Why Every TKD Person Should Cross Train in BJJ


Years ago I was in a sore spot in my martial arts career. I had been practicing Songahm taekwondo in some form or another for about 8 years (I later switched to Kukki Taekwondo). But I had more of an interest in karate and in the absence of much formal education in that art I resorted to books and videos. I had had a year of kung fu and a year of Tracy Kenpo. No matter how hard I trained, I had little ability to gauge my technique level. I had a lot of knowledge but I was still formulating my technical base and martial philosophy. At that time, I thought grappling on the ground was dumb. I thought my skills would keep me on my feet if anyone tried to take me.

At a beach camp I was talking with a friend about different martial arts techniques and the subject of takedown prevention came up. Despite my ignorance of grappling, my idea was right — sprawl backwards and get heavy on top of him to work. It’s a technique I learned in kenpo, but the version I learned there was more hard strikes to the neck and spine than it was putting weight on the back. So it had holes in it as far as effectiveness, and it relied on the application of potentially lethal force to make it work.

Some wrestler guy (friend of my friend’s I guess) was listening in. He stepped forward, bent over, and said “show me” as he reached for my legs. I stepped back and said I couldn’t, but since he was going slowly I didn’t think he was going to take me down because he wanted me to demonstrate. Well once he had grabbed me he took me down and put me into side control. I had no idea what do and couldn’t move. It was then that I tried to use some vital point strikes. They didn’t work. All he did was tense up or shift himself. Finally I just lay there shrugging at my friend, aggravated, embarrassed.

Looking back he was actually a sloppy wrestler. He pinned me so well because he was a lot bigger than me. At one point he tried something and left too much space and even without ground skill I was able to get up. I pushed down on his face with one hand and cocked my fist with the other. I probably could have clocked him pretty good at that point but I didn’t. He took me down again and all the same stuff happened over again until my friend got in and broke it up.

My friend helped me up and smiled. He said I should stick with my speed and strikes because grappling wasn’t my thing. I was humiliated, livid. I resolved right then to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or some ground fighting style. In just a matter of minutes, I learned that grappling was a huge threat and that vital strikes don’t work like magic in a real scuffle.

Fast forward another 6 years or so. I’m just now starting BJJ because I was never near or able to afford any BJJ or grappling gyms. I’ve been doing it for about 4 months now, and love it. I’m even pretty good at it for a beginner according to my instructor and classmates.

All strikers should learn the ground game. If the UFC and the Gracie Challenges have proved anything, it’s that those proficient at ground fighting are able to take you down at will regardless of skill. If you miss one kick or one punch you are done if you don’t know anything more than strikes. Once there you are like a baby in gymnastics competition: helpless, lost, and woefully ill-equipped.

So don’t tell me about all your anti-grappling techniques. If you even think you don’t need even a basic understanding of grappling to defend against it, then I know for a fact you’ve never fought against a grappler and you live in a fantasy kung fu movie.

Since starting BJJ I’ve learned how to escape that side control position easy. I’ve learned how to get someone sitting on my stomach/chest off easy. I’ve learned how to fight off my back if I have to. I’ve learned how to stand up properly if I have to. I’ve learned how to properly execute such bread and butter attacks as Americana arm locks, arm bars, triangle chokes, and rear naked chokes. I’ve learned how to reverse bad positions. I’ve learned how to escape some bad positions.

The list goes on and on. The level of proficiency that you develop in these skills gives you a tremendous amount of confidence in dealing with them in a real fight whether you want to fight on the ground or not — and that is priceless. But if you want to use grappling, the constant trial-by-fire type of full contact sparring of most grappling styles toughens you and makes you proficient in these skills quickly. Perhaps you feel like you’re terrible at the dojo. But against the average guy with no training or someone with little training everything is suddenly much easier. Combine it with your established striking skills and you will be ten times better as a fighter than you were before. Not to mention well-rounded!

So get out and do it. You’re already grounded in your main style as a striker. So add some skills! Get good at everything! Don’t get caught with your pants down like I did and look like a fool!

