ITF and WT Taekwondo. What Are the Differences?

What Is the Difference Between ITF and WTF Taekwondo?

Although generally the same, there are some differences between ITF and WT (formerly WTF) Taekwondo. To clear things up, ITF stands for International Taekwondo Federation, and WT stands for World Taekwondo. So, what is the real difference between the two?

The main difference between ITF and WTF Taekwondo is that ITF serves as an institution where students may learn the art of Taekwondo and WT (formerly WTF) is a Taekwondo governing body that focuses on rules and regulations of Taekwondo competitions.

Other than that, when it comes to ITF and WT Taekwondo, there are also differences in their origin, techniques, rules in competitions, etc. So, let’s check out all the differences between ITF and WT Taekwondo.

Also, check out our article on high-level CEOs who are Martial Artists.

Brief History of Taekwondo

The martial art of Taekwondo (alternatively spelled Tae Kwon Do or Taekwon-Do) is of South Korean origin, dating from the 1940s, i.e. shortly after the conclusion of World War II. The art has its origins in Japanese and Chinese martial arts, but is today a clearly distinct art and sport in itself. 

It was originally called Tae Soo Do (or Tae Su Do), which is a phrase that consisted of the words “to stomp” (Korean: 跆 tae), “hand” (Korean: 手 su), and “way, discipline” (Korean: 道 do). However, South Korean general and martial artist, Choe Hong-hui, advocated a different etymology, replacing the word “hand” with the word “fist” (Korean: 拳 kwon or gwon), thus creating the modern name of South Korea’s most famous martial art. 

Initially restricted to Asia and, to a small degree, North America, the art of Taekwondo reached global prominence after the 1988 Olympic Games held in Seoul, South Korea. Taekwondo was only a demonstration sport back then, but it was presented to a larger audience and had been an official Olympic event since the 2000 Sydney Olympics; it is, since 2000, the only Asian martial art alongside judo that is included in the official Olympic programme.

Competitive Taekwondo

Competitive Taekwondo is a somewhat complex problem, because of two internationally recognised governing bodies that have somewhat different views when it comes to the rules of the art. The general ideas are, of course, identical, but there are certain differences that create a distinction between WT (formerly WTF) and ITF Taekwondo. 

World Taekwondo (WT), formerly known as the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was founded in 1973 after the Korean government officially abandoned the ITF. It was created as the official Taekwondo academy and its main goal was to create a unified style of Taekwondo. Its criteria are more widely accepted and are used as the official Olympic criteria today. 

The International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) is, interestingly, the older of the two organisations (it was founded in 1955), but due to political disagreements, it was officially abandoned by the Korean state and its modern influence is significantly smaller than before. Although some tournaments still use ITF rules, they represent a substantial minority. 

Taekwondo competitions are usually held in three main categories – sparring, breaking and patterns (forms) – although there can be other events such as demonstrations and self-defence. The main event, of course, is sparring, which is also the sole Olympic event connected with the sport. As stated earlier, the vast majority of tournaments (including the Olympic one), use the WT rules, while the ITF rules are present in a minority of competitions.

Albeit generally similar, there are some differences between them. ITF rulings allow for direct hand attacks to the head (which WT prohibits), but the sparring is not full contact and excessive contact is not allowed. A direct result of the latter ruling is that a competitor is disqualified if he injures his opponent to such a degree that he cannot continue to fight, i.e. is knocked-out.

There is also a difference in the sparring area – WT proscribes an area of 8×8 meters, while ITF proscribes 9×9. 

There are also some differences when it comes to the official gear, but that will not be analyzed in depth in this article. 

One more difference is when it comes to the ranking system, so be sure to see our article on Taekwondo belts.

Taekwondo Scoring System

The main goal of a sparring competition is to outscore your opponent (WT and ITF) or knock him out (WT). The points are administered by judges, who either evaluate the technique based on electronical scorekeeping (used in most WT events) or observe the match and award points themselves (most ITF events, since ITF doesn’t universally accept electronical scorekeeping). 

