5 ways to improve your kicking techniques in Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a martial art known for its impressive kicking techniques. Fast and complicated kicks are a part of every Taekwondo demonstration, and kicking techniques usually score higher in sparring competitions.

Performing kicking techniques well requires excellent balance, flexibility, strength, and precision. These are not physical characteristics that most people have naturally, so it takes a long time and a lot of effort to learn how to perform kicking techniques well. It also requires good training methods, and so here are five ways that you can improve your kicking techniques.

1. Practise regularly and often

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The best way to improve your balance, flexibility, and strength for kicking techniques is to simply practise the techniques often. I have often found that a good time to practise kicking techniques is just before a regular training session. I often spend the 10 minutes before a class starts practising kicking techniques. If you do two or three training sessions a week, and practise kicking before each one, your flexibility and balance will steadily improve.

Similarly, I find that certain routines of kicking techniques work better than others. I find that the best routines gradually increase the difficulty of the kicks, and also don’t jump from one muscle group to another. The routine I often use is:

  • front rising kicks
  • front snapping kicks
  • inward crescent kicks
  • outward crescent kicks
  • side kicks
  • turning kicks
  • rising side kicks
  • reverse turning kicks

After that you can do any other kicks you like in any order. I tend to do about 20 of each kick before moving onto the next one. That might seem like quite a lot of kicks in total, but you don’t have to do the full list each time – I often just do down to turning kicks.

2. Stance holding

This is actually one of my favourite training activities, though I can imagine most people would find it boring. It’s quite simple: just choose a stance, perform it well, and then hold it for a certain amount of time – often 1 – 2 minutes.

That might sound easy – and for a walking stance it is – but for a low sitting stance (or the most difficult one – a low fixed stance) it’s harder. Doing this activity for certain stances helps improve your balance – in particular sitting stance, bending stance, and one-leg stance. This in turn helps to improve your kicking techniques.

When you start, you might only hold a stance for 1 or 1 ½ minutes, but over time, that will get easier, so increase the length of time you hold the stance for to 2 minutes, 2 ½ minutes, and so on.

3. Basic jumping

The most difficult kicks to perform in Taekwondo are jumping kicks. One of the brilliant things about Changheon-yu Taekwondo, and the patterns that Choi Hong-hi designed, is that the training for jumping kicks is partially built into the patterns. The first jumping kick in the Changheon-yu patterns appears in the black-stripe pattern Chungmu, and then the next ones appear in Gwanggae and Gyebaek. But also in Chungmu is a move consisting of a 360-degree jump and spin on the spot. This technique is just one of several fairly basic jumps that are good for improving your jumping kicks.

The basic jumps are:

  • ‘l’ stance, jumping on the spot and landing in the same stance
  • ‘l’ stance, jumping on the spot and changing from a left to a right stance (or a right to a left)
  • ‘l’ stance, jumping on the spot and turning to face the opposite direction, landing in the same stance (180-degree turn)
  • the same as the above, but spinning in the opposite direction
  • ‘l’ stance, jumping on the spot and spinning 360 degrees in the air, landing in the same stance in the same direction
  • the same as the above, but spinning in the opposite direction

If you’re just starting out at learning jumping kicks (or you are an instructor looking for some basic jumping technique exercises to give your students) these exercises are excellent for improving your balance through a jump. They get you used to landing correctly after having jumped and spun in the air.

4. Slow kicks

This is probably the most effective method for improving your kicks. Try performing kicking techniques much more slowly than usual, holding each of the important positions of the kick. For example, if you were doing a side kick, first bring the foot up next to the opposite knee, then hold for 5 seconds, then lift the foot up so that it is at the height of the kick, but the knee is still pulled in, then hold for 5 seconds. Over 5 seconds, extend the leg to the position of the side kick, then once the leg is fully extended, hold it in position for 5 seconds. Then over another 5 seconds, lower the foot again.

As you get better at the exercise, increase the amount of time you hold each position for.

This technique is excellent for improving your balance, strength, and the precision of your kicks. It’s probably the most effective method for doing so, but you have to do it often – probably at least twice a week – with a wide range of different kicking techniques.

5. Foot shape exercises

A lot of students find it difficult to get the right foot shape for different kicks. A side kick is usually performed with the foot-sword, thus the foot-sword must be pushed forward (so that you don’t hit your opponent with the sole of your foot). A front snapping kick is usually performed with the ball of the foot, thus the toes must be pulled back.

Practise moving your feet into these different shapes – practise pulling the toes back or pushing the foot-sword forwards. This is an excellent exercise because you can do it even just while lying down watching television.

Can you learn Taekwondo without an instructor?

Can you learn Taekwondo without having an actual instructor standing in front of you telling you what to do? The short answer: in my opinion, no. It is not possible to learn Taekwondo – assuming no previous training in a martial art – from just printed and online materials. If you’re completely new to martial arts, and you want to learn Taekwondo, you need to find an instructor.

