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Is Taekwondo a Sport? FAQ about Taekwondo

Taekwondo(TKD): Tae  (foot), Kwon  (hand), Do  (art) is a South Korean martial art that is very popular all around the world. Most people know it just as a sport that is a part of the Olympic Games.

Taekwondo can be both a martial art and a sport. Taekwondo at its core is the art of self-defense that has many forms and styles.  But Taekwondo has also been promoted as a sport when the World Taekwondo(WT) organization was established as the international governing body for the sports competition internationally.

Keep reading this article to find out all you need to know about Taekwondo and why it became a sport and much more. 

Brief History of Taekwondo

The story of Taekwondo begins shortly after the end of WW2. This was a time when a lot of new martial art schools called “kwans” started to open up in Korea. Each kwan used to teach their own style of fighting such as “Taekkyeon”, which is an art that has origins in Chinese arts.

In the 1950s, nine main kwans decided to create a unified Korean martial art and they named it “Tang Soo Do”. At the time Tang Soo Do was a Korean form of karate that was a mix of techniques from Shotokan, Subak, and Kung Fu. But a few years later, they would change the name to “Taekwondo”.

Tang Soo Do officially became “Taekwondo” with the birth of “Korea Taekwondo Association” in 1959. This marks the birth of the unified Korean martial art, and Taekwondo as a sport.

Is Taekwondo a Sport or an Art?

Taekwondo is a martial art that is a very popular sport. The initial forms of the art, better known as “traditional Taekwondo”, have all put a lot of emphasis on self-defense, and these forms are still present. Students learn how to use all limbs as weapons to punch, kick and execute some basic throws.

But over the years, Taekwondo grew into a national sport in South Korea, and in other parts of the world as well. In order to promote TKD competitions internationally, the World Taekwondo(WT) organization was created to oversee the sport aspects of TKD.

The sport grew so fast that the entire emphasis of the art has moved from self-defense to competition and fighting under the rules. The biggest moment came in 2000 when Taekwondo was finally confirmed by IOC Executive Board to include on the Olympic programme of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

This is the reason why, nowadays, most schools teach you how to fight under the rules. Taekwondo as a sport has become so big that you will rarely find a gym that will teach you traditional skills.

Are Punches Allowed in Taekwondo?

Yes, Taekwondo teaches you how to use punches to strike the opponent. But bear in mind that the way you use punches differs between the styles and forms. In competition, fighters can only throw punches to the upper body below the head and neck. They are not allowed to punch the head, which they can do using kicks only.

On the other side, traditional Taekwondo focuses more on self-defense and it teaches you how to use punches to strike the head. In fact, students learn solid punching combos as well as how to strike the head using elbows. Still, learning how to fight under the rules is far more popular in modern times. Most schools put emphasis on competition and students spend little to no time learning self-defense moves from the traditional form.

This is the reason why Taekwondo fighters rarely use punches, which gives average people a wrong perception that punches are not allowed at all.

Is Taekwondo Dangerous?

In short, yes. Taekwondo is a safe sport, but like any other martial art where you have kicks and punches, it carries a risk of injuries. It’s fair to say that it is much safer than some other arts like boxing because it includes far fewer strikes to the head.

This means that training Taekwondo could lead to various joint injuries and even fractures, but the risk of serious, long-term injuries like brain damage is very low. The most common injuries are joint and muscle strains, and small fractures. The top five locations of injury are the foot, knee, ankle, thigh and head.  

Students are throwing hundreds of hard kicks per class which is the reason why there are so many leg injuries. If you are on a receiving end, a strong kick might break your rib, which to be fair, is a common injury in all martial arts.

But overall, we are not talking about the injuries that could have an impact on your life or health in the long run. These injuries also do not take much time to heal and are a part of many other sports out there like soccer or football. 

The rate of injuries is really low in Taekwondo because most schools put a lot of emphasis on safety. All students, no matter how skilled they are, must wear full safety gear when doing any live drills or sparring. 

What are the Rules of Taekwondo?

The rules of Taekwondo may vary between the forms and styles, but most of the major rules are very much the same. Here is all you need to know about the general rules of Taekwondo, scoring of the matches and equipment. 

General Rules

  • The main goal in a Taekwondo match is to outscore or knock the opponent out by landing kicks and punches in the allowed target areas. 
  • Each bout lasts three rounds with each round being two minutes. A rest period between the rounds is one minute.
  • Each bout includes one referee and three judges scoring the contest.
  • Athletes compete on the 10m square mats.

Equipment and Uniform

  • All fighters must wear a gi top and pants made out of thick cotton and a rank belt around their waist.
  • Head guard
  • Groin guard
  • Shin guards
  • Chest protector
  • Mouth Guard
  • Hand guards and wraps
  • Forearm guards


  • Fighters get 1 point for every strike that lands on the body, 2 points if the kick lands on the face, 3 points for a head kick. And there is an extra point for every knockdown scored. 
  • To score a point with a kick, fighters need to land a kick with a part of the foot below the ankle. Otherwise, the judges won’t register this strike as a point. 
  • Fighters must land a punch to the body with tightly clenched fist to score 1 point. 

What is the Strongest Kick in Taekwondo?

