Exploring the Different Styles of Taekwondo: WTF vs. ITF

Taekwondo, a martial art that has captivated millions worldwide, boasts of a rich history and diverse styles that cater to various preferences and philosophies. Among these, the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) and the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) stand out as the two predominant styles that have shaped the sport and its global community. This article delves into the origins, differences, and unique aspects of WTF and ITF Taekwondo, offering insights into their techniques, philosophies, and competitions, thereby providing a comprehensive understanding of this dynamic martial art.

Origins and philosophies

World Taekwondo Federation (WTF)

Established in 1973, the World Taekwondo Federation, now known simply as World Taekwondo, was founded to promote Taekwondo as a competitive sport on a global scale. Its headquarters are in Seoul, South Korea, and it focuses on Taekwondo’s sportive aspect, emphasising speed, agility, and the dynamic execution of techniques. World Taekwondo is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is responsible for Taekwondo competitions at the Olympic Games.

International Taekwondo Federation (ITF)

The International Taekwondo Federation, established in 1966 by General Choi Hong Hi, the acknowledged father of Taekwondo, aims to maintain and promote the art’s traditional values and techniques. ITF Taekwondo places a strong emphasis on self-defence, moral discipline, and the philosophical aspects of Taekwondo practice. Unlike WTF, ITF is not recognized by the IOC but has a significant following worldwide, with numerous national and international competitions.

Key differences

While both WTF and ITF styles share the same roots, they have evolved distinctly, resulting in notable differences in techniques, forms, sparring rules, and attire.

Techniques and forms

  • WTF focuses on fast, high kicks and spinning techniques, encouraging spectacular kicks and points scoring in competitions.
  • ITF emphasises traditional patterns (known as ‘tul’), hand techniques, and self-defence, alongside a balanced approach to kicks and punches.

Sparring rules

  • WTF sparring is full-contact with points awarded for kicks to the torso and head, using electronic scoring systems to ensure objectivity.
  • ITF sparring can be semi-contact or light continuous, focusing on technical accuracy, control, and power. Points are given for punches, kicks, and blocking techniques.


  • WTF practitioners wear a dobok with a v-neck jacket, which is indicative of the style’s Olympic sport status.
  • ITF uniforms also consist of a dobok, but with a cross-over jacket design, reflecting the traditional martial arts aspect.

Competitions and recognition

Both WTF and ITF host international competitions, but their recognition by global sports bodies and the nature of these competitions vary significantly.

World Taekwondo

World Taekwondo is recognised by the IOC, and its athletes compete in the Olympic Games. It organises the World Taekwondo Championships, which is one of the most prestigious events in the sport. The emphasis is on athleticism, with electronic scoring systems used to enhance fairness and objectivity in judging.

International Taekwondo Federation

ITF may not be part of the Olympic Games, but it holds its World Championships, attracting competitors from around the globe. The focus is on technical skill, traditional patterns, and the art of self-defence. ITF competitions often include special techniques and power breaking events, showcasing the discipline’s diverse skill set.

Choosing between WTF and ITF

Deciding whether to practise WTF or ITF Taekwondo depends on one’s personal goals, interests, and philosophy towards martial arts. Those drawn to the competitive, athletic side of Taekwondo might prefer WTF, with its Olympic recognition and focus on dynamic sparring. On the other hand, individuals interested in traditional martial arts, self-defence, and the philosophical aspects of Taekwondo may find ITF more appealing. Regardless of the choice, both WTF and ITF offer a path to physical fitness, discipline, and self-improvement, embodying the spirit and values of Taekwondo.

Global influence and the future

Taekwondo, through both WTF and ITF, has grown into a global phenomenon, influencing millions of practitioners across the world. As these organisations continue to evolve, they contribute to the sport’s development, promoting international goodwill and understanding through martial arts. The future of Taekwondo looks promising, with ongoing efforts to harmonise the different styles and foster a united Taekwondo community. While differences remain, the shared commitment to the art’s core principles ensures that Taekwondo will continue to thrive as a martial art and competitive sport for generations to come.

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