I'm planning to start Taekwondo classes in a month but I just wanted to know if I have any chance being good at it to compete. Or am I a lost cause because I am 16 and people who go to national competitions or any important championships start training at like 3 years old. I'm very flexible, because I did rhythmic gymnastics and I'm quitting ballet.

  • I started tkd when I was 16. I was not talented in it, and also too short to have any advantage in competitions. But tkd changed my life. I ventured into refereeing and it instilled discipline and helped me achieve great things in my career. I was never a national champion although I did compete in national and international levels. I'm 45 now and I teach karate. I never regretted starting tkd at 16 Nov 29, 2023 at 3:53

11 Answers 11


Yes, it's possible, but if you focus on that you're likely to be disappointed.

Most people who start (any martial art, or anything else difficult for that matter) tend to drop out after a short time, or simply not have the time or natural talent to rise to elite competitive levels. And that's ok.

It seems a little early to be caring about national level competition before you have your first class. You literally don't even know if you're going to like doing it at all, let alone whether a year from now, when you've learned all the basics and it's all about endlessly practicing the old stuff you already know, or if it's the competition (versus all the other worthwhile aspects of martial arts study) that will be what ends up being your main interest.

I happen to think 16 is a great age to start, and have seen many people at that age or later become really good elite competitors when they are around university age.

That said, 20 years later, many of those elite competitors haven't done martial arts for years and often have injuries that would prevent it even if they still had the interest, whereas many of the less flashy "slow and steady competent progress" crowd still has it as part of their lives. Being the best when you're 18 does not necessarily correspond with still being decent at it and enjoying it when you're 30 or 40. Figure out what your real goals are.


Answer: Absolutely

16 is a great age to begin TKD training and you have plenty of time to become proficient enough for competition, provided you are in good physical condition. Since you mention that you practice ballet and gymnastics, your athleticism makes you an excellent candidate for TKD competition training. I would argue that someone could achieve some success in competition even beginning as late as 30 or 40 years old, though as you grow older, the opportunities for this do decrease. I would expect a period of at least 2 to 3 years of physical conditioning before you will be ready for competition, depending on how consistently you train and at what belt rank your school begins competing.


Certainly kids that started off earlier than you would have an advantage over you. But the good news is that Taekwondo divides competitors a number of ways, depending on how many people are competing: sex (m/f), rank (beginner, intermediate, advanced / black-belt), age (children, junior, adult, senior), and weight.

Chances are, you'll compete very locally at first. I mean, you'll stick to tournaments sponsored or run by your TKD school. And it will take about 3-5 years for you to become a black belt. During this time, you'll be competing with others who are similarly experienced (because you'll all be in the colored belt ranks) and roughly the same age as you. So you'll have a pretty good chance to win, so long as you train very hard and often.

If anything, you might be a little older than most of your fellow competitors, and that might give you a slight advantage due to height, reach, and muscle strength differences (15 years old is typically seen as "adult", yet 15 year olds are typically not very matured physically yet).

When you start reaching advanced level (about a year before black belt), you'll probably start branching out and doing more regional or national competitions, instead of sticking with local tournaments only. That's where you're going to see a lot of differences in abilities. It's here that you'll be competing against people with a lot more experience than you have, because the advanced divisions means any black belt, even those with multiple degrees can compete in the same division.

Personally, I wouldn't sweat it. I think you'll have a great time regardless of any advantages or disadvantages you might have.

Now if you're asking whether you can possibly achieve "greatness", that's a completely other question altogether. I guess you're thinking TKD is like gymnastics or something, where the best competitors are typically under the age of 18 for one reason or another. So you're thinking you're past your prime?

In TKD, there probably is an ideal age range for sparring competitors. In my experience, the ages for the "best" TKD competitors are typically between 18 and 28. But that's just a rough estimate.

According to Olympic medal statistics in Taekwondo, the ages of the winners for males tend to be around age 25, females around age 22-23. But those are median values. There are gold, silver, and bronze medalists in their 30's as well. And I know for a fact that many of them started off in their teens, not in their pre-adolescent childhood.

So you have plenty of time.

But here's another thing to think about. Why does it matter? Does it have to be possible to be the best at something before you begin it? The chances of you being considered one of the best at anything in life is exceedingly small. Can't you just enjoy being the best you can personally be instead?

My wife who's nearly 30 years old now started learning gymnastics at age 23. She started contemporary wushu kung-fu at that age also. I think she's very good at both. She actually blows me away with what she can do. But will she ever be in the same ballpark as Olympic gymnasts or the Beijing Wushu team? Oh hell no. Not even close. And yet, she loves it. That's all that matters.