I think the main reason for this is that people who haven’t done a martial art before – and who haven’t done anything that requires very precise movements of the arms, legs, and whole body – generally have very limited body control. Body control is just the ability to move you arms and legs into very specific positions, and to know whether or not, without looking, an arm or leg is in a given position. It sounds deceptively simple, but a lot of people, particularly by the time they are 20 or 30 years old, have gotten used to a certain, quite limited way of moving, and when they start Taekwondo, they have to unlearn this. Without having a physical instructor in front of you, watching the techniques you do, and correcting them, it’s very difficult to learn body control.

Thus if someone who had never done martial arts before tried to learn Taekwondo from one of Choi’s books, or from some Kukki-won videos online, they may be able to roughly mimic the movements, but there would be a lot of inaccuracies. Furthermore, they wouldn’t be aware that there was anything incorrect about the techniques they were doing.

In addition to that, someone who had never done martial arts before would generally not be able to know whether any one learning resource they find is good. For example, there are loads of forms videos available online; some of them show a person performing a form well, others show a person performing a form incorrectly. Unless you’ve had a lot of training from an experienced instructor, you’re unlikely to be able to tell one from another.

However, there are a lot of caveats to this statement. If someone did have previous martial arts experience, for example – whether it’s Karate or Muay Thai or even something like Judo or Kendo, which focus on very different kinds of combat – then I think they would stand a much better chance of learning Taekwondo without an instructor, and just using books and videos. This is because even though Judoka and Kendoka learn to move in a different way to Taekwondo-in, they still learn body control. They learn to identify the positions of the hands and feet in movements, and can translate that into their own actions. Such a person trying to learn Taekwondo in this way would still face a number of difficulties without an instructor, but not as many.

And similarly, if you’re someone who already has a grounding in Taekwondo, you can certainly learn more Taekwondo without needing an instructor. If you’ve been training in Taekwondo for, say, three years, and you read about the next form you’re learning in a book, or you watch a video of it, then you’re definitely going to be able to learn a lot.

So in conclusion, if you’re completely new to martial arts, and you want to learn Taekwondo, find an instructor. If you have some experience in martial arts, you will definitely benefit from having an instructor, but you could also learn some parts of Taekwondo without one.

Beyond just learning the movements, there are a number of other reasons to train with an instructor. An instructor or the organisation they are part of can promote you through the colour belt grades, and then eventually to black belt. Training with a larger organisation will likely also give you access to Taekwondo competitions and seminars.

The proper names for ‘ITF’ and ‘WTF’ Taekwondo

(I started writing this article before the World Taekwondo Federation changed its name to just World Taekwondo, but the point still stands. Also, this article somewhat assumes that you haven’t read any of my other posts, as I use the conclusions of this post across the rest of the blog.)


The two most popular styles of Taekwondo are generally referred to as ‘WTF Taekwondo’ and ‘ITF Taekwondo’. I don’t know about you, but to me these are rather uninspiring names for styles of Taekwondo – sets of initials – they are quite stale and corporate.

‘WTF Taekwondo’ refers to the World Taekwondo Federation, which follows the style and curriculum of Kukki-won, the national centre for Taekwondo in Seoul, South Korea. It’s the style that’s used in the Olympics, so it’s a very visible style of Taekwondo.

‘ITF Taekwondo’, following a similar idea, refers to the International Taekwondo Federation. The ITF was founded by Choi Hong-hi, and the organisation follows the style of Taekwondo promulgated by Choi. However, since its inception, the ITF has split multiple times, and presently there is not just one International Taekwondo Federation, but at least three (which you can read about here: http://taekwondo.wikia.com/wiki/ITF_Taekwon-do). This division is the result of years of disagreements. Several separate organisations call themselves the ‘International Taekwondo Federation’, and each one claims to be the genuine ITF.

There are also other international organisations which practise the same style as the ITFs, but which don’t call themselves the ‘ITF’ (and aren’t necessarily direct secessions). Taekwondo International would be an example of this.

All of the different ITFs (and the other organisations like Taekwondo International) continue to follow Choi’s style of Taekwondo, but there are variations. An example is that students in some of these organisations practise the form Juche, and students in others practise Kodang. So when we say ‘ITF Taekwondo’, which ITF are we referring to? Which ITF is the authority on what ‘ITF Taekwondo’ is?

The name ‘ITF Taekwondo’ is therefore ambiguous. It doesn’t refer to just one style – it refers to one or all of several, ever-so-slightly different styles practised by the different ITFs and ITF-like organisations. (And when you have to explain to someone why the style of Taekwondo you practise is called ‘ITF Taekwondo’, you end up having to explain all of that history, and it gets confusing quickly.) Also, neither of these style names are Korean. I think in Taekwondo, a general principle should be: Korean first, English second (or any other language second). ‘ITF Taekwondo’ and ‘WTF Taekwondo’ are therefore not ideal names for these two styles.

Furthermore, while ‘ITF’ and ‘WTF’ Taekwondo are the two most popular styles, there are several other styles of Taekwondo. ‘GTF Taekwondo’ is the style of the Global Taekwondo Federation. The GTF was established by Bak Jung-tae, and follows a style that’s derived from Choi’s style. The proper name for ‘GTF Taekwondo’ is a topic for another post.

