Tae Kwon Do vs. Boxing Sparring Compare-Contrast

by mojocho

If you are considering joining either TKD or Boxing and are concerned about which is better, hopefully this guide will give you some insight. For those of you looking at this blog to determine which form of self defense is “better,” this is not what you want, this is also not one of those posts that you should comment and assert that a boxer would beat up a TKDer in a fight or vice versa. This blog will point out some of the interesting similarities and differences I have found between the two sports. As a disclaimer I have been sparring Tae Kwon Do at a collegiate level, I have won the National Collegiate Tae Kwon Do Association championship in 2012 and have been boxing seriously in a gym for about two months. The scope will be mostly what I have personally observed and is in no way even close to represent all the similarities and differences between the two.

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Scoring

In Tae Kwon Do, there is more focus on winning matches by points, than by knockout. This is true with boxing; however there are more knockout “kings” in boxing than in TKD, and in general there are more knockouts in boxing than in TKD. TKD scores one point for body shot and significant punches to the body, two points for a spinning body shot, three for a head shot, and four for a spinning head shot. You can win by a point gap of twelve points, or by knockout. Body shots are scored electronically via Daedo socks and Daedo body armor; however, head shots are scored subjectively based on three corner judges. Only light contact is necessary to score the kick to the head and hence excessive force is not necessary for head shots. A “significant” punch is also scored subjectively by three corner judges, for both punches and head shots, 2 of the 3 judges must agree on if it counted. Referees can also call for point deductions in either half point (kyong-gos) for minor infractions like stepping out of the ring or stalling; or full point (gam-jeom) for serious infractions such as punching to the head or throat, kick to the groin, headbutting etc.

Boxing is scored on a ten point must system, each round there is a winner who will win 10-9 which is decided by three independent ringside judges. There can also be a 10-10 draw in each round, but is normally discouraged as someone usually lands more punches. There are a lot of factors determining who “won” a round, punches thrown, punches landed, punches dodged, aggression, control, and pretty much whatever the judges feels needs to be considered. There can also be deductions off the total for the end of a round such as low blows, not listening to the ref, or getting knocked down which is a guaranteed one point lost. Boxing in the Olympics is scored via 5 judges who press a button for if a punch landed, 3 of the 5 must agree on a landed punch for it to count, the boxer with the most tallied points wins.

The two sports are scored differently, however they both have a subjective scoring element that can be sometimes abused and can be frustrating. For example, people may want to throw flurries at the end of a boxing round to show aggression and appear in control. TKDers definitely Kihap (yell) loudly when they throw a kick or go to the head to emphasize the kick so that it’ll most likely be scored. But these are all expected and are normally factored into the experienced judge’s criteria.

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Athleticism and Pain

Tae Kwon Do has three rounds of three semi-continuous minutes. The clock stops for injury time or adjustments or judge review of a kick scoring. There is a thirty second rest between rounds. Amateur boxing typically has four rounds of three continuous minutes, professional boxing bouts can go up to 12 rounds, both have a 30 second rest between rounds. By sparring time structure alone, boxing bouts last longer and I feel are more strenuous. There is a minimum level of flexibility for serious TKD practitioners as kicking to the head is near impossible without proper flexibility. Boxing does not require this flexibility, assuming you can extend your arm out completely and flex it back in, you should not be limited.

In sparring, you throw more punches in boxing per round on average than you would throw kicks in a round of TKD. Punching with gloves can get very tiring, and within four rounds you can find yourself having trouble keeping your hands up the whole time. There is a lot of instances of combinations thrown and rapid slipping and dodging in boxing which requires a tremendous lung capacity and muscle stamina to handle the intensity of each round, this explains a very heavy emphasis that we have on cardio for training. Cardio is also important in TKD, but I often find myself winded and exhausted after boxing and more cramped and physically in pain from kicking frequently in TKD.

In boxing you will wear headgear and a mouth guard and depending on your match, lower body gear to protect your nether regions. In TKD you get a chest guard (hogu), headgear, mouth guard, arm guards, shin guards, an instep, and optionally small <2 oz. gloves. I more often injure my feet by kicking elbows in TKD, but don’t get injured from getting physically kicked or hit due to ample protection. In boxing, you may get rocked, expect it, expect your face to hurt a bit, to cut your mouth, and maybe have the room spinning after getting hit in the head (most punches aren’t this bad). But nothing hurts more than a solid punch to the body in boxing, with exception to a very strong back kick. I find that wrapping your wrists and knuckles and the glove itself does a good job in protecting your hands, but the tiny foam pad used in TKD to protect your foot does not help much at all. Kicking an elbow is like kicking a concrete pole, it sucks, you’ll also get a lot of blisters on your feet in the process of learning to spar.

