Does Taekwondo Use Hands? Question Answered!

man and woman taekwondo players

Since kicks are predominantly used by taekwondo students and practitioners, it is easy to assume that hands are probably not allowed in Taekwondo. But does taekwondo use hands?

Yes, taekwondo uses hands both for attacking and defending. It uses the hand to attack through punches and defends by blocking with the hand.

There is a popular belief that taekwondo is a martial art that only involves the use of legs (kicks) and does not involve the use of hands (punches).

Admittedly, taekwondo relies primarily on leg strikes, but as you would soon learn in this article, hand strikes can also be relied upon.

Now, let’s further examine your question in more detail.

Can You Use Your Hands in Taekwondo

Yes, you can use your hands in Taekwondo either for attacking through punches or for defending through blocking. However, hand strikes are restricted to specific areas of an opponent’s body.

It is clear that many taekwondo practitioners mostly rely on kicks scoring points against their opponents during matches, and even during sparring.

Some (especially beginners) are even unaware of the fact that punches can equally be used in taekwondo matches.

This is usually due to the less emphasis placed on it in most dojos.

Well, as stated already, taekwondo isn’t just about the feet, and the literal understanding of the word “Taekwondo” will help you better understand the place of the hands in this beautiful form of martial art.

Taekwondo, Tae Kwon Do, or Taekwon-Do is a Korean form of martial arts that literally means “kicking”, “punching”, and “the art or way of”.

This means that taekwondo is characterized both by punching and kicking techniques.

During training and matches, hands can be used for attacking (punches), defending (blocking), and sometimes holding.

Note however that even though hands are allowed in this combat sport, punches can only be thrown at the opponent only on specific areas of the body.

For instance, you cannot punch an opponent in the face as you would with your legs.

As an Olympic sport, punches to the body are allowed, but not to the head or below the belt.

Also, when defending a kick, you are not allowed to pull an opponent’s leg with your hands.

While taekwondo has quite a long list of traditional hand techniques, most of these hand strikes are banned in sporting competitions.

This is mainly due to their deadly impact.

Are Punches Allowed in Taekwondo?

Punches are generally allowed in Taekwondo. However, depending on the taekwondo style, punches may be limited to only protected parts of the body. For example, while WT prohibits punches to the face, ITF allows face punching.

While taekwondo emphasizes the use of legs, it also incorporates hand strikes which include punches.

In case you do not know, taekwondo involves the use of hands which are both used for attacking and defending.

It uses the hand to attack through punches, and defend by blocking. However, when compared to kicks, it is considered a secondary weapon.

This is because Taekwondo is primarily a kicking-based martial art, using an assortment of different kicking techniques including spinning kicks.

This martial art gives priority to fighting from middle to long-distance range.

During tournaments, you’ll often see both fighters fighting from a long distance, and when they find an opening, they’ll quickly attack with a kick (or kicks) before retreating to a distance.

Punches are not used until they get into a close distance.

The reason for this is that there’s not enough space or time to throw a kick when they are just inches from an opponent.

In this case, they’ll throw punches and then retreat to fight from a longer range where they are more comfortable.

Taekwondo Hand Techniques (Strikes)

As an alternative to kicks, Taekwondo uses hand strikes which can be executed by standing, jumping, spinning, or rushing forward.

Fast combinations of these hand strikes can leave an opponent stunned and unable to defend himself.

Note however that most of these hand techniques are now ceremonial and are not allowed in taekwondo sporting competitions.

There are two distinct styles of Taekwondo hand strikes:

  • Fist strikes (jireugi) – striking techniques with the fist (jumeok ) in a punching motion.
  • Strikes (chigi) – techniques done with the twisting force of the body excluding techniques using the fist (jumeok ) for punches or the fingertips (sonkkeut ).

Depending on the area of the opponent’s body that is being targeted, various surfaces of the hand may be engaged as the striking surface.

Fore fist

Closed fists can be jabbed directly with the fore-fist knuckles. Punches to soft areas of the body can be delivered from this position.

If you strike the bony face without protection, your fingers are likely to break on the hard temples and jawbones.

Hammer fist

To strike with the underneath of a closed fist, the closed fist can be hammered down.

Such a strike can obliterate an opponent’s nose, nearly making it impossible for them to retaliate.

Backfist

A clenched Son Deung hand is swung backward into an opponent’s face.

The backhand makes contact and the garnered momentum in the swing makes this strike powerful.

A spinning backfist is a knockout punch that is banned in most Taekwondo competitions.

Flying punch

This punch is usually struck from the rear hand.

The combatant hops on the front foot, kicking back with the rear foot and simultaneously extending the rear hand as a punch in the “Superman” form flying through the sky.

Knifehand

‘Sonkal’ is the Taekwondo name for a move that is similar to the “karate chop”, i.e. where an open hand is hammered down to make an impact with the underside.

The opposite is a “ridge hand” where the top of the open hand strikes. This is commonly made to the side of the neck.

Fingertips

Jumeok can be used to strike vulnerable body areas such as pressure points.

Four-finger strikes involving the tips of the outstretched hand (known as spear hand) can be made to vital areas in the neck.

Thumb

Eomji is a fist that has the thumb protruding over the top.

It is a formidable weapon for pressure point striking.

