WTF Olympic Sport Taekwondo Is Boring

        In this current age of Taekwondo sport competition, the WTF Olympic sport fighting has become extremely boring. Many criticize it as ballet and foot tag.

When Taekwondo sparring first started there was not many rules except striking and blocking. It included face strikes as well and they didn’t even wear any protective gear either. I am not sure how often leg kicks were used though, if at all for tournaments. Later, they took out face punching and limited hand strikes to punching only the chest. During my early years training in Taekwondo my instructor’s would tell me they took out face punching because people got hurt too bad and too fast to have a good match. This seems like a plausible reason, to make things safe and easier. They also told me punching the face is too easy and kicking takes more skill (this is a fallacious argument as anyone knows boxing is incredibly skillful and they only hit the face with no kicks). Taekwondo masters may actually have thought face punches did not take much skill, but I assume they also thought to train them back in the day. Now days many gyms never train face punching at all simply because all they care about is sport sparring. So whatever the reason, Koreans took out punches to the face.

The Jidokwan invented the hogu which is the chest gear/protector used by Taekwondo sport competitors. This shows they found out that people could last longer with chest protection as well as allow for less injuries which make tournaments safer and more people willing to compete. Even so, when the World Taekwondo Federation first started out the only protection they used was the hogu. They did not even have shin and in step guards or arm guards yet. They developed these later. Of course they did wear a groin cup and mouth piece. They also did not have head gear! Sparring was really dangerous even in the sport format where kicks limited to above the waist on the chest gear and head only. In the past Taekwondo sparring, even under Olympic rules (when it was a demonstration sport from the 80s-late 90’s)  actually looked like a fight. People literally threw kicks with serious intention at each other and used way more punches to the chest than they do now. Now days you barely see anyone punch. Back in the day people punches constantly after kicks and when people got in close. People kicked full contact to both the chest gear and the head (with no head gear on!) People got knocked out very fast and suffered injuries on the head. Later, they developed the head gear and made it mandatory for sport competition. Here is a 1980’s video showing early Taekwondo sport techniques as well as providing history and facts about Taekwond and the WTF. Watch the first few minutes for the sparring footage.

The beginning of that video shows actual tournament footage with no head gear worn and people getting kicked in the face as well as people punching the chest gear a lot. Back in the older days from 80’s-90’s all scoring was only worth 1 point exactly. No matter where you hit them with a kick or punch it was 1 point. Kicking the head was 1 point, spin kicks to the head was 1 point, flying and jump kicks were 1 point. This made competition way more realistic and combative where people only did wild moves when necessary to counter or to trick opponents. everything was rougher and looked like a fight and people won by either more damage or knockouts, or by full powered kicks that score more than the other guy.

Now days the point system is crazy with 1 point for chest gear kicks, 2 for turning kicks, 3 for any head kick (even a crescent/axe kick to the head from in close which takes little effort) and a turning kick to the head is 4 points. A flying or in the air jump kick I believe is 3 or 4 points but I am not sure. So now you’ve got Olympic athletes attacking each other with foot fencing strategy and twirling toward each other like ballet dancers. This has serious made WTF sparring so boring!

Apparently in South Korea some guys got together in 2012 and decided to spar without head gear, this is the result:

Notice how cautious the fighters are where instead of just twirling and sticking a front leg sidekick out to tag for a point they are slowly feeling each other out. This is because without the points and also no head gear it is very dangerous and you can get hurt, as seen with the knockouts in the video. Taking away the stupid WTF gear such as gloves (which are absolutely unnecessary since you can’t punch the face, and chest gear is padded anyway! No one ever needed gloves in the early days of Olympic sparring, neither did I when I competed as a teenager and early 20’s because punching a chest gear does not hurt and a bare fist on chest gear does no more damage than if wearing silly gloves), adding electronic hogu that register scores, and head gear then you will get a more serious fight and a lot more action that looks exciting.

Here is some 1980’s sparring footage without head gear, and then the very end shows some head gear worn. The fighting looks more realistic and combative:

I remember when Olympic sparring was really respected since it was full contact and knockouts are legal. People would call sport Karate foot fencing. That is point fighting where you can only lightly touch each other and they stop the match at every point so no one can counter. This is because people would stick out a lead leg to touch for a point before the other guy could touch them first. It is really a stupid sport and one a disdain and have absolutely not shred of respect for. Even Shotokan light contact sparring is somewhat combative with only crisp technique scoring and combative movements (even that is boring to me). Now days with the point system of large points scored for head and turn kicks, no emphasis on punches scoring, the gloves, the electronic hogu (I guess head gear is okay and does not take too fun away and in a way is necessary for young people) Taekwondo sparring has simply become continuous foot fencing and it sucks. I really hope they change the rules because Taekwondo is going out of style fast, is no longer the world’s most popular martial art, and Taekwondo sparring almost got kicked out of the Olympics (instead they kicked out Wrestling, which is another issue in itself). If Taekwondo wants to remain relevant it has to adapt to more combative formats of competition and make them available. Sport competition needs various rule formats for Taekwondo for different types of sparring events: Olympic sport, Kickboxing etc. and whether knees and elbows are included or not; as well as an emphasis on self defense over sport.


