Statistics and Magnetic Socks Shape Modern Tae Kwon Do

A new effort to college data could bring more order to this “messy” martial art

By Chris Gorski and Inside Science News Service

This story was originally published by Inside Science News Service. … (ISNS) — It’s tempting to call some Olympic events, such as wrestling, judo and taekwondo, ‘messy sports’ because it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much any given factor contributes to success in each competition. Meredith Miller, the high performance director of USA Taekwondo, is trying to clean things up by developing statistics for the sport, and also a better understanding of the ‘magnetic socks’ integral to the martial art’s electronic scoring system. … Unlike many sports, taekwondo has no standard system for collecting or classifying statistics that go beyond the final score. While baseball researchers have developed a nuanced understanding of how much each event, such as a stolen base, contributes to winning, a comparable level of analysis has never existed for taekwondo. Fans can argue about which competitor has the most effective roundhouse kick, but don’t have access to numbers to support their arguments. … Without reliable collection and analysis of statistics, it’s easy for coaches and competitors to overlook key insights that could help someone succeed. …”

“… Isaac Michaels, the CEO of the martial arts resource Taekwondo Science, thinks Miller’s efforts could have tremendous value for a national team nearing a competition such as the Olympics. … ‘Taekwondo, compared to baseball, basketball, football, is almost devoid of statistics,’ said Michaels. ‘But it’s not because there’s nothing to measure; it’s because we’re not measuring it yet.’ …”

“… In preparation for the London Olympic Games in 2012, Miller began an intensive project to analyze video and collect statistics. Pulling from an extensive library of online video, she collected information about different fighters and teams, logging the type of kicks used and how often they were successful. Then she began analyzing the information, which allowed her to compare the data to coaches’ impressions of why, say, South Korea’s team is so successful. … Major rule changes and the introduction of an electronic scoring system spurred a transformation in the sport in recent years, and increased the need for additional research. One consequence of the rule changes and new scoring system is that fighters now kick many more times per round. … Miller worked with a team to analyze the Daedo electronic scoring system used in international competition. They began by asking some basic questions about the conditions under which the system’s chest protector would register a kick and award points to a competitor. …”

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