Good luck!


I personally didn't start Taekwondo until I was in my late 20s; I wish I'd started at 16!

In my school, we have a gentleman who started after he retired! He is now 74 and a 1st Kup, so it really doesn't matter what age you start at.

Some years ago, we had a teenager who did ballet join the school; she'd been dancing for many years and ended up going to London to further her (ballet) training. Her strength and flexibility was much better than everyone else at her age/level and also better than many of the black belts at the time!

In other words, 16 is a good age to start and with your background in gymnastics and ballet, you should adapt to it very easily. I imagine you'll be pretty competitive in tournaments, too!


I started when I was 13 and I won the British open the next year and by the time I was 16, I finished 5th at the world championships for Junior Male Patterns. Would I have been better if I started sooner? Yes. Did it stop me from competing at the highest level? Nope.

As long as you're flexible and can dance fairly well, you should be alright. Dancing isn't strictly necessary, but it is a good indicator of your suppleness and ability to learn techniques properly.


Definitely give it a go, if you enjoy it and you're willing to work, you can do well.

I started in my mid twenties and I've competed in patterns, sparring and breaking at countless competitions, winning plenty of medals along the way. I'm also now an instructor at my local club so I can help teach the new students coming through.

You are never too old, ever. If you want to give it a go, do it! :)


In my experience training in and teaching TKD, I've found it can be an advantage starting around 16 rather than at say 12 or younger... younger students struggle to understand or find interest in the subtle body mechanics needed to do the techniques with optimal power, balance, efficiency etc.. They can form bad habits that rely too much on flexibility, brute effort and stamina, or get caught up in being "flashy", and can be shielded from the limited utility of such technique by older seniors' kindness towards kids their age. Bad habits can easily last a lifetime if someone feels "hey, I've been doing this since I was 6 and I've heard a hundred instructors talk about the technique so I don't even have to listen - just waiting here for the go on the next pattern or drill". Careful listening, deep thought, comparisons and contrasts, experimentation and observation on targets and in sparring etc. is a constant need for reaching the elite, and a curious 16 year old is well placed to form that mental attitude as an enduring habit.


16 is good to start. It's more about how much you practice. Don't ask what age you should start at, because there isn't much you can do about that. Ask what age you can get black belt in by practicing a ton based on your current age. Set a realistic goal. Keep setting realistic goals every few years. It's good motivation.


I'm planning to start Taekwondo classes in a month but I just wanted to know if I have any chance being good at it to compete. Or am I a lost cause because I am 16 and people who go to national competitions or any important championships start training at like 3 years old. I'm very flexible, because I did rhythmic gymnastics and I'm quitting ballet.

Yes, you can do it. Taekwon-do is a good exercise and along with it you learn a few techniques to keep you safe on the road.

Being flexible helps so you have a bit of a headstart in being good at Taekwon-do.

In terms of competition, you have to put in practice real often to achieve the results you want. Be it sparring or patterns, you have to make sure you do it right (techniques) and after some time you will be good in it.

Believe in yourself. I'm 30 now and I've just gotten my 1st Dan a couple of years ago. If I can do it, so can you.


At 16, of course you can. At 16, you're not even fully physically developed yet. You're not yet at your prime. You are however at the optimum age for learning. Many schools won't even take the very young, and those that do often find the kids can't concentrate, or are lazy. By 16 years, someone is old enough to train seriously, but very much young enough to keep up. All that said, if you're sole reason for joining is to compete, I expect you'll be disappointed. You'll be training hard in a very small subset of the art. You will learn to win competitions, and nothing more. Taekwondo is a rich and diverse art. Soak it all up, and love it.


I believe that is a great age to start! Your body is still growing and you are training your muscles so that they grow stronger with you.

However, regarding your question:

Keep in mind that Martial Arts are not just sports or competitions, Martial Arts are a way of living. That tiny -Do at the end of the name means way or route.

Thus Martial Arts are a life-long journey. The more you know, the more you discover that you don't know and the more you want to research.

Also, being good in competitions it's not only about years; it is about depth of understanding, experience, dedicated training, and of course, a bit of luck and talent.

If you listen to your Master and try to understand every part of your training you will be a champion both inside and outside the ring. :)

From someone who has practiced both Shaolin and WuDang styles of Kung-Fu, San Shao (San Da, Chinese kickboxing), Krav Maga and has a deep love for philosophy.

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