Taekwondo tournaments

International Taekwondo Championships are held across the world every year. To participate in some of these elite tournaments you will need to qualify to be allowed to enter. In the World Taekwondo (WT), the majority of the attacks executed are kicking techniques, whereas the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) encourages the use of both hands and feet. The ITF does not always spar with head guards, but it is known to occur in some organizations practicing this form.

In some schools, permission to begin sparring is granted upon entry. The rationale for this decision is that students must learn how to deal with a fast, powerful, and determined attacker. In other schools, students may be required to wait a few months, for safety reasons, because they must first build the skills they would ideally employ in their sparring practice.

Full-contact sparring or competition, where strikes are not pulled but thrown with full force as the name implies, has a number of tactical differences from light and medium-contact sparring. It is considered by some to be requisite in learning realistic unarmed combat.

Typically consist of multiple different types of WT competition:

  • Sparring is very often one type of competition held at a tournament. See main article Taekwondo Sparring to learn more about competition sparring.
  • Forms competitions are also very often seen at tournaments; this sometimes includes Creative Forms competitions and Group Forms competitions
  • One will often see breaking competitions as well
  • One will often see Demo Team competions also

Tournaments are held at local, national, and international levels, including even the Olympics. Local and regional tournaments are generally held in smaller venues, such as high school or local college gymnasiums.

Under World Taekwondo (WT) and Olympic rules, sparring is a full-contact event and takes place between two competitors in an area measuring 8 meters square. A win can occur by points, or if one competitor is unable to continue (knockout) the other competitor wins. Each match consists of three semi-continuous rounds of contact, with one minute's rest between rounds. There are two age categories: 14–17 years and 18 years and older.

Points are awarded for permitted, accurate, and powerful techniques to the legal scoring areas; light contact does not score any points. The only techniques allowed are kicks (delivering a strike using an area of the foot below the ankle) and punches (delivering a strike using the closed fist). In most competitions, points are awarded by three corner judges using electronic scoring tallies. Several A-Class tournaments, however, are now trialing electronic scoring equipment contained within competitors' body protectors. This limits corner judges to scoring only attacks to the head. Some believe that the new electronic scoring system will help to reduce controversy concerning judging decisions, but this technology is still not universally accepted.

Beginning in 2009, a kick or punch that makes contact with the opponent's hogu (the body guard that functions as a scoring target) scores one point; if a kick to the hogu involved a technique that includes fully turning the attacking competitor's body, so that the back is fully exposed to the targeted competitor during execution of the technique (spinning kick), an additional point is awarded; a kick to the head scores three points; as of October 2010 an additional point is awarded if a turning kick was used to execute this attack. Punches to the head are not allowed. As of March 2010, no additional points are awarded for knocking down an opponent (beyond the normal points awarded for legal strikes).

The referee can give penalties at any time for rule-breaking, such as hitting an area not recognized as a target, usually the legs or neck. Penalties are divided into Warnings ( 감점 gamjeom ) shall be counted as an addition of one (1) point for the opposing contestant. However, the final odd-numbered Warnings shall not be counted in the grand total.

At the end of three rounds, the competitor with more points wins the match. In the event of a tie at the end of three rounds, a fourth 'sudden death' overtime round, sometimes called 'Golden Point', will be held to determine the winner after a one-minute rest period. In this round the first competitor to score a point wins the match. If there is no score in the additional round the winner shall be decided by superiority as determined by the refereeing officials.

Until 2008, if one competitor gained a 7-point lead over the other, or if one competitor reached a total of 12 points, then that competitor was immediately declared the winner and the match ended. These rules were abolished by the World Taekwondo (WT) at the start of 2009. In October 2010 the World Taekwondo (WT) reintroduced a point gap rule. Under the new rule if a competitor has a 12-point lead at the end of the second round or achieves a 12-point lead at any point in the 3rd round then the match is over and the athlete in the lead is declared the winner.

Depending on the type of tournament and club, competitors may also use fist protectors, foot protectors, instep guards, helmets and mouth guards.

Taekwondo Summer Olympic Games

Taekwondo became a full medal sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and has been a sport in the Olympic games since then. For Olympic competition, there will be a single elimination tournament for each of the weight categories. Repechage competition will occur for the bronze medal contest, while the winner of the tournament will receive the gold medal, and the loser will receive the silver medal. 

Taekwondo made its first appearance at the Summer Olympic Games as a demonstration sport at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. The opening ceremony featured a mass demonstration of taekwondo with hundreds of adults and children performing moves in unison. Taekwondo was again a demonstration sport at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. There were no demonstration sports at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, USA. Taekwondo became a full medal sport at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and has been a sport in the Olympic games since then.


The quest to bring taekwondo to the Olympics began in 1974 when taekwondo was admitted into the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). One of the AAU's primary roles is to establish standards for various sports nation-wide. The World Taekwondo's technical standards were adopted by the AAU Taekwondo group.