If you’re interested, look for qualified instructors in these martial arts: Brazilian/Gracie Jiu Jitsu, 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, Sambo, Hayastan, Catch Wrestling, Combat Submission Wrestling, and Judo. Judo has less of an emphasis on ground fighting as the other arts, but it’s better than nothing and the standing grappling game is a phenomenal skill to have.

7 Benefits of Olympic Sparring for Taekwondo

Although Olympic Sparring has in some ways plagued Taekwondo and helped to taint its image, it has also benefited it in several ways. Below is a list of the biggest benefits it has had on Taekwondo:

1. It’s full contact. Many styles suffer from a lack of full or hard contact sparring. Why are Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Judo stylists so powerful? They do tons and tons of pressure testing through full/hard contact sparring (or freestyle “rolling”/”randori”). Being forced to make your techniques work against a skilled and fully resisting opponent makes all the difference. Including this factor in Taekwondo has caused Taekwondoin to be able to not only use but successfully pull off insane kicking techniques in both Olympic sparring and other types of matches. Note that not all WTF-style dojangs practice full contact, unfortunately. But they should.

2. It forces you to have good kicks. Kicking is probably the most neglected skill in the average martial arts school. You might think, “Hey! We’ve got pretty good kicks.” But I doubt they meet the Taekwondo standard. We know kicks. And not only do we know kicks, but Olympic sparring forces us to be able to use them against a skilled, resisting opponent.

3. It forces you to combine kicks. Boxing, Karate, Muay Thai — they all have punching and punch-kick combinations. But how many specialize in sole kicking combinations? Olympic sparring focuses on using kicks in a similar way that most martial artists use their hands. Consequently, we are forced to have a very sophisticated kicking game. Whereas most martial arts set up a knockout kick with hand techniques, Taekwondo sets up a knockout kick with kicks. Once again, we are forced to be able to make these combinations effective.

4. It makes you faster and more explosive. You have to score points to win (only full contact hits score). On top of that, your opponent knows you are going to be using 90% kicks. The legs are slower than the hands. Martial artists know that kicks are relatively easy to deal with when you know they’re coming. So Taekwondoin are obsessed with developing quick, explosive footwork and kicks. Judoka train the entry of a throw religiously. Likewise, without even kicking all the way, the Taekwondoin will train its initial shift/turn and chamber religiously. In terms of speed and strategy, we’re forced to bring our kicking to a level which is beyond most martial arts.

5. It makes you more agile. Moving in a straight line back and forth is bad for both defense and offense. If you want a chance to both dodge and land kicks, you will have to learn how to switch directions quickly while covering ground. Most Olympic style kicking drills involve changing angles quickly. If you can’t, you won’t go far in this sport.

6. You stop blocking kicks with your hands. Traditional martial arts get a lot of flack from MMA guys who claim it is a really bad idea to use your hands to block. Actually, it turns out that this is true for the most part. Olympic sparring has evolved Taekwondo away from its Shotokan method of using hand blocks for kicks to using superior footwork, body positioning, and counter angles to avoid kicks. Most martial artists would find the simple turn back kick to be a very cumbersome go-to counter. Well, not Taekwondoin. It’s our bread and butter. And we can use it to devastating effect, as has been proven recently in the UFC and other MMA venues. This single fact is what makes Olympic sparring worth practicing at all.

7. It forces you to be good with both sides. Both Boxing and Karate are usually limited in that they make use of a default stance that favors one side. Your power hand is almost always the back hand. This is a very effective way to fight, but in a theoretical sense can limit you. Efficiency with both sides is a benefit of Taekwondo overall, but is stressed mostly in Olympic style sparring: you have to be good on both sides. Not just for kicks, but from a different stance. Quick stance switching is one of the unique strategies of Taekwondo. We train each leg/side equally so that our defensive and strategic options for dealing with the opponent’s kicks are much greater. If I had to step back with the left leg to dodge a kick, and the opponent’s body is open so that I can kick it with my left leg, I know that I can quickly launch a left leg round kick and hit the target with power almost as well as I can with my stronger right leg.

So should we practice Olympic sparring all the time? No. It is too limited to prepare you for real fighting, or to deal with the techniques of other arts. Freer sparring styles should be the dominant practice in each dojang. But make room for Olympic sparring, because it is an excellent game to increase your kicking ability.