Taekwondo is a Korean combat sport which means "the way of kicking and punching." In taekwondo, both hands and feet are used to strike the opponent, but the trademark of the sport is its variety of versatile kicks.
For some 2000 years, a range of martial arts were practiced on the Korean peninsula. During the early 20th century, taekwondo became the dominant form of martial arts practiced in Korea. Subsequently taekwondo was designated as the Korean national martial art to be promoted internationally.
In 1973, World Taekwondo (WT; formerly named the World Taekwondo Federation) was created as the sport’s global governing body. The first World Championships were held in Seoul, Korea, that year.
Taekwondo’s first appearance at the Summer Olympic Games was in Seoul, in 1988, as a demonstration event. It appeared, again as a demonstration sport, at the Barcelona Summer Games in 1992. There were no demonstration sports at Atlanta in 1996, but taekwondo reappeared as a full medal sport at Sydney in 2000, then at Athens in 2004, at Beijing in 2008, at London in 2012, at Rio in 2016 and Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 as a full medal sport.
Two competitive formats exist for taekwondo: Poomsae, or solo patterns of taekwondo movements; and kyorugi, or sparring. Only kyorugi is an Olympic event. Kyorugi offers a plethora of national, regional and global championships, from Cadets and Juniors to Opens and Worlds. An invitational Grand Prix series was instituted in 2013 to create a regular circuit for the sport’s elite athletes, to incubate stars and to upgrade the sport’s media exposure.
While the sport was customarily dominated by Koreans, this is no longer the case: In London 2012, only one gold medal went to Korea; the eight gold medals on offer were awarded to athletes from eight different countries. Taekwondo now offers one of the widest medal distributions in the Games: In Rio 2016, it gave Jordan its first-ever Olympic gold medal, Iran its first-ever female Olympic medal and Cote d’Ivoire its first-ever Olympic gold medal.
World Weight Categories
Olympic Weight Categories
How to Play the Game
The aim of taekwondo is for the athlete to kick and punch the opponent, while avoiding being kicked and punched. Points are calibrated: The most challenging techniques, such as spinning kicks to the head, score higher than punches and basic kicks to the trunk. Tactics also come into play, as penalties are awarded against those players who fall, or who exit the matted area.
Matches are fought on a matted, octagonal field of play, which encourages lively footwork and evasive movement, while demanding good use of peripheral vision. Matches consist of three rounds of two minutes each, with one-minute breaks between rounds.
Leveraging Technology for Olympic
Taekwondo’s Protector and Scoring System, or PSS, was first adopted for Olympic competition at the London Summer Olympics in 2012.
The PSS is a system of electronic impact sensors built into the protective gear of the taekwondo athlete - the sock, the trunk protector and the head protector - which is wirelessly linked to the electronic scoreboard. When impact is made with the correct parts of the foot to the opponent’s head or trunk, points flash up on the scoreboard automatically.
The PSS has been a major step forward for the transparency and fairness of taekwondo competition. In terms of transparency, it grants the audience an immediate view of who is scoring. In terms of fairness, it obviates human error: Previously, taekwondo had relied upon judges to score techniques.
However, the three corner judges, using hand-held scoring devices, still score punches to the trunk and add technical points scored by turning/spinning kicks (which earn extra points, compared to basic kicks).
Rio 2016 was the first Olympic competition to include PSS in the head protector. Kicks to the head do not need to be as powerful, in terms of impact, as kicks to the trunk to register on the PSS. Prior to matches beginning, athletes hold out their head gear for their opponent to lightly kick to ensure that the sensors are working correctly.
PSS was included in the trunk protector for the first time in London 2012.
There are proximity sensors in each sock that ensure that kicks using different parts of the foot score.
Why Taekwondo Matters
In its basic form, taekwondo requires no real equipment other than the human body, making it an economical, democratic and easy-to-deploy sport. Widely practiced in the developed world, taekwondo is also an especially ideal sport for developing countries, and is taught in refugee camps.
Taekwondo develops flexibility, agility, speed, power, stamina, making it a 360-degree fitness regimen. Due to its roots in martial arts, it also demands discipline and courtesy, while offering practitioners self-defense and self-belief. And at its elite, Olympic level, taekwondo’s wide range of constantly evolving kicking techniques challenge the limits of human athletic endeavor.
Today, WT taekwondo is practiced by an estimated 80 million people in more than 200 countries and territories, administered by five Continental Unions (Africa, Asia, Europe, Pan America and Oceania) - making it one of the world’s most popular sports.