When I saw my local taekwondo training centre was giving free try-out lessons, I had to give it a go.
This isn’t my first experience with a martial art or combat sport. Previously, I’d tried boxing, and before that I obtained a yellow belt in choikwangdo (CKD) which is in some ways pretty similar to taekwondo, so I didn’t feel intimidated or hesitant about giving it a go.
As it was a taster session, no dobok (uniform) was required and everyone was advised to wear flexible and loose clothing. When I arrived at the dojang (as it is called), the first thing that hit me was the temperature.
It was freezing, like Christmas in Moscow, which reminded me of how cold it had been doing my CKD classes. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate tactic, but it certainly encourages you to start the session with a good warm-up, in every sense of the phrase.
Before that, however, we were taught how to bow correctly, which was largely the same as in CKD; straight back, hands by your side, feet parallel and a nice, even bow.
The respect factor in martial arts is huge, and one of the key things that make them so popular all over the world. Every martial art I have seen, particularly those with Asian roots, have a philosophy that encourages integrity, respect for your opponent and honour in defeat.
The warm-up began with light stretches and a jog of about 15 minutes, and judging by the sweat it produced, it did the job very well. It may be necessary, but personally it’s the part of the class I enjoyed the least. Then again, who really enjoys warming up in a martial arts class?
We then learned the correct stance for hand strikes (very similar to the bow) – a complete contrast to the orthodox or southpaw approach in boxing – we were taught some basic defensive manoeuvres involving blocking with the forearm, which in turn lead to the most enjoyable part of the lesson, the art of the kick.
From that point, it was not long before we got onto the real business of the session: sparring.
Having learned the technique for sidekicks and front kicks, to finish off, we were asked to line up and test our capabilities on a pad which was a lot smaller than I had been expecting. Clearly, a high standard is placed on students and teachers in taekwondo.
Coming out of the session, I definitely felt like I had had a good time, and it had been a worthwhile way to spend an hour. Knowing techniques from CKD, which were so similar, definitely helped, but the fact I was so rusty meant I did not have a huge advantage on the other learners.
As far as effectiveness goes, even though I only had a short time in there trying it, I came away feeling taekwondo was better than CKD due to the more precise nature of the techniques. However, I also felt both sports are inferior to boxing.
As someone who has tried all three disciplines, I feel boxing keeps you fitter and is more useful in a fight situation, as it teaches you correct ways to avoid being hit through movement of the head and feet, as well as superior striking technique.
That said, I would certainly recommend taekwondo to anyone considering giving martial arts a try for the first time. Free taster/beginner sessions are easy to find and widely available, particularly in London.
It was something I enjoyed, and I learned enough from it to ensure it will be one of the sports that I’ll be keeping an eye out for at this summer’s Olympics in Rio.
Image by M Shaff via Flickr Creative Commons