In 1975, taekwondo became an affiliate of the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). The GAISF promotes cooperation among various international sports federations and works closely with the Olympics movement. Five years later, in 1980, the World Taekwondo (WT) was granted recognition by the IOC. The following year, taekwondo was one of the primary events in the World Games, an international competition specifically for non-Olympic events. In 1982, taekwondo was designated an official demonstration sport for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, and for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

In 1986 and 1987, taekwondo was included in the following international sporting events: World Cup (1986), Asian Games (1986), All-Africa Games (1986), and the Pan American Games (1987). In 1994, the IOC adopted taekwondo as an official Olympic sport for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Olympic Competition Format

For Olympic competition, there will be a single elimination tournament for each of the weight categories. Repechage competition will occur for the bronze medal contest, while the winner of the tournament will receive the gold medal, and the loser will receive the silver medal. Anyone who loses in the single elimination competition enters the repechage. "In the repechage, the losers of the semifinals during the elimination phase will be seeded directly to each of repechage finals, but on the opposite side of the bracket. Other losers will advance to the repechage unseeded, at the same side of the bracket in which they contested during the elimination phase." The two finalists of the repechage will receive bronze medals. A National Olympic Committee may only send a maximum of two men and two women competitors, without regard whether it is the host nation.

Medals are awarded in four different weight classes for both men and women.

Participating in Local Tournaments

20 Facts about Taekwondo Tournaments Taekwondo Training

Typically your taekwondo school will announce when a local tournament is upcoming and will solicit volunteers among its students to compete in the tournament. You can choose which type of competition you want to participate in (sparring, forms, breaking, etc.). Competing in the tournament usually requires an entrance fee. Typically your taekwondo school will schedule extra classes for students who wish to compete in the tournament.

Even new students can compete in students, as their are tournament divisions specifically geared toward lower-belt students. In fact, most compeitions are divided into multiple categories:

  • Different divisions for different belt colors
  • Different divisions for different genders
  • Different divisions for different age groups
  • Different divisions for different weight classes

So even though there may be many hundreds of people competing at the tournament, only a few dozen might be competing in your event / belt level / gender / age group / weight class. 

Preparing for the Tournament

  • Attend the extra practice sessions at your school if you can
  • If you're sparring, make sure all your sparring gear is ready well before the day of the tournament. Don't forget to fit your mouth guard before the tournament (usually done with hot water to make the mouth guard pliable).
  • Much of the day at the tournament is spent waiting -- waiting for your chance to compete. A book, an iPad, some snacks, water bottles -- all worth packing. Don't pack too much stuff though, as most tournaments are pretty crowded and you're not going to have a lot of elbow room.
  • Typical Packing List:
    • Taekwondo uniform (and possibly bring a spare just in case) -- or wear your uniform to the tournament
    • Belt (of course)
    • Water bottles
    • Fruit for after the competition.
    • Small towel(s) - sparring especially is sweaty work requires one)
    • Bleacher cushion (for the parents -- you're going to be sitting for a long time too)
    • If you'll be sparring, depending the style remember to bring:
      • Helmet
      • Mouth Guard
      • Chest Protector
      • Groin protector
      • Forearm / hand protector(s)
      • Shin / foot protector(s)
  • For a full, detailed list on what to bring to a tournament, and how to prepare prior, check out Iron Wood Productions' video, The ULTIMATE Competition Prep Guide.

Arriving at the Tournament

  • For local tournaments (often held in High School gymnasiums) many competitors simply wear their taekwondo uniforms to the tournament. Others prefer to wear street clothes and change into their uniforms in one of the high school bathrooms or tournament changing areas.
  • When you arrive, you will usually have to sign-in at the registration table and get a badge. Spectators (such as parents) often have to pay a small admission fee to enter.
  • Competitors -- just like spectators -- usually watch the tournament from the stands until their time to compete arrives. Typically students, parents, and instructors from the same school will also sit together in the stands. (This helps, because you'll want somebody to keep an eye on your belongings when your turn to compete arrives.)
  • Just as with most sporting events, there are usually food stands, tee shirt stands, etc. at the tournament. A custom tee shirt representing just that tournament is usually on-sale, and these are always popular items. When the tournament is over you'll have a tee shirt that lets the world know "I competed in this tournament."
  • Many tournaments incorporate with an "Opening Ceremony", either first-thing in the morning, or at the mid-day break. Some competitors intentionally arrive late however if they know that their competition isn't slated until much later in the day.


  • Typically a loudspeaker system announces to the audience (including the competitors) when the next event arrives. Listen for your event, then report to the Waiting Area. The Waiting Area is usually a room set off to the side somewhere so that all the competitors for the next competition can congregate and prepare before the next event. If you are sparring, the Waiting Area is where you put on your sparring gear. Sometimes parents are allowed in the Waiting Area to help their children prepare -- but not always.
    • Pro-Tip: It's really hard to hear many of the loudspeaker announcements. Gyms tend to be loud and echo-y. You'll have to strain to hear many of the announcements, but try to develop that habit -- you'd be surprised how many of your friends will ask you right after the announcement, "What did they just say?"
  • When it's time to compete, competitors are taken to their competition mats. (Parent's don't follow children the mats -- they return to the bleachers to watch.)
  • Once at the mats, there's still more waiting. There might be a dozen or so competitors at your mat, and you have to wait for your turn to come up. For small children, this can be especially boring.
  • When all the competions on a given mat are concluded (i.e., when each of the dozen or so competitors have had their chance to compete, and when the winners have been determined), you can return to the bleachers. IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE WINNERS you will usually be directed off to the side where you can pick up your trophy.

Lisätietoa Timon osiossa, kohdasta murskaus.

Coach Timo Jansson ja ottelija Lauha Liukko-Sipi, Porvoo Open 2020