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What Is the Difference Between WT and ITF Taekwondo Styles?

Credit: (left), (right)

Taekwondo is a widely practiced martial art with different styles that most people don’t know about. The two most popular styles are World Taekwondo (WT) and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). However, many people find this confusing and scratch their heads about how these two styles differ from one another while both are called Taekwondo (TKD).

WT is widely regarded as a sports style because it emphasizes competition and is also an official Olympic style of Taekwondo. ITF is different as it primarily focuses on traditional principles and teaches self-defense skills that align with real-life fighting.

Although WT and ITF are conceptually similar, these two styles differ a lot when it comes to techniques, teaching methods, strategies, and tactics.

Let’s further explore all the differences between these two styles in more detail.

What Is World Taekwondo (WT)?

WTF Taekwondo, which stands for “World Taekwondo Federation Taekwondo,” was the name used for the international governing body for the sport of Taekwondo. It was originally founded in 1973 and was the official organization responsible for regulating and promoting the sport worldwide.

However, in 2017, the World Taekwondo Federation changed its name to “World Taekwondo (WT)” in order to rebrand from the acronym “WTF,” which in modern-day culture had become negative connotations. The new name was made to make the sport more appealing and accessible to a global audience.

World Taekwondo (WT) continues to oversee and govern the sport on an international level. It is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and plays a significant role in organizing competitions at the Olympic Games and other major international events. It is arguably the most popular TKD style due to its competition significance, well established worldwide.

What Is International Taekwondo Federation (ITF)?

ITF, which stands for International Taekwon-Do Federation Taekwondo, is a separate and distinct organization and style founded with the mission to promote the martial art of Taekwondo. It was founded by General Choi Hong Hi in 1966 and is known as a style that embraces traditional teaching methods.

General Choi Hong Hi
Credit: ITF

General Choi was one of the pioneers of Taekwondo, who played a significant role in its development. He was the one advocating for the unification of kwans (schools) and all Korean styles into one unified style called Taekwondo.

However, General Choi’s vision of Taekwondo often clashed with the political and organizational direction of other members of the organization. His approach emphasized the original Korean roots of the martial arts and the use of Taekwondo techniques for self-defense, while other kwans had a different vision.

Choi also wanted to maintain a sense of independence and autonomy in the development and promotion of Taekwondo, and there were also some personal conflicts. So, eventually, he decided to split and found a new organization. Unlike WT, ITF is not included in the Olympics.

WT vs. ITF – What Is the Key Difference?

The key difference between these two styles is the emphasis as World Taekwondo (WT) focuses more on promoting Taekwondo through sports and competition, while the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) emphasizes traditional methods designed for self-defense and fighting in real life. This makes them different in various other aspects, such as training methods, techniques, strategies, etc.

Here is a breakdown of key differences:

Techniques and Philosophy

WT places an emphasis on sports competition, athleticism, and the pursuit of a professional career on the international level. As a result, the learning curriculum is designed to prepare you to compete under the official rules and win matches. From drilling-specific techniques and sparring to intense strength and cardio workouts, the main purpose of training is to maximize your performance in tournaments, not geared toward teaching you how to fight in real life.

ITF is the opposite as it emphasizes the historical and philosophical aspects of Taekwondo, and the learning curriculum is designed to be more realistic and in line with the type of fighting you may encounter in real life. Training primarily focuses on traditional techniques designed for self-defense combat, and although there is competition, it is less important.

Punches (strikes)

As a style more designed toward self-defense, ITF taekwondo teaches punching techniques to the upper body area above the waist, including punches to the head. The focus is on direct attacks in the centerline, as this is considered the fastest and most efficient way of hitting the attacker. However, ITF students train to hit the side of the head and avoid hitting sensitive areas such as the nose, eyes, or mouth.

WT style also includes punching forms (poomsae), but as far as sparring is concerned, punches to the head are not allowed. Contestants are only allowed to punch the upper body area below the neck (chest area), which makes this style quite different from the ITF.


ITF puts a lot of emphasis on kicks because the founders of TKD believed legs are longer and more powerful strikes than punches and can cause more damage. ITF style utilizes fewer jumping and acrobatic kicks because these moves are too complex and require more time and energy to execute, so this style emphasizes direct and simple kicking techniques. Also, the ITF style teaches students how to land low kicks below the waist, but these strikes are not allowed in competition and are supposed to be used only for self-defense.

WT is known for its high, fast, and dynamic kicking techniques, including head kicks. It was designed to be a more flashy style, so students learn a lot of jumping and spinning high-kicks, and they spend a lot of time working on improving flexibility and core in order to be able to execute those kicks. Kicking below the waist (low kicks) is not allowed.

Forms (Patterns)

ITF puts a strong emphasis on patterns (known as “Tuls” or “Hyungs”), which are pre-arranged movements that practitioners must learn and perform, and originally, 24 forms were created to symbolize 24 hours in a day. Students perform forms alone in a focused manner to improve technique, balance, and overall skills. These patterns also have historical significance and are essential to ITF training.