The emphasis of Taekwondo is on kicks and its fighters are masters in executing them fast and with a lot of power. They spend each class learning how to throw various spinning and jumping kicks. But, which Taekwondo kicks generate the most power and do the most damage? Here are the top 3 strongest kicks in Taekwondo:

  • Back leg roundhouse kick — this is a regular type of roundhouse kick that we can also see in other arts like Muay Thai and MMA. To throw it with a lot of power, be sure to pivot both your lead leg and your hips in the direction of the kick. The power behind this kick lays in the rotation of the hips.
  • Tornado kick — this is a very powerful kick because you need to rotate the body 360 degrees. This much rotation generates a lot of momentum and can easily break the opponent’s ribs or knock them out. There are even variations of this kick where they rotate their bodies up to 540 degrees.
  • Turning back/side kick– this is the most popular kick in Taekwondo which MMA fighters often use in fights. The key is to pivot away from the target and throw a kick straight backward and land it with your heel.

How Many Belts are there in Taekwondo?

The belt ranking system in Taekwondo differs a lot from the ones in other arts like Judo or Karate. And the ranks also vary between the styles and forms (WT, ITF and ATA) and are separated into “junior” and “senior” sections. Or you can look at these two sections as “color belts” (junior), and “black belts” (senior).

Junior rank students wear a color belt around their waist called “geup” which in Korean means “rank”. Depending on the style, the number of colors (geups) goes from 8 to 12. Let’s have a look at three main Taekwondo associations, and see how the belt ranking differs between them. 


There are 10 geups (ranks) from white belt to black belt, and 9 dans after the black belts. Here is how it looks:

  • White belt (10th Geup)
  • Yellow Stripe (9th Geup)
  • Yellow belt (8th Geup)
  • Green Stripe (7th Geup)
  • Green Belt (6th Geup)
  • Blue Stripe (5th Geup)
  • Blue Belt (4th Geup)
  • Red Stripe (3rd Geup)
  • Red Belt (2nd Geup)
  • Black Stripe (1st Geup)
  • Black Belt 

World Taekwondo (WT)

World Taekwondo is the most famous organization and most schools around the world use this belt ranking system. The system they are using is very simple and easy to understand as there are 11 ranks and 9 color belts:

  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Blue Senior Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Brown Senior Belt
  • Red Belt
  • Junior Black Belt
  • Black Belt

American Taekwondo Association

Just about all Taekwondo schools in the US use this belt ranking system to promote their students. However, ATA is not popular outside the US where most Taekwondo schools use WT and ITF rules. In ATA there are 10 ranks and 9 color belts:

  • White Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Camouflage Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Red Belt
  • Black Belt

Is Taekwondo and Karate the same?

No, Karate and Taekwondo are two separate martial arts that, apart from various health benefits, do not share much in common. These two arts are a world apart when it comes to origins, emphasis, and techniques they teach. Here is all you need to know about how these two differ from one another:


Karate comes from Okinawan Islands in Japan, and its origins go all the way back to the 14th century Ryu Kingdom. At the time, carrying any type of weapons was not allowed, so people used karate techniques as a weapon for self-defense.

On the other side, Taekwondo came much later in the 1950s in South Korea. At the time, there were many schools (kwans) with each kwan teaching their own fighting style. In the 1950s, all kwans have decided to unite and work together on creating a unified Koran fighting style. The final result of their work was Taekwondo.


The emphasis of karate varies between forms and styles. But in most of them, the focus is on striking with punches, kicks, and some forms include knee and elbow strikes as well. Students learn how to attack in a blitz to move in fast, land a strike, and go back to a safe distance without being hit back. That is the whole point in most popular karate styles like Shotokan. The other popular forms are:

  • Gory-Ryu
  • Wado-Ryu
  • Kyokushin

Most Taekwondo forms put a lot of emphasis on kicks since punches are seen as a secondary weapon. Students spend most of the time learning various jumping, spinning, and all types of kicks.

But, there’s also a traditional Taekwondo that includes a wider range of techniques. Students learn how to use all limbs as weapons to strike as well as some basics of grappling. In fact, traditional Taekwondo includes over 3000 techniques for self-defense. But this form is not that popular anymore.

Still curious? Click here to find out Karate vs. Taekwondo: Key Differences And Similarities

Is Taekwondo Harder than Karate?

Both of these arts are very hard to master and saying which one is harder is not an easy task. To become a master in any martial art, you must spend years training hard on the mats. The same stands for these two arts where you can’t achieve anything without hard work.

On average, a person needs to spend 3 to 5 years training Taekwondo before reaching a black belt rank. Of course, this also depends on how gifted you, and how dedicated you are to classes. Some schools even have a minimum where you can’t get a black belt without at least 4 years of training.

In karate, on the other side, the length for getting a black belt varies between forms and styles. But on average, it takes around 5 years for a dedicated student to reach a black belt rank. Some students might get there faster but as in any other art, this depends on a style, school, and talent.

Is Taekwondo Good for MMA?

Taekwondo as a fighting system is not that popular for cage fighting because it is too one-dimensional. It won’t teach you advanced punching skills or how to grapple. But this doesn’t mean that Taekwondo is bad for MMA as some of its elements and techniques are really useful. 

In fact, not a single martial art out there will teach you better kicks, and you also learn how to fight from both stances and keep your range. These skills play a big role in modern MMA fighting, notably the kicks which have become the main weapon. This is a reason why some of the best MMA fighters in history have a strong background in Taekwondo like: 

  • Bas Rutten
  • Anderson Silva
  • Anthony Pettis

Is Taekwondo Effective in a Street Fight?

The modern-day art of Taekwondo focuses on teaching a sport(safer) version of Taekwondo that is not well applicable during street fighting.

The modern-day version of TKD is geared towards preparing you to score points in a competition setting rather than preparing you to win in a street fight situation.

Taekwondo also is all about standing fights. In a street fight situation, many fights end up on the ground where kicks and hand strikes that are taught in Taekwondo are no longer effective at all.

If you want to learn more, get the full report on Is Taekwondo Effective in a Street Fight?