How to Find a Good Taekwondo College What makes a Taekwondo school, or dojang, good? That’s surprisingly a complicated question. I think we can all agree that poor skill and shady business practices taints a school. We could agree such a school is bad. But what if it’s a really good competition gym? Or what if they’re really good at self-defense sets but never test their ability in competitions? I have some ideas that might cut through the fog. Below is a list of the elements a good Taekwondo school should have, in my opinion.
Find a Good Taekwondo School
1. Do they have an adults only class? Some dojangs are so focused on money that they only have kids classes. Adults are forced to either take kids classes or attend a family (mixed age groups) class. This is because children unfortunately make up the bulk of the Taekwondo demographic. That’s where the money is at.
A good dojang should have a separate adult program, so that adults learn at their speed, with proper partners, and in material that is relevant to them but too mature for children.
2. Do they require hoshinsul (self-defense) for testing to the next rank? Self-defense was once the heart of Taekwondo…and in true Taekwondo, it still is. Martial arts are for defending yourself. A good Taekwondo school will require you to know a certain number of escapes and counters in order to test for your next belt.
This can be included in your one-step sparring. But you want to make sure that the bulk of your self-defense training is not in a formal context (e.g. the classical format of one-steps), but done less formally and under more “alive” circumstances.
3. How much do they free spar? And is it continuous or point break? Do they do hard or full contact? Is it required for testing? Is it ever different than Olympic style? These are all important questions. A good school may do only Olympic sparring. But a great school will do several types of free sparring, more realistic rules. It will always be continuous, no breaks every time someone gets tapped. And it should often be above light contact, so that you get tougher and learn what it feels like to be in something approximating a real altercation. Once you are a high enough rank, you should have a good spar at least twice a month, preferably once a week.
4. Are strong fundamentals emphasized? Grand Master Lee Won Kuk, the founder of Chung Do Kwan and one of the original most pioneers of Taekwondo, once lamented that modern Taekwondo had poor basics. That’s because Taekwondo became known for its spectacular aerial and spinning kicks, and the theory is that that drove in students. So instructors delivered on that demand. The result was — and still is — poor grounding in the basics of the art.
You might be able to do a pretty good split kick, but can your side kick stop somebody who’s charging at you? I’ll be straight: the spectacular techniques of Taekwondo are useless in a real fight. Only the basics will serve you.
And if your basics aren’t good, you’re screwed. Plain and simple. A good school will always emphasize the basics. The more spectacular techniques are for those who have mastered the basics.
5. Are the self-defense techniques flowery, complicated? You shouldn’t be doing a jump spin kick, or any spin kick, as your first line of self-defense. Just because your school has self-defenses doesn’t mean they’re good defenses. They should be simple and functional, for the most part relatively easy to pick up.
That’s what works in a fight because real fights are messy. Not spin kicks, fancy throws and joint locks, or long combinations. If you have trouble doing it after practicing for 5-10 minutes, it probably won’t work. Beware.
6. Is your instructor continuing to learn under a master of his own? Some masters get to a point and just stop learning. This is bad. You want your instructor to always be continuing his education, even if it’s in another martial art.
It’s important to learn how to do things more than one way, pick up new tricks and understandings, new skills, and generally just continue to expand your knowledge and experience — no matter how big and important you are! (Personally, I try to attend seminars when I can, and I’ve been learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the past couple years.) Conclusion.
This is a surprisingly a complicated matter, but the tips I have outlined here should bring some clarity to the process. Essentially, look for Taekwondo school that emphasizes fundamentals, realistic self-defense, lots of free sparring, adult-only classes, and has an instructor that continues his own development.