White Dragon is a 3rd dan Taekwondo Black Belt with over 19 years experience in the Martial Arts and head instructor of the White Dragon Dojang Martial Arts Training Program. 


  1. J says:

    Great article. I think the WTF is probably aware of the issues and complaints of the current format of Olympic sparring, but to implement change in a democratic system occurs at a snail’s pace. Chungwon Choue’s remarks on reforming the sparring format were interesting even if some of his ideas were a little over the top IMO (I really don’t think we need to copy the UFC in order to make the competition more entertaining/interesting to watch). What you said about the point system made a lot of sense, and I think even a rule change as simple as going back to original point rules (1 pt awarded for feet/punch contact) may have the potential of shifting the way competitors engage one another–in a more realistic, combative way, and not just trying to go for ridiculous aerial spinning kicks that just end up making the fight look so awkward and turn off the amateur viewer. If we want to gain more respect as a SPORT, we definitely need to change some things up.

    I love the aliveness in those old competition vids you posted. I really hope that the WTF can turn the ship around as it isn’t too late. Hopefully the pressure for keeping WTF TKD a watchable sport will be a catalyst for some change, but not in some ridiculous direction in terms of putting an octagon or changing to more sexualized female uniforms (who’s the moron that came up with that idea? Are they even a taekwondoist?)

    • White Dragon says:

      Ohh my gosh the whole sexy female TKD uniform pissed me off sooo much when I first heard about it. That guy is a friggin moron!! I wish the Korean masters would have laughed him out of the room. The problem with WTF an sport sparring it the culture attracts the stupidest kind of people and the most poserish types of martial arts people. The kind who have huge egos, love showing off, do not want to actually fight for real and want to remain doing thei safer sport oriented thing. This is why you have never once heard of an Olympic Taekwondo fighter transitioning into K1 or MMA organizations. But how many ex Judoka, boxers, and wrestlers from past Olympics have you heard transitioning into K1 or MMA? A lot!!! Taekwondo culture attracts the yuppy anti-violence type of moms nad dads who want their kids to get black belts fast. The culture of Taekwondo at the average gym cannot handle actual violence or viewing it or being aware of reality based self defense situations using Taekwondo. So the average TKD person is into demo teams, doing bck flips and trick kicks, taekwondo dance and kpop music, and kicking flimsy boards a child could break. The only fighters are sport onlyists who never learn realistic self defense or more combative techniques.

      There are a few KKW and KTA TKD masters who are teaching combative techniques such as various face strikes and low kicks and throws but there are not enough of them. So TKD sport is going to remain stupid and boring and only appeal to the parents and kids who bought into it much like any mcdojang organization while the rest of the world who has a clue what a fight is like will not want to watch. More people are using common sense and watching MMA and know what most likely will work in a fight by watching something. The only good thing WTF sport has over the rest of TKD groups is it is full contact. They really need to change the rules, whoever changed it to where you could earn 50 or more points in one match was an idiot. When I competed matches barely ever went up to 4 points on one side, and even more rare 5 points. Usually fights were up to 3 points. They did not just register every time a foot hit the chest gear. Usually scores were 1-3, or 2-1, 3-2 etc. Sometimes 4-2.

      WTF needs to get off the poomsae competitions where they “pretty-fied” it and made it graceful and less hardcore. Back in the day the Poomsae was performed very tough and combat oriented attitude much like Karate. It was very intense. Now their stances and moves are so soft and look dumb. They perform them just to please judges not to actually perfect a self defense techniques and accurate striking for fighting.

      KKW and WTF need to stop worrying about ridiculous demos and do demos that are more down to earth with realistic fight moves. the KKW textbook has a lot of ideas and techniques for self defense and applications for poomsae but they never promote them much or do them during a demo. They never show why we train such ways or why we should want to.

