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WTF vs ITF Taekwondo: Comparing and Contrasting


Taekwondo, celebrated for its dynamic high kicks and swift spinning moves, is governed by two major competitive streams: World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and International Taekwondo Federation (ITF).

Although both styles spring from the same roots, they have branched into unique forms, each characterised by its own set of rules, philosophies, and techniques.

Realising that many are unfamiliar with the differences between the two, we've put together this friendly guide.

Looking into everything from sparring regulations to patterns. Our goal is to show the distinctions and overlaps of WTF and ITF Taekwondo, enabling practitioners and fans alike to make informed choices about which path they might prefer to follow. 

History and Evolution

Both WTF and ITF Taekwondo have roots in Korean martial arts.

However, they have diverged significantly over the decades due to political, philosophical, and practical reasons.

- ITF was formed in 1966 by General Choi Hong Hi, who is often credited with founding modern Taekwondo.

- WTF came into existence later in 1973, established by the South Korean government as a global governing body for the sport, especially for Olympic-style Taekwondo.

ITF uniform

Taekwondo Sparring Rules: WTF vs ITF

When discussing Taekwondo sparring rules, the differences between WTF and ITF are quite pronounced.

WTF competitions:

Predominantly full-contact and take place on a flat, square mat.

Points are scored mainly through high kicks to the head and body, with bouts being fast-paced and dynamic.

Protective gear is crucial, and athletes often wear body protectors and Tae Kwon Do head guards to ensure safety during these intense exchanges.

ITF competitions:

ITF sparring can be semi-contact and points are awarded for precision, control, and technique over brute force.

ITF rules allow for more punching techniques and the scoring system encourages accuracy and power in equal measure.

This style of sparring requires a different strategic approach, emphasising finesse over aggression.

Important Take a way:  In ITF Taekwondo, striking the face with a gloved hand is permitted. However, in WTF style, the rules differ; you're only allowed to kick the face with your foot, while punches are restricted to the body.

Training and Techniques

While we've touched on some distinctive techniques previously, let's look deeper.

Training in ITF Taekwondo includes a significant focus on patterns or "tuls", which are pre-arranged sequences of movements that simulate combat against multiple opponents. These patterns are not only physical exercises but also mental ones, as they involve precise movements that reflect the art’s philosophical underpinnings.

WTF training, while also incorporating forms known as "poomsae", prioritises sparring and physical conditioning to prepare athletes for competition. The techniques in WTF are generally more streamlined for efficiency in a competitive setting, focusing heavily on leg techniques and agility to gain points in tournaments.

ITF Taekwondo focuses more on self-defence, incorporating more hand techniques and a philosophical approach to training. In contrast, WTF emphasises speed and competition, with a strong focus on head-high kicks and fast footwork.

Belts and Uniforms ITF vs WTF

The progression through belts and the design of uniforms can also differ.

While both organisations typically follow a belt system from white to black, the criteria for advancement can vary, reflecting each federation's unique focus.

Uniforms in ITF may include a black trim for higher belts, which is less common in WTF attire. 

WTF uniforms are usually plainer, without stripes with an emphasise on a sleek, streamlined look.

team GB Taekwondo Athlete

Championships and Federations

Each federation hosts its own world championships and has its own set of governance rules.

WTF Taekwondo is recognized in the Olympic Games, making its championships highly visible and competitive on an international scale.

ITF's championships, while not part of the Olympics, are equally prestigious within the ITF community and showcase the technical skills and martial artistry of its practitioners.

Key Take Aways

WTF vs ITF Taekwondo both offer rich, rewarding martial arts experiences but cater to different preferences and goals within the Taekwondo community.

As Taekwondo continues to evolve, the choice between WTF and ITF will depend on what aspects of martial arts are most appealing to you, whether it's the art, the sport, or a combination of both.

For enthusiasts eager to delve deeper into the world of Taekwondo or to start their training journey, exploring Taekwondo uniforms and Taekwondo belts can be the first step towards choosing a path in either WTF or ITF Taekwondo.