ITF patterns

WT Taekwondo includes forms (known as “poomsae”), but this training method is actually not as important as in ITF. In WT, the focus is primarily on sparring and competition, with forms being a separate aspect of training students practice to develop proper technique and muscle memory. In most dojos, students learn 8 different forms while at color belt levels and an additional 9 forms at senior ranks (black belt levels).

WT poomsae


In ITF, sparring is performed with semi-contact, and the focus is on dynamic movements. Athletes are not allowed to throw strikes with full force and can actually get disqualified or lose a point if they do so. Sparring typically involves a lower stance, with less emphasis on high kicks.

WT Taekwondo is known for its high, dynamic, and acrobatic kicks, and Olympic-style sparring strongly emphasizes head kicks. Since the introduction of the electronic scoring system, the importance of power in striking has decreased. Nevertheless, WT athletes still deliver strikes with more force compared to ITF athletes.

WT vs. ITF Rule Differences

WT and ITF Taekwondo have distinct competition rules and formats. Here are some of the key differences between these two styles:

Scoring Systems

WT Taekwondo uses an electronic scoring system installed in the head and trunk protections called “Protector and Scoring Systems (PSS).” Points are awarded for clean and controlled kicks and punches to the specific body areas:

  • 1 point — for a punch to the trunk protector
  • 2 points — for a kick to the trunk protector
  • 3 points — for a kick to the head
  • 4 points — for a turning kick to the trunk protector
  • 5 points — for a turning kick to the head

ITF uses a more subjective scoring system for sparring. Judges award points based on their perception of the effectiveness and control of techniques. 

  • 1 point — for a punch to the body or head, or for a kick to the body
  • 2 points — for a kick to the head, jumping kick to the body, or hand attack to the head
  • 3 points — for a jumping kick to the head

Uniform and gear

Practitioners in both styles wear similar uniforms, which include long pants, a jacket, and a rank belt around the waist, all made out of thick cotton. This is a universal style uniform adopted from other traditional styles such as Karate and Judo. However, there are minor differences when it comes to design.

ITF competition gear vs. WT competition gear
Credit: (left), (right)

ITF practitioners often wear a different style of uniform, typically with a v-neck and no black trim. In competition, contestants wear well-cushioned gloves, footguards, and headguards. WT also has a v-neck, but the trim is black color, which makes it recognizable compared to other styles. In competition, WT contestants wear open-fingered gloves, footguards, head guards, shin and forearm protectors, and chest protectors.

Target Areas

In ITF, contestants are allowed to land punches and kick both to the head and body. However, only light contact is allowed at all levels. But these rules may vary between schools, countries, and organizations.

WT contestants are enabled to kick the opponent in the chest protector, headgear, and face and are not allowed to throw kicks below the waist. Punching is allowed, but unlike in ITF, they can target only the chest protector, as hand strikes to the head are not allowed.

Match Duration

According to most ITF rule sets, the regular bouts include two rounds, with each round being 2 minutes long (for seniors) or 90 seconds for junior matches. The finals usually have 3 rounds, each round being 2 minutes long, and there is a one-minute break between the rounds. In case of a draw, there is an extra round, which is 1 minute long. This is just a general explanation, and these rules vary significantly between organizations, levels of competition, and belt ranks.

WT matches have three rounds, with each round being 2 minutes long, and there is a one-minute break between each round.


ITF taekwondo is semi-contact, meaning that contestants are not allowed to use full force, cause serious injuries, or hurt the opponent too much. Instead, the focus is on speed, timing, and precision, and each strike must land cleanly.

WT taekwondo has always been known as a hard-hitting style because contestants often use full force, so knockouts and severe injuries were quite common. But modern taekwondo has become more tactical, with the main focus on scoring points off your opponent’s mistakes and weaknesses instead of emphasizing damage and finish. As a result of these changes, WT is becoming similar to ITF in terms of contact.

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WT vs. ITF: Belt Ranking System Difference

Both WT and ITF styles of Taekwondo share the same senior (Dan) belt ranking system but have different ranking systems for junior (geups) belts. The chart below illustrates the difference between junior belt rankings in WT and ITF.

World Taekwondo (WT) belt ranking system (junior)

WT belt ranking system for junior

International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) Belt Ranking System (junior)

IDF belt ranking system for junior
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What Are the Different Styles of Taekwondo?

Taekwondo has four main styles, which are essentially three different organizations that promote the sport using different rule sets:

  • World Taekwondo — was established in 1973 as the international governing body. It is widely regarded as the sports style of Taekwondo included in the Olympic Games.
  •  International Taekwondo Federation — was established in 1966 when one of the founders of Taekwondo, Korean military General Hong Hi Choi, decided to develop his own variation of the system and launch a new organization. In contrast with other styles, ITF primarily focuses on self-defense and traditional principles and teachings.
  •  American Taekwondo Association (ATA) — was founded in 1970 by a former TKD military instructor in the Korean military, Haeng Ung Lee, as the official American style of TKD. 
  •  Traditional style — is a style practiced before the unification of kwans, around the 1940s when the term Taekwondo hadn’t been used yet. The traditional style primarily focuses on self-defense techniques and tactics, striking using all limbs, and even the basics of grappling.
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