      WTF sparring needs to allow face punches and other hand techniques to the head. ridge hands, knife hands, backfists. They even should allow low kicks to the leg. Why not have various events? Why not Kickboxing oriented event, then olympic event and others? Why cant WTF promote various ways to spar with Taekwondo? I find it so annoying. Also TAekwondo needs an avenue for professionals to go into where taekwondo pays them. Boxing has it, and wrestlers also go to MMA. Taekwondo needs to say after amatuer fighting you an become a professional taekwondo fighter. There is no money in TKD, but you spedn tons of money involved in USAT tournaments etc. It is so freaking expensive average people cannot afford to do it. TKD is for rich suburban dwelling yuppies and downtown rich folks. not average low income suburbs, inner-city, and rural people.

      but yes the 80’s and 90’s TKD sparring was actually exciting to watch and more fun to compete in.

      • J says:

        Interesting points you bring up. I’ve also had thoughts about the possibility regarding different competition divisions in WTF TKD, like what you mentioned. I think it would really allow the sport to grow and cater to a wider audience, especially adults. Right now TKD I think gets written off as a children’s game by the general population, which is really unfortunate since like you said it has so much value as shown by the Kukkiwon textbook and the fact that it has been tested in the jungles of Vietnam. I will admit that before I started TKD and really delved into reading and understanding more about it, the sort of impression I got whenever the word TKD came across me was: children’s daycare and martial arts themed birthday parties for 6 year old black belts.

        IMHO, a part of me suspects the prime directive of the KKW/WTF is not to please the taekwondo traditionalists, or to even develop it further as an effective form of self defense or combative system. To the suits, Taekwondo is a product, much like “K-pop,” manufactured by Korea to spread Korean influence/culture to the masses. How do you market to the masses? You water it down, soften it up, and make it flashy, appealing, child-friendly, and even apparently “sexy” now. Obviously the Korean landscape has changed from the immediate decade or two post-Korean War when North Korea actually had a stronger economy, military, and higher standard of living than their Southern counterpart–but the prime directive back then was for the poor third-world South ROK to garner support from the international community any way it could. It was weak and in shambles. The North had the USSR backing them, and the South was poor, destitute, and had people hungry. Obviously it is a thriving place now relative to what it was, in good thanks to the strong spirit of the Korean people, but I think the mentality of mass marketing Korean culture to the world for political reasons still has priority in many of these older men in power, especially in the KKW/WTF. The fact that these people would even ENTERTAIN the notion of changing the female dobok is a big red flag to me that they could be willing to bastardize the art of TKD to great extremes, if it meant more viewers and more money…

      • White Dragon says:

        hahaha! When yous aid “apparently ‘sexy'” that was LOL! Its so true! Sexy Taekwondo girls now with Kpop. When i brough this up before to other people they just think i am silly or its not a big deal. but I honestly think it is a big deal. Sexualiszing Taekwondo is against the very principles of what a martial artist should be and the 5 tenets of TKD. It is so annoying.

        I still believe in the KKW and the true linage of Taekwondo, but I understand whats going on as well. I agree with you about Koreans treating TKD as aproduct and not a serious fighting system to further spread glory for their martial art. but instead its about money. They dont care if its a daycare either. They just dont. I have heard of Koreans themselves even badmouthing Taekwondo and saying its just a kid thing and real fighting is Muay Thai or whatever. Its pretty sad when one country who had something to be proud of is bastardizing it to where its own men who want to learn to fight won;t even train in it or take it seriously. They go to other cultures martial arts instead. You would never hear a Thai say, “Man I dont like Muay Thai much taekwondo is REALLY where its at! or even Karate or Kung Fu!” No they have nationalistic pride about muay thai. Koreans used to have it for TKD but not as much anymore, its just kpop kwon do now. It sucks for Americans like me who trained really hard in TKD and can only claim Taekwondo rank for teaching and running a martial arts business. We live in an MMA world man and its tough to market something people assume is for children only and dancing. This is one reason I made this blog as well.

        We can only hope better masters take control of the KKW and WTF and progress Taekwondo and make it relevant today and to keep up with martial arts that MMA fighters would respect and think is important to learn. At least some MMA guys think Taekwondo kicks are good.

  2. Gabe Riva says:

    To each his/her sport. I wouldn’t say WTF is boring though just because people don’t get hurt. The paddings are not to water down the sport because people do really get hurt yes most especially kids. Regardless of the strict rules so many times I see kids unintentionally punch or kick their opponents face. You cannot compare Taekwondo with boxing or MMA it’s like questioning why soccer players only use their feet. Reality is not everyone can kick and even if they are so good at demonstrating how to kick it takes skill to hit a moving target regardless how easy it looks like. If peoples judgment on martial arts is about the hurt and blood then then I would say even MMA is so watered down. I think ground operators in the military most especially special forces have the best martial arts skill. They get shot at, stabbed, blown up. The pressure MMA fighters is so miniscule. Compare that to the pressure of family separation,or just the thought of staying alive in a war zone for months instead of an MMA octagon for just 30 minutes.

