home on any pretext. Never go near a strange car, even if you’re asked for directions or other help. Someone who really needs help should be asking an adult!
  • Know your address, your phone number, and your parents’ cell phone numbers.
  • If someone is bothering you, talk right away to a parent, teacher, or other trusted person. If you’re in a store, go to an employee (you can tell an employee by the name tag or store badge).
  • If someone tries to grab you, get loud! Have a tantrum! Shout! Scream! Kick! Punch any part of your attacker!

Do you need more suggestions? Talk with your Taekwondo instructor.

Taekwondo Instructors and Schools: Link your school website to as a resource for your students.

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