The WT system divides attacks into three categories – scoring techniques, permitted but non-scoring techniques and prohibited techniques. The first two are self-explanatory, while the latter encompasses such techniques as kicking or punching below the waist. In WT competitions, the fight is usually stopped after a successful score, while ITF allows for continuous scoring. 

As for the system of points, there are differences between WT and ITF. WT has a point range od 1 to 5, while ITF utilizes a range of 1 to 3 points; there is also a difference between each national federation’s scoring system within the ITF, while WT uses a unifies scoring format for all of its competitions.

The WT format is as follows:

TechniqueNumber of points
Regular punch to the chest area1
Regular kick to the chest area2
Regular kick to the head3
Technical kick (spinning or turning) to the chest area4
Technical kick to the head5

The ITF format is a bit different. As stated, each national federation can impose their own scoring system, but the general ITF guidelines are as follows:

TechniqueNumber of points
Punch to the body or the head1
Jumping punch or kick to the body 2
Jumping kick to the head3

As we can see, WT has a more developed and detailed system which covers for a wider variety of techniques and attacks. WT focuses on both the target and the technique, i.e. the way the attack is made. On the other hand, ITF doesn’t have such a specific distinction, focusing rather on the target and type of attack and only somewhat on the technique, but – as stated – that can be different in some ITF competitions as the organisation has a liberal approach towards its member federations. 

WT also has one specific point when it comes to points and it concerns situations where the difference is overwhelmingly on the side of one competitor. Namely, if a competitor achieves a 20-point difference by the end of the second round (out of three, more on that below) or at any point during the third and final round, he is automatically declared the winner. ITF, as far as we have managed to find out, doesn’t have such a rule. 

Instead of a Conclusion – the Practicalities of Combat

Instead of a summary of what we have gone through so far, we shall present to you something new even in the final part of our story. Namely, so far, we have discussed the origins of Taekwondo, the basic organisational structure of competitive Taekwondo, its basic goal and how it is reached. Here, we shall touch upon a few other topics that deal with the practicalities of competitive Taekwondo and are related to the main topic of this text. 

As so how a competitive Taekwondo match is structured, we can say that it is divided into rounds. WT competitions use a three-round format, so the winner is the competitor that has more points after three full rounds, unless the match was stopped by some other means before that time.

If at the end of regular time the points are tied, an additional fourth round is played where the winner is decided via the “golden point” rule, i.e. the first to score a point wins.

If, by chance, no one achieves that point, the judges declare the winner either by the superiority or based on the number of fouls committed. ITF, on the other hand, doesn’t have three, but rather two rounds and a continuous battle system where the competitors fight for a specific period of time (min. 2 minutes) in continuity. The winner is decided based on more points achieved for the duration of the match. 

The last point of concern are the penalties. WT has two sets of rules related to penalties, one for breaking the rules of the game and one for breaking the time-related rules. Stalling is among the latter, while the former encompasses such violations as illegal attacks (p.e. in the neck, below the waist, etc.) and others. The judges award penalty points for violations, the maximum being 10 per match. If a competitor collects 10 penalty points in one battel, he is automatically declared loser of the match.

ITF has a very different approach to sanctions. In ITF competitions, there are no penalty points, rather – after having committed a foul, the competitor has one or more points deduced from his total per foul. If a competitor collects three point deductions he is automatically disqualified. ITF also has a warning-system wherein a point is deduced when the player collects three warnings. 

And that’s all for today. Hope you enjoyed this brief study of competitive Taekwondo and that it will help you in your endeavours, whatever they might be. Until next time!

Gianluca Martucci, Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer.
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Gianluca Martucci

Gianluca Martucci is a personal trainer and an athletic trainer. Since he was a kid, he has been a big fan of Martial Arts and Combat Sports: from Wrestling and now MMA to Karate and Kung Fu, for this reason he specialized in workouts for martial artistis. Our testing and reviewing method.
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