June 10, 2023

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Olympic Taekwondo rules, scoring and equipment

Taekwondo is a martial art developed in Korea which debuted at the Olympics at the Seoul 1988 Games.

It’s one of the Olympic sports that have mainly been dominated by Asian nations, but recent Games have witnessed exciting shifts and upsets.

The universality of the sport is no longer in question with taekwondo athletes, or taekwondoin, from Cote d’Ivoire to Jordan clinching historic gold medals at Rio 2016, and team Great Britain showing talent is abundant in Europe.

There are several taekwondo styles.

World Taekwondo oversees the Kukkiwon-defined style of taekwondo that is commonly referred to as Olympic taekwondo.

Olympic taekwondo allows the use of a very small number of the total number of techniques.

From the basics to the equipment, here’s a rundown of taekwondo rules, scoring and the different belts.

Action at a World Taekwondo championships.

Equipment and facilities

Taekwondo is a combat sport between two fighters in the same weight category.

The centre of the competition area is octagonal-shaped and measures 8m in diameter.

Contestants must wear a dobok or a white competition uniform.

Additionally, they must have a trunk protector, head protector and, for male athletes, a groin guard that is worn under the dobok.

The taekwondoin must also be equipped with forearm and shin guards, gloves, sensing socks, and a mouth guard before entering the competition area.

Head protection is usually firmly tucked under left arms when entering into the competition area and is worn when instructed by the referee.

Athletes fully kitted during a taekwondo match.
Athletes fully kitted during a taekwondo match.


Taekwondo athletes also tie a coloured belt around their waist.

The colour signifies the competitors’ ranks in their sport. The belts range from white to black belts.

The belt system is divided into 10 grades, or gup, and nine degrees (dan).

Grades start from white for beginners, through to yellow, green, blue, red and the highest is black.

The black-belt holders, who are the most experienced, are further graded as ‘dan’ from the first degree up until the ultimate ninth level.

Taekwondo practioners wearing different-coloured belts
Taekwondo practioners wearing different-coloured belts

The basic rules – foot and fist

The rules of taekwondo as outlined by World Taekwondo require a standing bow to the referee, followed by a bow to the opponent, before matches.

All matches last over three rounds of two minutes each, with a one-minute break between rounds.

Taekwondo athletes bow to each before a match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Taekwondo athletes bow to each before a match at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Taekwondo aptly means ‘the way of the foot and fist’, to correspond with the blows and kicks that score points.

The objective of each competitor is to score points by landing blows and kicks on their opponent’s torso or head or to win by knockout.

Blows must be delivered through a straight punching technique using the knuckle part of a tightly clenched fist.

The kicks that count are those delivered using any part of the foot below the ankle bone.


Scoring of a valid point or points is determined primarily using the electronic scoring system installed in the head or trunk protectors, known as the Protector and Scoring Systems (PSS).

Points awarded for punching techniques and additional points awarded for turning kicks are scored by judges using manual scoring devices.

The valid points are:

  • One point for a valid punch to the trunk protector
  • Two Points for a valid kick to the trunk protector
  • Four points for a valid turning kick to the trunk protector
  • Three points for a valid kick to the head
  • Five points for a valid turning kick to the head
  • One point awarded for every penalty (known as gam-jeom) given against the opponent

Taekwondo explained

Penalties and prohibited acts

The only penalty in taekwondo is a gam-jeom.

A gam-jeom is declared when an athlete punches to the face, or punches or kicks below the waist.

Also not allowed is attacking an opponent with the knee or the head.

Athletes are penalised if they use their leg to block or kick their opponent’s leg to prevent a kicking attack, have their leg in the air for more than three seconds to impede an opponent’s potential attacking movements, or if a kick is adjudged to have been aiming for below the waist.

Taekwondoin lose points for crossing the boundary line with both feet, falling to the ground, avoiding or delaying the match, and for pushing or grabbing their opponents.

Falling to the ground is penalised in taekwondo.
Falling to the ground is penalised in taekwondo.

Contestants also have to watch out how they deliver their kicks to the trunk PSS, as one can lose a point for attacking with the side or bottom of the foot while the knee is pointed out in clinch position.

Attacking a fallen opponent is also prohibited. Any misconduct or unsportsmanlike behaviour of the contestant or their coach can cost a point.

Key decisions

Golden Point Round [GDP]: For drawn matches, the contestants go for a golden point round. This is sudden death as the first to score wins. An athlete can be awarded the match if their opponent picks up two penalties in the golden round. If a match goes to golden point, all scores awarded during the first three rounds are not considered.

Win by superiority [SUP]: If neither of the contestants has scored two points after the golden round, the winner shall be decided by superiority based on the contestant who received a point by a punch in the golden round, or the contestant who got a higher number of hits registered by the PSS during the golden round or the one who won more rounds in first three rounds.

If the athletes were tied on points the one who received fewer penalties during all four rounds wins the match, and if they were tied on penalties the referee and judges shall determine superiority based on the content of the golden round.

Point Gap [PTG]: A win by point gap is when there is a 20-points difference between two athletes at the end of the second round and/or at any time during the final round.

Referee Stops Contest [RSC]: The referee can stop the match if the contestant has been knocked down by an opponent’s legitimate technique and cannot continue the match, or to protect a contestant’s safety. The medical commission can also call off a match due to a contestant’s injury.

A Referee can stop a contest off if an athlete is injured.
A Referee can stop a contest off if an athlete is injured.

Win by final score [PTF]: The match is won by a contestant on points after three rounds.

Win by withdrawal [WDR]: This is when the winner is determined by the withdrawal of the opponent due to injury or other reasons, or when the coach throws in a towel into the Field of Play.

Win by disqualification [DSQ]: A contestant’s failure during weigh-in or failure to report to the Athlete Calling Desk following the third call can lead to disqualification.

Win by referee’s punitive declaration [PUN]: The referee declares PUN if an athlete accumulates ten penalties [gam-jeom].

Win by disqualification for unsportsmanlike behaviour [DQB]: The contestant can be disqualified by DQB for manipulating the sensor(s) or scoring system of the PSS, cheating during weigh-in or violating the Anti-Doping rules. A DQB can also be ruled if the contestant or his coach commits serious infringing behaviour.