Vulnerable areas of the body such as the sternum, the spaces in between the ribs, and other nerve clusters can be targeted.

Palm heel

This is a classic strike for self-defense that involves pulling the hands back to engage the base of the palm in an upwards thrusting strike.

This is dangerous especially if applied to the base of the chin or nose and can result in death.

It is banned in Taekwondo competitions.

Elbow strike

With palgup chigi, the forearm is folded inwards towards the body, and while stepping forward, the strike is delivered with the outside of the forearm or elbow.

Tae Kwon Do also makes use of front and reverse elbow strikes.

Four-knuckle strike

Here, instead of having the fist closed completely, the fingers are held out with only the knuckles bent, thereby presenting the upper set of knuckles as the striking surface.

The fist can be used for breaking boards as the smaller surface area concentrates the power of the punches.

It is also a self-defense tool that may be used to purposefully break an attacker’s jaw.

Eagle strike

Here, the fingers all touch together, with the hand pointed down, exposing the top of the wrist, which is swung upward to strike the underside of the jaw.

This strike can easily fracture the jawbone if done properly and is banned from competitions due to the extreme danger.

However, the practitioner may break his wrist if done improperly.

Tiger claw 

This strike uses the space between the thumb and index finger.

With the fingers made rigid, the attack is usually directed toward the neck/trachea.

This strike can be used to incapacitate an opponent for a few seconds.

Pincer hand

This strike uses the forefinger and thumb to strike an opponent’s throat.

For this technique, the fist is closed except for the forefinger and thumb which are fully extended outwards.

Scissor finger

This is a fist in which the middle finger and forefinger are extended out as if to dig someone’s eye.

It is similar to the Pincer hand except that the middle finger and forefinger are extended outwards.

Chestnut fist

This is similar to a normal fist except that the first three knuckles are slightly pushed outward with the thumb.

Why Do Taekwondo Keep Hands Down?

Taekwondo players keep their hands down during matches for different reasons such as body balance, stamina preservation, faster and more powerful kicks, and avoiding having their arms disabled by their opponent.

Here are some common reasons why taekwondo players keep their hands down during matches.

For Stamina Preservation

One reason why taekwondo fighters keep their hands down is to preserve their stamina.

When your hands are up, you are using more energy to keep them there, which can exhaust you more quickly.

But with your hands down, you are unlikely to get tired as quickly, therefore, preserving your stamina.

For Body Balance

Taekwondo fighters also keep their hands down to help maintain their balance.

The truth is that it is difficult to throw an effective kick when your hands are up since you have to keep them in a specific position.

With your hands up, you are more likely to lose your balance when throwing the kick.

But by keeping your hands down, you can move more freely and stay more stable on your feet.

For Faster and Powerful Kicks

Taekwondo emphasizes kicks, which are often more powerful than punches.

Therefore, you need to put all your power behind them.

When you keep your hands down, you can generate power for your kicks by using your entire body.

And to kick faster and more effectively, you also need all the balance you can muster.

Sometimes, dropping your hands so you can throw a kick makes you predictable, making it easier for your opponent to block the kick.

There Are More Points Rewarded for Kicks Than Punches

Remember that taekwondo kicks usually score more points than punches, which is one of the reasons why fighters keep their hands down.

During competitions, taekwondo practitioners are sometimes conscious of this and as a result, they give less attention to the use of hands, especially when attacking.

They might ask themselves, “Why should I use my hands when I can earn more points with my legs?”

Besides, it’s a lot easier to kick an opponent than to punch them.

Also, it does not make much sense to get into their striking range with your hands up when you could simply kick from a distance.

To Avoid Having Their Arms Disabled

Yes, blocking kicks with your arms can be dangerous, and practitioners are aware of this.

In Taekwondo, therefore, fighters often keep their hands down to prevent their opponents from disabling their arms.

Many taekwondo practitioners use “crescent kicks” known as Bandal chagi, where your foot arcs away from the target, coming up and around to strike the target with your heel.

Your arms can be broken or dislocated by crescent kicks because they are often very powerful.

So, taekwondo fighters prefer to stay out of their opponent’s reach (through proper footwork) rather than blocking with their hands.

To Help Them Block More Effectively

While most taekwondo players prefer going out of an opponent’s kick range, others are okay with using their hands to block.

As a result, they often have their hands down and close to their body to aid them in blocking and parrying incoming kicks more effectively.

Does Taekwondo Use Only Feet?

Taekwondo does not use only the feet as it also uses the hands for punching and blocking. Taekwondo however places a heavier emphasis on kicks using the hands as a backup.

As explained earlier, Taekwondo literally means “Foot and Hand Way”.

And while it uses more kicks than most other martial art disciplines, hand techniques still play a very significant role.

To earn the maximum number of points possible, you may kick and punch your opponent in the allowed target areas.

Kicking, however, earns more points than punches which explains why the use of hands is less emphasized.

Practitioners also use kicks more because it is the most exciting part of the art.

Conclusion

Although kicks are more emphasized, taekwondo is a martial art that involves both the use of the hand and legs.

There is however a large degree of sporting restrictions to the use of the hand especially for attacking purposes.

However, any player who can master the allowed hand strikes is likely to have an edge over their opponent during matches.

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