Taekwondo sparring carries with it all of the dangers of any street fight. I’ve seen and personally experienced everything that you can imagine in the dojang including knockouts, broken toes and ribs, sprained ankles, bloody noses and broken teeth.
I’ve also seen athletes disqualified within seconds of their first rounds at tournaments for inappropriate gear or long toe nails. Always make sure that before you get to class or to a tournament that you have all of your bases covered.
Tips for Buying Martial Arts Gear
Never skimp on gear.
Buying the cheapest possible chest protector doesn’t help you if you’re taking a chance on breaking your ribs. A premium hogu chest protector is a cheaper and more pleasant alternative to broken ribs or a knockout.
Never buy too large.
You want your gear to fit snugly. During a match, you’re going to have to move fluently and evade attacks. Swimming under a huge hogu will not only be annoying but it will make you a bigger, clumsier target.
Always look for WTF.
Most Taekwondo gear is labeled with “WTF” - World Taekwondo Federation. This means that it is approved for use in WTF sanctioned events.
Always check with your school or tournament.
While most Taekwondo schools use the same protective gear sanctioned by the WTF, each will have different slightly different requirements on either the type of gear or the amount of gear that you’ll need. Also, many tournaments have strict rules on gear.
To make sure you get the best deals on teakwood gear, always check ahead and look around. If you’re not required to buy through your school, you’ll almost always find the best prices online.
Hogu Chest Protector
The hogu is a chest guard that protects your ribs. They range in price from about $30 to $80. You would generally want to stick to the premium chest protectors and make sure that it is double-sided with blue and red on either side.
Why buy a premium hogu?
When you spar in Taekwondo, your opponent will go for the solar plexus, an area in the center of your chest just below your ribs. A good hit to the solar plexus will knock you out, literally. If your opponent is trying to push you away, you may take a front snap kick or a side kick to the ribs. If your opponent is sloppy, you may take shots to the back.
Cheap chest protectors are typically very soft and let most of the force of the kick through to you. Premium hogus (like the Adidas WTF Hogu) have a more rigid construction. Your hogu can either be a huge advantage or disadvantage in a match. Choose it carefully.
Tae Kwon Do Helmet
TKD helmets are much less meaty than MMA helmets. Typically WTF style Taekwondo helmets have an open face and is constructed out of a very light material. While head shots are allowed in TKD sparring, you’re not going to find much difference between the different brands. Oddly enough, this is one piece of gear I might buy on the cheap.
Mouth guards are very cheap, $3 to $5 for a 2 pack. I always have a couple in my bag ready to go.
When you buy a mouth guard it needs to be shaped to your teeth. When you buy it, drop it in hot to boiling water. Carefully remove it from the water. When it’s cool enough put it in your mouth and bite down to form your teeth impressions. Take it out and run it under cold water. You may have to trim the ends of the formed guard to prevent from gagging.
TKD sparring is a lot of kicking. It only takes 7 pounds of pressure per square inch to break a bone in a foot. Protecting your feet and your chins from running into your opponents elbows is important.
Shin guards cover the tops of your feet and wrap up your shin to just below your knee. There are 2 kinds: one that has a study construction to the front (like the Adidas WTF shin guards) and those that are essentially just cloth with light pads. The light cloth padding is more comfortable, but if you’re doing heavy sparring, they are not nearly as protective.
One thing to keep in mind is that sizing on shin guards is difficult to get right. The Adidas shin guards for example run very small. I wear a small hogu size (3) but made the mistake of buying medium Adidas shin guards. Unfortunately, because they have an elastic strap that holds them on, when they’re too small they constrict around my calf and pop off when it gets intense. Buy these larger than you think you need.
Just like the shin guards, forearm guards come as lightweight cloth padding or sturdier plastic-wrapped foam.
The difference here is that like the helmet, you can lighten up on cost for the forearm guards. In most Taekwondo sparring bouts you’re not going to be focusing on blocking more than you will moving. It’s important to wear them to protect yourself, but chances are that you will not be taking shots as hard on your arms as you will on your chest or shins.
Male students will need jock protectors. While I cannot give advice on the best jocks on the market, I can say that the one day you forget to wear one, will be the day when a misplaced kick will get you.
This link will take you to an search page showing all of the Adidas TKD gear available on Amazon.
Other Items in My Martial Arts Gear Bag
Martial Arts Shoes
I always keep a pair of martial arts shoes in my bag for those days when my feet are completely miserable and sore. Unfortunately, martial arts shoes come in one variety: male. If you’re a woman buying martial arts shoes keep in mind that they usually run very big.
While many beginners wear martial arts shoes thinking that they provide extra protection, they provide a lot of traction, making pivoting and running on a dojang floor very clunky until they break in. Also, because TKD sparring focuses on kicks, and because you cannot wear martial arts shoes in most sparring situations, you’re going to need to toughen up your feet. Martial arts shoes are great for those days when your feet need a break, but limit how much you rely on them.
Always keep a couple of rolls of athletic tape and an ACE bandage or tender tape in your gear bag. Twisted ankles, sprained wrists and broken toes are all common occurrences in the dojang. You never know when you or another martial artist will need it.
Taekwondo tournaments have very strict rules. Competitors can be disqualified for everything from inappropriate gear to nails that are too long. You may have less than a minute to trim your nails or tape down loose gear before a disqualification is mandated by the officials.