The Olympic sport of Tae Kwon Do is conducted under a particular set of rules that were (in my understanding) developed relatively recently. The actual conduct of an Olympic Tae Kwon Do fight doesn't seem to be very reflective of the range to techniques taught in 'traditional' Tae Kwon Do. In that sense the sport and the martial art seem somewhat diverged.

If my assertion of a divergence is true, is there anything uniquely Tae Kwon Do like to the Olympic Sport? Would someone trained in Tae Kwon Do be at an advantage compared with say a Karate expert or a kick boxer who wanted to compete in the Olympics but happened to be trained in a system with a different label?

Karate is being considered for inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. How would this differ from Tae Kwon Do, since presumably a full contact version would be considered too bloody so a watered down sparring contest would like very similar to Olympic Tae Kwon Do?

Feel free to correct any assertions I've made that are simply incorrect, I am no great expert on striking based martial arts and perhaps there are more important differences than I am giving credit for.

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    Hum, there are at least two questions there and one of them (concerning Karate) invites opinions. I would rephrase the question to make it more focused. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 8:26
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    I think this question needs to define "full contact" karate, as well as what 'traditional' TKD is or looks like. Otherwise there's no way to ensure that we're talking about the same differences between Olympic TKD and non-Olympic. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 13:51

6 Answers 6


Differences in TKD styles

For the most part, TKD is TKD is TKD. A front kick in WTF looks like a front kick in ITF looks like a front kick in ATA, etc. Differences in execution are relatively minor, even if you go from TKD to a Karate flavor, the techniques are pretty much the same. The differences between TKD and Karate are the emphases placed on various techniques. TKD in general tends to favor more leg techniques and less hands, while Karate is more towards the hands. Where the TKD flavors differ majorly is in forms and tournament sparring rules. WTF uses TaeGuk, ITF uses Palgue, ATA uses Songahm form sets, WTF sparring requires a fairly heavy hit while ATA sparring is light contact. It's not a huge difference in the tools, but in the application of said tools.

Differences between TKD and Karate

There is a chance that Karate could be included in the Olympics. Golf and Rugby are on the slate for the 2016 Rio Olympics. They changed the rules slightly, in that there are 25 "Core" sports, and room for 3 rotating sports. The rotating sports can be included or removed from the program by a simply 2/3 majority vote among IOC voting members.

After each Olympics, the IOC gets together and decides the inclusion or exclusion of sports, which is where the lobbying and confirmation of Olympic eligibility and all of that occurs. It's covered in Chapter 5 of the Olympic Charter (Last revision in 2010 or 2011, IIRC.) I think the earliest karate could be included now would be the 2020 Games.

Where I would see Karate being different from TKD, and thus meriting inclusion is if they modeled it after a NASKA event, and had such things as creative/extreme forms, breaking and weapons competitions.

As far as the differences in techniques, remember that you are seeing a limited set of techniques that are designed to score points according to the rules. (Like boxing, that uses head gear for Olympic bouts.) TKD schools do teach the other techniques, but it's hard to score points in WTF style sparring using those techniques, so you rarely see them in competition. In that sense, yes, there is a divergence. You can find WTF tournament schools that place a heavy emphasis on tournament styles, and "traditional" TKD schools that don't support tournaments much and place a different emphasis on techniques used.

One interesting rule change for Olympic TKD (In the whole anti-concussion movement in sports in general) is that head contact now only has to make contact to score a point, which is a big downgrade from the contact needed previously. I have not found whether this change is in effect for the Olympics only, or if it will be continued after the Games are over.


Tae Kwon Do itself is actually a very recent development as well. Call it Korean Karate and you're not being inaccurate, just some Koreans/TKD exponents will lose their shit if you say it in front of them. If you're looking for the actually traditional art, it's Taekkyon, which as of 2011 was on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List. South Korea has its own similar list, on which Taekkyon is as well, but Tae Kwon Do is not. Taekkyon is quite different from Tae Kwon Do, in uniform, in competition conventions and in techniques used.

I don't believe there's anything uniquely TKD like in WTF TKD, at least not beyond how a specific set of rules within any sport would be 'unique'. A WTF TKD practitioner would certainly be at an advantage in competing in WTF TKD due to their training with the specific rules, but it actually wouldn't be a stretch for a Kyokushin Karate practitioner to do quite well under the WTF ruleset, as Kyokushin competition shares some of the peculiarities of WTF TKD, namely no punches to the head.

I would say it's incredibly unlikely that Karate will be included in the Olympics. While the WKF is recognised by the IOC, the Summer Olympics are already packed, and they're not even allowing host cities to do demonstration sports (Beijing was apparently an exception with Wushu, but I'm not sure why that is). As you say, Karate and TKD are very similar. However, WTF TKD actually is full contact, with a limited selection of legal strikes (not unlike boxing). I don't recall off hand whether WKF Karate is full contact or not, so that might be a difference. To an outside viewer however, they'd be the same, so there would be no point in including both.

  • The Olympics have a limited number of sports, but multiple events within that sport. Like cycling, which has track, road, time trial and BMX disciplines, Athletics which is all track/field, etc. No more sport categories could be added, but they could change TKD to be Martial Arts and lump boxing, TKD and Judo under it, then be able to add other disciplines.
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 14:26
  • They could, but Greco-Roman Wrestling is already on the chopping block due to similarity to Freestyle, I doubt they'd add another one in when they're considering taking one out.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 16:13
  • I agree, I was just outlining the possibilities. I would be very surprised if they had both karate and tkd. I could easily see tkd being replaced by karate, especially since tkd has been a borderline sport the past couple olympics anyway (Sportsmanship and other issues).
    – JohnP
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 16:57

I think it is always dubious to claim that any particular martial art has a unique technique, because no matter which technique you look at, chances are you will find something very similar in another art. However, I would say it is true that through the popularity of Olympic style sparring, many innovations and specialisations have occurred over the years. This is due to the particular rules of the Olympic sport and how points are judged.