  3. jasonbright77 says:

    I have to agree with your general assertions. I spent five years in TKD and left because the forms and competition was mind numbing and stupid. There is very little skill in the way of practical self-defense and fighting ability among TKD junkies. I was Mo. State AAU BB champion two years in a row in the 1990’s and I left to compete in Kickboxing which was more fun and required physical fitness (as compared to the multitiude of 400 lbs Tae Kwon Doins) and it enabled me to practically test my skill. I found out quickly that TKD had given me many bad habits such as dropping my hands and not being able to throw a good punch. I then transitioned into Boxing for the sole purpose of breaking these bad habits. Later I trained in Muay Thai and loved the incorporation of knees and leg kicks. All that being said for the purpose of saying that TKD is a modern sport (and not a very fun one to watch) which is hard to classify as a legitimate Martial Art. No doubt there are good TKD schools that teach legitimate skills but they are far and few in between. People like Gabe who commented previously compare TKD and its lack of adaptability to the likes of soccer which proves the point that TKD is mainly about sport and not Martial Arts. Martial Arts serve the purpose of overcoming an aggressor and if you want to throw in some eastern traditions thats fine but when your Art cannot teach one the ability to defend against a would-be attacker then it is not relevant in the least. TKD has to incorporate grappling skills in order to be relevant because 90% of fights on the street go to the ground! TKD also needs to quit teaching people to drop their hands to their waist when they punch- you get your ass beat that way (personal experience).

    • White Dragon says:

      I understand your opinions and why you hold them, but I will have to disagree with you on the effectiveness of Taekwondo.

      Yes Taekwondo has many gyms that focus on the sport, it is a fun sport and has benefits. It is full contact and teaches you how to kick fast and accurate. It does have its limitations obvious which I stated in the article.

      Taekwondo itself, in general, is not a sport but a martial art system for fighting. This entire blog is dedicated to serious Taekwondo and the good qualities it has, but also having a good time bashing the stupid current culture of Taekwondo is doing (mcdojangism).

      There are valid reasons for chambered punches, but no Taekwondo master I have known ever told me I shuld hcamber my punch when sparring. The chambered punches are a self defense oriented punch and have various applications such as grabbing, pulling motions.
      There is grappling in Taekwondo but its mostly from standing since Taekwondo is a stand up striking style. It has joint locks and chokes and some sweeps, and throws and more.

      With the right instructor and mindset Taekwondo is very effective for self defense. It is also proven effective in Kickboxing and MMA. There are many tactics that poeple have found in Taekwondo that help their overall fight game. Even spin kicks are shown to have legitimacy.

      True Taekwondo also has leg kicks, knees, and elbow strikes.

      I was a 1990’s and early 2000’s tournament fighter in WTF tournaments. I did pretty good. I also unerstand I need to study the history of Taekwondo and its techniques and find out what they mean. It is hard to find an American school who actually understands why we do certain moves. It takes research and the right instructors.

      Hopefully you will reconsider your disdain for Taekwondo and find some worth in it. It could be added to what you know in boxing and Muay Thai. I have trained in classes in both of those styles as well as BJJ etc.

      I truly believe in the effectiveness and power of Taekwondo an this blog is about that, but it also is about bashing the stupid nonsense that infects the TKD scene, such as the stuff you mentioned above.

      But even some MMA gyms have silly things now days and have sold out for money. Its not only Taekwondo.

  4. dobokdude says:

    Hello. At school today my friend who does kajukenbo told me his instructor hates taekwondo because it’s a “half assed” sport. Also tonight in my dojang I recommended he body punch me in sparring and he said it doesn’t score and traditional taekwondo is kicks. This is a shame. I am glad my book shows sparring drills that use kicks to set up for punches. This is what taekwondo needs to be like. But I do have a question. I have looked up stuff on how martial arts are sinful due to their influences by Eastern religions(I.e. yin yang). I know that things like tai chi and aikido have deep spiritual aspects but taekwondo is an external martial art. What do you think?

    • White Dragon says:

      Anything coming from a culture that has a religion is going to have aspects of their philsophies on life. Take what you want and leave what you dont think is true. Taekwondo also has philosophical things from Korean culture including some Buddhist and Taoist ideas. Korea’s national flag is the Taegeuk (ying and yang). But martial arts themselves are non-religious and you dont have to be a buddhist to do tai chi or a taoist to do it either. You an do tai chi and just take the exercise aspects which are positive. Same with Taekwondo.

      Also your friend is weird to say TKD is half assed but then in class only want to score points.

  5. dobokdude says:

    When I said he I meant one of the other students.

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