A long standing debate in MMA and kickboxing is whether or not Taekwondo is an effective art in comparison to Muay Thai. Taekwondo and Muay Thai are both exclusively stand-up styles that have both found their ways into the ring. Currently, Muay Thai is the standup style of well over 75% of all professional MMA fighters, while Taekwondo has taken a backseat as being only a background art practiced by fighters in their youth.
What is to blame for this lack of Taekwondo in the ring? There are multiple factors and no one is innocent. During the martial arts movie craze of the 70s to 80s, hordes of martial arts enthusiasts emerged from the theaters and basements of America. While many of these movies were Kung Fu and Karate oriented, word quickly got out that the acrobatic, spinning, and flying kicks were largely Taekwondo-based. Soon, movie fans everywhere wanted to learn these "deadly" techniques. But where could they find them? Martial arts schools of any kind were hard to find. As fate would have it, politics and immigration policies drastically changed just around this time period. In 1965, the United States lifted the stringent immigration laws on Asia. Immediately, waves of East Asians entered America. Within approximately 10 years, Koreans, specifically, reached the Top Ten List of people immigrating to America in numbers. With well over a million directly foreign-born Koreans from both the North and the South, came entire families, often unskilled labor. With fierce competition in any field, some turned to what they had done for sport in Korea: Taekwondo.
Now that Taekwondo schools were open, the martial arts movie fans now had a place to train to become the badass-killer-movie-star-kicking machines they had seen in the movies. The problem was, many soon discovered that they were not willing to put up with the training to do so. After all, Taekwondo in the the 1950's and 1960's was still a military martial art. In fact, there was very little resemblance to modern Taekwondo at all, it was a form of Korean Karate with a slight emphasis on kicks. Leg checks, low kicks, knockouts, and knees were common. Sparring was often with little-to-no padding and hogus/chest protectors would only emerge in great numbers in the 70s. To the vast majority of the American public, this was not at all what they had expected. As droves of Americans left the dojangs, the instructors and owners had to think of new ways to appeal to their audience. The simplest solution? To drastically lower requirements and the intensity of training.
Within ten years, Taekwondo became heavily commercialized. Taekwondo summer camps opened up. The WTF emerged and with it came a new generation of sport Taekwondo. With "belt factory" dojangs being opened left and right, the ratio of quality fighters to hobbyists fell dramatically. As many of us know, a large portion of Taekwondo schools offer a workout barely comparable with a high school P.E class. Taekwondo went from an small martial art taught in a similar fashion to full-contact Karate to a global sport version of glorified foot fencing.
The elimination of many techniques formerly found in Taekwondo has rendered much of the art ineffective in MMA. However, many Taekwondo kicks are still found and extensively used in these gladiatorial fights. MMA fighters still train with Taekwondo athletes to perfect hook kick and specifically the side and back kick, which are not commonly found in other arts. Much of the footwork found in Taekwondo has also transitioned to long-range MMA fighting.
But where does this stand in relation to Muay Thai? It's quite simple. Muay Thai and MMA is rapidly following the same pattern as Taekwondo and Karate in the American media and public, through the television, movies, and video games. With starry-eyed youth envying the fighting machines in the Octagon, many want to learn "The Art of the Eight Limbs" a.k.a Thai Boxing or Muay Thai and are convinced of its invincibility by numerous sites like these. However, just as with Taekwondo and Karate, many of these people simply can't stand with the rigorous training requirements of the original sport. Some schools are beginning to eliminate knees and elbows due to safety concerns and elbows are downright illegal in many U.S states.
Inherently, both Muay Thai and Taekwondo are very effective arts. Taekwondo may return to its traditional basis as the McDojo cycle ends, as it is already being considered to be removed from the Olympics. What will take its place? Who knows. It might be Muay Thai. As with any Olympic sport, that could be the death knell for its effectiveness in actual combat due to shifting rule sets.
Muay Thai is rapidly being "McDojo'd" with corporate hawks waiting to descend onto their money-spending prey. Who are these people? Not unexpectedly, it is the largest MMA corporation in the entire world that is pushing these McDojos forth.
To quote the UFC Chairman and CEO:
""We're not looking to train or create fighters, we're looking to create a fun family environment.”
And so it begins.