What are the rules of taekwondo?

what are the rules of taekwondo

Taekwondo is a form of fighting in which two fighters of the same weight class spar in an attempt to score enough points to outclass your opponent or disqualify them in a number of ways. Taekwondo as a form of fighting has been around for a long time, but was introduced to the Olympics in 2000 during the Sydney Olympics. The objective is to kick and punch in order to score points. These strikes must be thrown with strength and power to be considered by the scorers. Taekwondo practitioners are always expected to uphold the five tenets of Taekwondo. These include courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit.

Competition Area

The fighting area or competition area in Taekwondo is shaped like an octagon and generally has a diameter of eight meters. Another common shape for the competition area is a square that still has an eight meter diameter. There are no raised areas of the mat, just a flat eight meter octagon. Fighters often use these boundaries to their advantage because stepping outside the boundary can land you with a penalty.


taekwondo equipment

The equipment needed to spar is very strict and specific. First, the fighters must all wear a white competition uniform or a ‘dobok.’ These resemble traditional karate uniforms additionally because practitioners of Taekwondo also wear colored belts. These belts represent the level of the fighter. The belt colors start from white (beginner) and end with black (expert). After black, expert fighters additionally have nine degrees to progress through until the ultimate ninth level of the black belt. 

Other equipment includes:

  • Trunk Protector
  • Head protector
  • Groin guard (males only)
  • Forearm guards
  • Shin guards
  • Gloves
  • Sensing socks
  • Mouth guard

All of these protective measures are to ensure a safe fight for both fighters and reduce injuries if unavoidable. In low level Taekwondo matches, the points are scored manually, but many high level matches such as in the Olympics have sensors in each piece of padding to allow for scoring electronically.


The scoring system in taekwondo is simple in the best way possible. Scoring points in taekwondo is grouped into categories based on what form of attack the fighter deploys. Scoring is different for different styles of taekwondo but very similar in general. The official Olympic rules are:

  • Punch to the trunk protector (1 point)
  • Kick to the trunk protector (2 points)
  • Turning kick to the trunk protector (4 points)
  • Kick to the head (3 points)
  • Turning kick to the head (5 points)
  • One point awarded for every penalty the opponent produces

All of these strikes must also be ‘valid.’ This means that the strike must be powerful and controlled.


A match in taekwondo typically lasts for three, two minute rounds. Because different schools often have slightly different rules, it is important to understand the rules of your local school.  Rounds can vary between one minute each to two minutes each depending on the organization. The official organization that is widely accepted is the Olympic and World Taekwondo Federation. A match is won by either knocking their opponent out, or by having a greater number of points at the end of the match. If the match ends in a tie, the fighters fight in a golden point round, where the next point scored decides the winner of the entire match. Matches can also be won if either of the fighters gets penalized by the judges.


Penalties in taekwondo are not as strict as in other forms of martial arts but they are very specific. The only penalty in taekwondo is a gam-jeom and it is declared when a fighter punches the face or kicks anywhere below the waist. There are also other infractions that can land you with a penalty such as using your leg to block a kick from your opponent. Additionally, you can lose points if you cross over the mat’s boundary line with both feet, delaying the match, or for grabbing other opponents. Taekwondo is also extremely specific on the way that a fighter kicks. It is also considered a penalty if the fighter kicks with the bottom or side of the foot while the knee is pointed out in clinch position. Lastly, if any opponent is on the ground, it is considered a penalty if the fighter attacks them.

Even the coach can cost the fighter a point if it is ruled they are acting in an unsportsmanlike manner. The penalties in taekwondo are very specific, but not game ending such as the case in judo. These penalties are minor setbacks, but rarely end in disqualification or the victory of another fighter.


What is common taekwondo etiquette?

Before starting the match, it is imperative that both fighters bow to the referee. They also bow to each other before the start of the match. During this, they have their headgear removed and only put them on right before the beginning of the match. Etiquette also includes common fighting decency and to not fight dirty as this will land you with many penalties that cost points. These points are deducted from the fighter’s total score.

What are the taekwondo weight classes?

The weight classes are extremely detailed depending on the age and level of fighting. Focusing specifically on world class fights, the weight divisions are generally the same as MMA or boxing. The classifications are fin, fly, bantam, feather, light, welter, middle, and heavy. These classifications are from lightest to heaviest respectively. Each weight division also has weight brackets specific for male and female fighters. The division cited for this is called the Senior Sparring Division and makes up world class fighters from age 17-32.

What is the 12-point gap?

The 12 Point gap is a point where one fighter gains a 12 point lead on their opponent. At this point, the gap is too big for a fighter to be considered to have a chance at a comeback. This rule is enforced at the end of the round and will not be stopped immediately when the 12 point gap is reached. After the round ends, the match will end in a win for the fighter with the point advantage.

What is the golden point round?

The golden point round is instituted if the fight ends and the fighter’s scores are equal. When this happens, the scores are wiped and the next point scored is the winner. The winner isn't decided based on their previous performance in the fight, just by the next point. The next point can be as little as one point or as much as five points. The next point wins the entire match.