The ancient martial art of taekwondo has its fair share of rules which may seem confusing to the white belt beginner. Here's our quick guide to the basic rules for those Kup graders just starting out.

General taekwondo points and rules

  • The aim of taekwondo is to land as many kicks and blows as you can on your opponent in the allowed target areas.
  • A taekwondo contest comprises three rounds of two minutes each – with a one-minute break between each round.
  • The whole taekwondo contest area is a 10m square mat.
  • Victory in a taekwondo bout can be achieved by knockout, by scoring the most points, or by default if the opponent is disqualified.

Scoring in taekwondo

  • In taekwondo one point is scored for each legitimate strike on the body, and two points are given for kicks to the face. Competitors get an additional point for a knockdown.
  • One referee and three judges oversee the contest, and a point is awarded only when two or more judges register a hit at the same time.
  • Kicks to the head and body are only awarded points if they are landed with parts of the foot below the ankle.
  • Blows to the body must be with the front of the index and middle finger knuckles of a tightly clenched fist if they are to be awarded points. Fighters are not allowed to punch to the head.

Penalties in taekwondo

  • Penalties in taekwondo are awarded for offences such as grabbing, holding, feigning injury, pushing, and turning one's back on an opponent.
  • The most serious taekwondo offence is ‘Gam-jeom’, which leads to one point being deducted. Examples of ‘Gam-jeom’ include throwing an opponent, deliberately stepping over the boundary line, pulling an opponent to the ground, and attacking the face with anything but the feet.
  • If an opponent is knocked to the ground then the referee begins a 10 second count. A knockdown occurs if any part of a contestant's body touches the floor apart from the foot. There is a mandatory eight-second count before the referee decides whether the bout should continue.
  • A knockdown becomes a knockout if a competitor cannot regain his or her feet by the count of ten seconds or if the referee decides he or she is unfit to continue at the end of an eight count.
  • If a contest ends with the competitors level on points, then the contestant with the most points before penalties were deducted is the winner. If the scores are still level after this, then the referee awards the contest to the fighter he believes to have been the most willing to attack. The only exception to these rules occurs in the final of a competition, when a tied contest will go to an extra ‘sudden death’ round where the first to score a point wins. If no result is achieved during this round then the final decision once again lies with the referee.

Olympic competition rules for taekwondo

  • The Olympic taekwondo competition takes the form of an elimination tournament to decide the gold and silver medals.
  • After this initial tournament, two groups are then drawn up of all the competitors – except the semi-finalists – who have lost to either of the finalists. Another knockout process then produces two pool winners. Each pool winner then faces the beaten semi-finalist from the other side of the draw, and the winners of these two bouts compete for the bronze medal.
  • The weight divisions for an Olympic taekwondo competition are as follows: Men – under 58kg (approx 128 lbs); under 68kg (approx 150 lbs); under 80kg (151 lbs-176 lbs); over 80kg (177 lbs and beyond). Women – under 49kg (approx 108 lbs); under 57kg (109-125 lbs); under 67kg (approx 147.7 lbs); over 67kg. (148 lbs and beyond).

Picture Credit: Lilyana Vynogradova /