There’s also Cheongdo-kwan Taekwondo. Cheongdo-kwan was one of the original Kwans in 1950’s Korea. Today, the official Cheongdo-kwan supports the curriculum of Kukki-won, but there are other groups with the Cheongdo-kwan name which practise the original style of the school, which includes a number of forms from 松濤館 空手 Shōtōkan Karate.

It’s clear that the names generally used for many styles of Taekwondo are not ideal. So what should these styles be called? What form should these style names have?

Style names in Karate follow one of two schemes: the –ryu scheme, where the style name ends in 流 ryu, meaning ‘style’, such as 剛柔流 Gōjū-ryū or 一心流 Isshin-ryū, and the -kan scheme, where the style name ends in 館 kan, meaning ‘hall’ or ‘place’, such as 松濤館 Shōtōkan. Why is this relevant? Why are the naming conventions in Karate relevant to Taekwondo? Well Taekwondo is of course related to Karate, and one of the features that it borrows is that its name follows the same naming convention as many Japanese martial arts. The -do of Taekwondo is the same -do as in 空手道 karate-dō, 柔道 jūdō, and 剣道 kendō. Consequently, the conventions of style names of Japanese martial arts are also relevant for Taekwondo. Indeed, the original Kwans of Taekwondo all followed these conventions, and the -kwan (관 kwan is the Korean pronunciation of 館 kan) scheme (hence why they are called ‘Kwans’):

  • 창무관 彰武館 Changmu-kwan
  • 청도관 靑濤館 Cheongdo-kwan
  • 강덕원 講德院 Kangdeok-won
  • 한무관 韓武館 Hanmu-kwan
  • 정도관 正道館 Jeongdo-kwan
  • 지도관 智道館 Jido-kwan
  • 무덕관 武德館 Mudeok-kwan
  • 오도관 吾道館 Odo-kwan
  • 송무관 松武館 Songmu-kwan

You may have noticed that there is a Kwan in this list which does not follow the -kwan naming scheme. Kangdeok-won has the ending -won. 원 院 won means ‘institute’ or ‘centre’, and the fact that Kangdeok-won is considered influential in the development of Taekwondo establishes the -won ending as a valid ending for style names in Taekwondo.

Considering these naming schemes, we can write a list of conventions that a style name should follow. A traditional style name should:

  1. Be a Korean name, subsequently translated into English or romanised
  2. Follow
    1. The -ryu or -yu naming scheme (流 -ryū in Korean is pronounced either 류 -ryu or 유 -yu
    2. Or the -kwan naming scheme
    3. Or the -won naming scheme
  3. Be based on
    1. The name or pen-name of its founder (a traditional example of this would be Shōtōkan Karate, which was named after 船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin, whose pen-name was 松濤 Shōtō)
    2. Or a philosophical concept (a traditional example of this would be Gōjū-ryū, meaning ‘the hard and soft style’)
    3. Or a place (a traditional example of this would be 少林流 Shōrin-ryū, a style of Karate which is reportedly named after 少林寺 Shàolín sì – the Shàolín Temple in China)

So following these conventions, what are some better names for ‘ITF Taekwondo’ and ‘WTF Taekwondo’?

As for ‘ITF Taekwondo’, Choi’s pen-name was 창헌 Changheon, meaning ‘blue pavillion’, and so his style of Taekwondo could be called 창헌유 Changheon-yu. And indeed, Choi himself calls his style this in older versions of his encyclopaedia. This is the name I use for the style whenever I write about it (and is the name Choi’s style is known by in South Korea). Another possible name for Choi’s style could be Odo-kwan. Odo-kwan was one of the nine Kwans, and was founded by Choi. This follows the -kwan naming scheme, and 오도 吾道 odo means ‘our way’. If Choi ever called his style of Taekwondo this, he did not do so very often, and so this name should not be used to refer to Choi’s style of Taekwondo as it exists today.

As for ‘WTF Taekwondo’, ‘WTF Taekwondo’ is not the style that follows the philosophy and principles of a single person, but is instead the style put forth by the Taekwondo centre in Seoul, known as 국기원 國技院 Kukki-won. This name can be used for the style of Taekwondo, as well as the physical place, since the name already follows the conventions listed above – 국기 國技 gukgi means ‘national art’ or ‘national skill’, thus is a philosophical concept, and the name follows the -won scheme.

So these are my recommendations for how we should refer to the major styles of Taekwondo. ‘ITF Taekwondo’ is properly called Changheon-yu Taekwondo (or Ch’anghŏn-yu if you prefer the McCune-Reischauer Romanisation, and Changhon-yu if you prefer a simplified romanisation), and ‘WTF Taekwondo’ is properly called Kukki-won Taekwondo (which would be written Gukgi-won in the Revised Romanisation, and Kukki-wŏn in the McCune-Reischauer Romanisation). These names are unambiguous; they are Korean; and they are not stale or corporate in the way that ‘ITF’ and ‘WTF’ are.