Martial arts have been practiced for centuries by many cultures across the globe. The art of fighting for sport has a variety of physical and psychological health benefits, along with inherent self-defense training where martial arts have their origins. As martial arts increase in popularity, newcomers choosing their style of training may wonder: is boxing or Taekwondo better for you? 

Boxing may be better for you if a more rigorous and intense style is prefered, while Taekwondo is better for providing a more holistic workout. Taekwondo also has a lower risk of serious injury. Both are highly athletic sports requiring strong cardio, quick reflexes, and muscular endurance. 

Any form of martial arts can improve your muscular strength, cardio endurance, and overall alertness. Choosing your style of fighting depends heavily on your intention, as well as your physical condition going in. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between boxing and Taekwondo, as well as some pointers on choosing the right fighting style for you. 

Boxing: Origins and Modern Practice

The exact origin of boxing isn’t certain; however, depictions of a boxing-like sport have been discovered in a Sumerian relief pictograph dating back to roughly 300 BCE, according to the Way of Martial Arts. Boxing was an event in the ancient Grecian Olympics, and versions of it have been seen in cultures across the world. 

Boxing differs from most other forms of martial arts in that it only permits fighters to punch each other “above the belt.” Aside from keeping the fights relatively clean, this rule also makes the fight harder by limiting the strike zone. Boxers must concentrate their attack on a smaller target, which is more easily defended by their opponent. 

Boxing is also regarded as being one of the best striking bases by Evolve MMA. Because boxers train to move their whole bodies in order to set up a strike, the unique offensive and defensive patterns make boxers an unpredictable threat in the ring. 

Health Benefits of Boxing

While any form of regular exercise will improve overall health, many areas of both physical and mental strength can be improved by boxing, according to Harvard University. Boxing focuses on balance, thrust strength, agility, cardio endurance, and balance. However, boxers carry an elevated risk of injury that’s higher than other combat sports. 

  • Improves balance: Balance is an essential element of proper boxing. Indeed, the footwork that allows boxers to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” requires a lot of back-and-forth between one’s feet. Balance will only be improved with time and practice. 
  • Helps posture: In boxing, the position of your stance determines whether you’ll strike or be struck. This type of awareness of your body position, along with the natural posture correction that comes with being sufficiently limber and active, can make a noticeable difference in your everyday effect and posture. 
  • Improves muscular strength: The regular exercise of boxing naturally builds muscle. The biggest areas of muscular increase for boxers are the chest, back, shoulders and core. Because boxing doesn’t allow kicking, boxers tend to focus their leg training on speed and agility rather than power. 
  • Improves cognitive alertness: Quick reflexes are essential for a boxer to be successful. Boxing training has been known to improve cognitive alertness for boxers both in and out of the ring, provided their reflex training isn’t counteracted by concussions in the ring. 
  • Enhances mood: The regular endorphin “high,” which can result from vigorous exercise, can produce an overall better mood in the boxer. Combat sports combine mental agility with physical aggression, which can be an excellent way to work off stress and anger in a healthy setting. 
  • Improved hand-eye coordination: Hand-eye coordination is an essential skill set for boxers, dictating their ability to place a punch in the perfect spot. Boxing requires precise strike, which demands fast-paced accuracy from the boxer. The reduced target zone on the opponent makes hand-eye coordination more critical to boxing than other martial arts.

Health Risks of Boxing

  • Head injuries and concussions: Concussions are among the most common serious injuries sustained during boxing matches. Boxers are punched in the face and head repeatedly over the course of their career, making brain damage a serious concern for many seasoned fighters. 
  • Heart injuries: Blunt force trauma to the chest can bruise or tear cardiovascular heart muscles, rupture heart chamber walls, or damage valves, according to Merck Manual. Bruising to the heart muscles can cause irregularities or arrhythmias in the boxer’s heartbeat. 
  • Knockouts: The long-term effects of repetitive knockouts have been researched more recently, showing that too many K-Os can result in psychological damage, such as personality changes and even early-onset dementia, according to Popular Mechanics. The rules of boxing include knockouts in their scoring system, which means that boxers are likely to encounter a knockout punch at least once in their boxing career. 