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Timing and Range

Boxing feels much faster than TKD sparring, combinations happen in split seconds and your reactions need to be on point to be able to slip and weave or counter punch. TKD tends to have lulls, as does boxing, but are more dramatic where fighters essentially “lock up”- stand just in each others range and wait to see what the opponent will do to make a move. In boxing we have something similar, clinching, which you do in TKD when you in-fight, but normally people try to put their weight on you and wear you down when you clinch in boxing and also throw punches that can hurt where a chest guard would render a TKD clinch-punch ineffective. Just thinking about it, punches are much faster than kicks, they are lighter and travel less distance, kicks also reveal a lot of motion which gives you more time to react, punches (especially jabs), can have little to no tell.

TKD has a much farther range than boxing, and many small techniques can make a short person, kick from what seems an unreal distance with fast speeds. Height plays a big factor in both TKD and boxing, reach comparisons between fighters can largely determine styles used and the outcome of a match. A tall TKD sparrer can “snipe” with fast front leg kicks and score points early, easily, and with little risk, setting up a counter-attack defense game for the rest of the match. Shorter TKD sparrer would have to draw out the kicks from the opponent and manage to get inside close enough where he/she could kick, without getting kicked. Both have strategic advantages, but to the inexperienced, being shorter can be a serious crutch without the right technique. I personally have been boxing for about a full month, one of my partners is 6’2″ while I am 5’8″, his reach is significantly more than mine, and I find myself eating too many jabs, meanwhile he can stay at a comfortable distance of hitting without being hit. I must constantly move my head, weave and slip, to even get into distance to have a shot at hitting him. If you want a reference to what it looks like at a professional level, watch Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, a classic out-boxer in-boxer match up.

I find that range issues are equally as challenging in between the two, and timing is extremely important, but that boxing timing requires more discipline, you have to know what you’re doing and commit and be able to adjust mid punch very quickly. I feel that you can get away with timing hesitations more in TKD sparring than in boxing.

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Style

There are many style differences and categories in each sport,  I will talk about what I have personally experienced. In TKD you need to have solid technique in attacks, counter attacks, and footwork. Footwork is the foundation. This is similar to boxing as your footwork is also very important. In TKD footwork is a matter or ranging, making quarter steps, half steps, three quarter steps, full steps, all different technique just to get a certain distance to place a desired kick. In boxing, footwork allows you to move freely about the ring, to throw punches without restricting your own power (turning your toe), and keep your balance in order to slip and throw punches. Great footwork is essential to any TKDer or Boxer, I feel great footwork in TKD is more significant than in boxing, just because you can probably get away with bad footwork as a boxer (George Foreman) but not as a TKD sparrer.

Predictably, hands are much more important in boxing than in TKD. In TKD using a punch is a great way to stop an opponent and tends to be used more defensively than offensively. In boxing, it’s all your hands. It’s about keeping them up, keeping your arms tucked in to protect your ribs and your body, turning your hand when you punch, keeping your hands loose when you aren’t punching to save energy, throwing feints and flicking quick jabs, strong straights, compact hooks and powerful upper cuts.

TKD has a lot of emphasis on negation, hit without getting hit, or rather score without getting scored on. The best ways of negation being jamming your opponent (coming in too close to get hit or stopping the kick before it’s completely extended) or blocking the kick (via down blocks) or simply avoiding the kick. This puts a lot of emphasis on footwork and dexterity, and moving around the ring. Many matches don’t score beyond double digits and so you can imagine the level of negation and footwork necessary to hold the lead. Often if you have a decent lead, it is to your benefit to go on the defensive and play a counter-attack strategy. In boxing, due to the ten point must system, there is no letting up in each round, as each round is considered a win or lose and you must win more than you lose. Hence boxing matches tend to be a higher intensity throughout rather than a take the lead and play defense method.

Closing Thoughts

Boxing and Tae Kwon Do are both very different sports that have a lot of commonalities, just different weapons. The hands are very fast and can be very deadly yet lack range. Kicks have much more power and range but are a bit slower. As for what style would win in a fight between two equal height and weight individuals, it’s hard to say. But I do think having both can be helpful. Please let me know if you would like more information as I did a pretty cursory job at comparing and contrasting the two.

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