As an example, I think the "double" used in Olympic sparring is fairly particular to the sport. Although undoubtedly the technique could easily be considered to part of other martial arts and to be around well before the Olympic sport began, I think it's widespread use within the sport is unique. It's easy to see why this kick became popular in the sport - the predominant way to score a point is a roundhouse kick, and faster you can do them the higher the chance is that you will score. In other forms of sparring, this type of kick might not be as effective. But the rules of Olympic style Taekwondo make this kick very effective for scoring points.

The degree of difficulty that a martial artist from another art would have in making the transition to Olympic style sparring would depend on what extent they usually rely on techniques which are prohibited in the sport. Karate, as far as I know, tends to use similar rules to Taekwondo in training; that is, no faces punches, no striking below the belt, no grappling and so on. I would expect a good Karate practitioner would be effective in the ring straight away. However, those people who've trained specifically for the sport would most likely have an advantage, simply because they have trained within the parameters of the sport and have experience. Even someone who has trained in traditional Taekwondo will come up against some learning curve when attempting to play the sport.

I imagine it would be similar if you put a Kung Fu expert against a professional boxer in a boxing match. The Kung Fu expert would probably feel limited by the rules of the game, whereas the boxer has been trained for that specific situation, and has lots of experience in it.


True Taekwondo is nothing like Olympic Taekwondo. There is a lot of things that appear to be the same and can do the same damage. Yet how the fighter is taught the Art will differ based on the Master and the style. Based on the Olympic style fighting I see no reason why any martial art with a great foundation would be at a disadvantage. Another fighter from a totally different martial art could take the gold from Taekwondo easy. A perfect example is ....There is a new Ad seeking heavy weight female fighters in Great Britain for the 2016 Olympics. The Ad states any style of fighter meaning karate or judo or any sport. This tells me that they can take any gifted athlete and train them to win no matter how many years they invested in Taekwondo. Out of all the sports that non Taekwondo olympic winner does not prove they are the top fighter in this sport, like other sports where it is clear whom is the best. Sad day for taekwondo. Your true warriors are yet to be discovered if ever. Taekwondo to keep it pure they will have to divide the sport. Now 2015 in Taekwondo punches to the body are not being scored as a referee ruling it is being fased out in some events. So what you got is a chicken fight going on that only takes a very lite touch to score. Sign 18 years in Taekwondo

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    -1 for supposition and ranting.
    – JohnP
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 16:12
  • Neutral vote on the ranting. It's at least mildly on-topic. Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 13:42

There are actually 2 karate groups trying to get into the Olympics; WKF and Kyokushin (various organisations). The rules for sparring are quite different. WKF is start-stop point sparring with limited to no contact depending on age. Kyokushin is continuous bare knuckle full-contact fighting.

Personally I feel that there would be more benefit to opening up the competitions that are in the Olympics at this time. There are people who have trained Karate who train in TKD clubs just for the chance to compete at the Olympics. These people should not have to lie about there discipline or for that matter pay a lot of money for gradings they already have in another style purely for the chance of competing. Team picking qualifiers should be open to any style as long as they follow the rules of the competition. Karate, Kung Fu and Muay Thai practitioners should be able to try out for TKD Olympic teams without changing their styles. BJJ fighters should able to compete in Judo if they follow the rules of the competition.

On a personal note I have heard that the TKD may be on the way out anyway and if it is I hope Karate gets in. The WKF is made up of many styles and organisations and as it stands TKD clubs have a monopoly for striking martial arts in the Olympics (boxing is another option but quite different). The can charge what they like for classes charge extremely high prices for uniforms and gradings can be very high, I have been told £35-£40 per grading. As a direct comparison the Karate club I train at charges £10 for club gradings and the price only goes up for brown and black belt grades (a lot of the extra cost is to cover costs). WK karate in the Olympics could not achieve the same level of extortion.

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    -1 for a mix of personal opinion with misconception. The reason Karate practitioners practice in TKD clubs is because there is a requirement to hold a belt in WTF style TKD to be eligible for WTF tournaments. As long as that is met, any practitioner (Muay Thai, etc) can compete for a spot as long as they follow the qualifying rules in their country. Very doubtful a bare knuckle/knockout style would be allowed, as safety is paramount. Referencing boxing, compare pro boxing with Olympic and the differences in gear/scoring, all in the name of safety. There are also stringent governing body reqs.
    – JohnP
    Commented Nov 13, 2012 at 15:07

Traditional TKD is very different than Olympic TKD. I started when I was 5 and am 35 now. The last time I competed in competition TKD was 2014. I tore my ACL and planned to come back to compete but when I saw what Olympic style had turned in to, I realized it wasn’t worth it. Olympic style TKD is HORRENDOUS now bc of the scoring system, it’s truly awful to watch. And that’s the main reason TKD gets such a bad rep when it comes to whether it’s good for self defense. I trained at a school that taught both styles and was exposed to copious striking, grappling, and submissions. I wouldn’t seek out an MMA fighter but if I found myself in a fight with one, I would be better equipped than someone who only knows the competition style. Money has completely ruined Olympic style TKD and it deserves to be ridiculed.

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    A better answer would explain why the Olympic scoring system is horrendous.
    – mattm
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 11:56
  • Welcome to MartialArts.Stackexchange! Your answer contains your view of Olympic vs Traditional TKD as an instrument of practical use. The question was a bit another - OP asks about concrete differences. Please, improve your answer to make it more close to the question. Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 9:39

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