Taekwondo: Origins and Modern Practice

Compared with boxing, Taekwondo is a much more recent fighting style. Taekwondo was developed in the 1940s-50s in Korea, utilizing elements from the native Korean fighting styles of taekkyeon, gwonbeop, and subak and incorporating them with foreign styles, according to World Taekwondo Academy

Taekwondo has gained popularity in the United States and across the world as a competitive sport. It’s one of only two Asian-originated martial arts included in the Olympic Games, first as a demonstration in 1988 and finally as an event in 2000. 

Health Benefits of Taekwondo

  • Muscular strength and stamina: The complex self-defense routines of Taekwondo require fighters to be in excellent physical shape. Taekwondo utilizes more kicks than strikes, so there’s less emphasis on strength training than boxing. 
  • Flexibility: Taekwondo often requires a high kick, sometimes while the fighter is airborne. In order to achieve rapid jumps, strikes, and kicks, taekwondo fighters must be highly flexible. Flexibility is more critical to Taekwondo than to boxing, although both require fighters to be limber. 
  • Agility and reflexes: As with any combat sport or martial art, agility and reflex times can be improved with practice. Taekwondo requires a fighter to gauge and react to their attacker’s movements with split-second timing and precision. 
  • Self-discipline, leadership, confidence: The highly disciplined structure of Taekwondo introduces a psycho/spiritual training element that can carry over into fighters’ everyday lives. Mastery of martial arts, specifically Taekwondo, begins with the mastery of self-discipline, and, according to British Taekwondo, results in the sense of self-esteem and confidence that makes individuals natural leaders. 

Health Risks of Taekwondo

  • Risk of concussion: Similar to other combat sports, Taekwondo carries the risk of head injury, as fighters may be struck or kicked in the head while sparring. This risk is mitigated with protective headgear; however, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of concussions. 
  • Suffocation: Unlike boxing, Taekwondo includes chokeholds in some of its defensive maneuvers. Suffocation or choke-outs can cause neurological damage if the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long. 
  • Spinal damage: Head and neck injuries can cause spinal damage to the brain-stem area of the spine near the base of the neck. The more acrobatic nature of Taekwondo, as well the chokehold style of fighting, makes spinal injury more common than in boxing. 
  • Arterial ruptures: Suffocation can cause arterial rupture or bursting blood vessels, which can cause internal bleeding and bruising. This risk is also more prevalent in Taekwondo due to the chokehold, which isn’t permitted in boxing. 

The risks of Taekwondo listed here are sourced from the American Academy of Pediatrics via CBS

Boxing vs. Taekwondo for Self Defense

Both boxing and Taekwondo are combat sports, which means they were developed originally as a means of hand-to-hand combat. For many, self-defense is the main or only reason they choose their training style. 

Although it’s a close margin, boxing is the superior self-defense fighting style over Taekwondo. Taekwondo relies heavily on kicks, making it an effective long-range fighting style. In a realistic self-defense scenario, however, it’s more likely the attacker will be in close range. For close-quarters hand-to-hand combat, boxing is more effective. 

Boxing vs. Taekwondo for Workout

Boxing is among the most intensely brutal combat sports practiced in a recreational/competitive facility. While the Asiatic martial arts have a reputation of high intensity, especially as the popularity of Muay Thai spreads through MMA enthusiasts and fighters, boxing is the most intense fighting style, according to Popular Science

For this reason, boxers may have to train more rigorously than other fighters. The brutality of the sparring necessitates boxers to be stronger and tougher than other fighting styles. Taekwondo requires more practiced discipline and careful execution than sheer brutality, making it less intense but perhaps holistically better for you. 

Although boxing may be more intense than other fighting styles, both boxing and Taekwondo are rigorously athletic. Intense practice of either style of fighting will improve the physical condition of the fighter in: 

  • Muscular strength 
  • Agility 
  • Reflex speed 
  • Cardio endurance 

Final Thoughts

If you’re trying to decide what fighting style you want to train with, it’s important to consider your intention. If you’re looking to keep in shape, both boxing and Taekwondo will improve your physical and mental prowess. But when training yourself for effective self-defense, boxing is more practically effective than Taekwondo, although only by a narrow margin.

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