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I've been looking to get into Taekwondo but I was wondering if it is mostly a free moving style (like boxing) or a disciplined style (strict movement with mostly certain positions allowed). I want to get into a mostly free moving style. Can anyone answer my question?

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    Please explain further what you mean by "free moving style" and "disciplined style". – mattm Jan 6 '18 at 0:03
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    All martial arts are "free moving" in a fight. The only possible exceptions I can think of (And this is based on perception, not actual experience) is kendo sparring. Can you clarify what you mean? – JohnP Jan 6 '18 at 0:45
  • Yeah like strict movement with mostly certain positions allowed. – user8733 Jan 6 '18 at 0:50
  • I don't think any style only allows certain positions. Note however that Taekwondo is a points based competition sport. You don't score many point for front jabs and so on that you might find effective in boxing. High points are scored for big impressive kicks. – Huw Evans Jan 6 '18 at 11:41
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    @HuwEvans - That entirely depends on the scoring rules and the federation. And WTF has recently changed the rules (again) to reintroduce punching as a legit technique. – JohnP Jan 6 '18 at 21:25
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Just a quick note on the terminology.

"Free fighting" is generally the term used to describe when people are fighting together on their feet, free to move around. There's no holding going on at all. No throwing. No grappling. It's mostly about striking. This is also called the "free movement" phase of fighting (other phases include the "clinch" and the "ground", with transitions occurring between each phase).

"Free style" is generally the term used to describe when people are able to use whatever techniques they want to achieve some goal (usually to score a point in competition). There's no adherence to a particular style's set of techniques.

For example, in Judo, there are only a limited number of ways you can hold someone down on the ground, and there are a limited number of throws you can do to get someone on the ground (some throws are actually banned in some Judo competitions). The techniques you use in Judo must conform to the standards of that technique. Sloppy technique generally doesn't score, or scores less than "perfect" techniques. So Judo is not a free style grappling art.

What you're referring to is "free style" when you say "free movement". Taekwondo is a "free fighting" style, but it's a matter of philosophy when trying to determine if it's actually free style.

In TKD, there is a great deal of flexibility allowed when performing kicks and punches in sparring. Your kick could look nothing like an orthodox technique. That's fine, it still scores points. So in that sense, TKD sparring is free style.

But where the philosophical dilemma comes in is how one reconciles this with the fact that TKD rules are very limiting. They greatly limit what techniques you can perform at all.

Take for example a technique from Capoeira where you do a kind of cartwheel-like movement, placing your hands on the ground while kicking to your opponent's face or torso. While a kick to the face is allowed in Taekwondo, placing your hands on the ground is not allowed.

Elbow and knee strikes to the face and body are also forbidden in TKD sparring. In some TKD competitions, spinning back-fists are also forbidden.

So I'll just say that Taekwondo competition can be seen as having elements of both free style and non-free style. It depends on your own way of looking at it.

And notice I'm careful to say this only refers to "competition rules", not to the martial art itself. In the broader version of Taekwondo, there are self-defense aspects which do not have these limitations. That's where you're going to see elbow and knee strikes taught. But it still doesn't generally teach grappling, or strikes to the back, etc. This is also highly dependent on your school and your instructors.

In general, sparring becomes "free style" when the rules are reduced so much that essentially the only thing remaining is the goal (which is usually to score a point). The way you achieve that goal doesn't matter. All techniques would be allowed - with some reasonable exceptions for safety reasons (eye gouging, fish-hooking, kicks to the testicles, ear claps, throat strikes, etc.).

By that definition, something like Boxing is not free style. That's because spinning back-fists are not allowed, for example. If the only thing that's important is that the strike hits the face or the body, then surely this technique should be allowed. But it isn't allowed in most Boxing competitions. In fact, non-spinning back-fists as well as palm strikes aren't allowed in Boxing, either.

Boxing would be "free style" if it merely allowed any kind of strike with the hand or the fist to occur. It still wouldn't have to allow for kicking or grappling in order for it to be categorized as free style.

So, getting back to Taekwondo...

Is Taekwondo a free style system? I don't think so, not by my definition. But does it have free style elements to its sparring? Yes. So that is why this really requires you to think about what you want from Taekwondo and whether or not it's giving you that.

Hope that helps.

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    I am half tempted to ask "what is a free style?" as a question so you can copy and past this there where it might get seen more. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Jan 8 '18 at 21:43
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It may depend on what type of Taekwondo you study, and which part of the class you're asking about. In my experience, from having done a bit of ITF, a bit of WTF, and a bit of Songham-style, the drills during class tend to be what you're discussing with the "disciplined style", going into specific stances and doing specific techniques, as are the "forms" (I'm told tul is the proper Korean word). Sparring tends to be free moving, with some rules to constrain the fight, but without specified movements. In between, some schools do "one step" drills, which involve an attacker at speed, doing a specified set of movements, with a specified defense.

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    'tul' is the Korean word for pattern/form. – Mike P Jan 8 '18 at 11:30
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    @MikeP: Thank you. For some reason, the term never came up in the four years I took it. :) – Macaco Branco Jan 8 '18 at 12:21
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Considering that you're talking about the WTF Olympic sparring combat sport, I would say that it is mostly a free style.

Of course the movements you will use are actually constrained by the sparring rules, but that's also true for boxing, that you mention as an example of a free style.

As a caricature, you could say that TKD sparring is like boxing, but using mostly your feet instead of your fists.

  • In TKD you can hit only on the coloured areas of the body vest and on the helmet, and these areas are very similar to the ones allowed in boxing.
  • in TKD you can only hit with your feet and fists; similar to boxing but adding kicks.
  • No grabbing is allowed in either.
  • No ground fighting is allowed in either.
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