The Difference Between ITF and WTF Taekwondo

What is the difference between ITF Taekwon-do and WTF Taekwondo? This is a question many Taekwondo practitioners at some point ask themselves or get asked.

Besides the obvious difference in spelling, with one being hyphenated, the answers usually boil down to the following:

ITF (International Taekwon-do Federation) is more traditional and focused on self-defense; it allows punches to the face; and punches in its forms are thrown from further above the hip than in WTF. ITF is also often called a North Korean school of Taekwondo.

WTF (World Taekwondo Federation) on the other hand, is described as being more modern and focused on sparring; it is the competitive form of Taekwondo as known from the Olympic Games, which does not allow punches to the face; its forms have punches thrown from the hip; and it is said to be the Taekwondo rooted in South Korea.

Digging a bit deeper the answers are not quite as straightforward. First of all, some common misunderstandings need to be put out of the way, and the question needs to be rephrased a bit.

Because there’s not just one ITF but rather multiple ITFs. And to confuse things even more, WTF recently changed its name to WT – World Taekwondo to avoid being associated with an abbreviation containing a swearword. Additionally, while ITF represents a Taekwon-do system, WT does not practice its own system but that of the Kukkiwon School (located in the Gangnam District of Seoul, South Korea).

The original ITF was formed by General Choi Hong Hi in South Korea in 1966. Choi later moved into exile in Canada due to controversy over his work to introduce Taekwon-do to North Korea – a country where he eventually spent the final two decades of his life. Due to later schisms, at least three different organizations now claim the name ITF (located in Spain, Austria and South Korea).

WT, which was called WTF until June 2017, was formed in 1973 as the international federation governing Taekwondo as a sport – and since the 1980’s as an Olympic discipline. Membership of one of the organizations federated into WT is a requirement for competing in the Olympics. Where member organizations of WT formerly only recognized black belts from the Kukkiwon School, later years have seen a softening up of this policy, for example with USA Taekwondo (the Taekwondo branch of the United States Olympic Committee) recognizing dan ranks from ITF.

When it comes to differences in systems between ITF Taekwon-do and the Kukkiwon School Taekwondo of WT, the lines are even more blurred. Basically, much of Taekwondo as it developed in the 1940’s and 50’s across the Korean peninsula has common roots. At times greater variation may even be seen within each school than between the two major schools. This is due to different lineages formed and spread throughout the world by individual instructors before the consolidation into ITF and WT.

Please share your own thoughts with a comment.

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11 thoughts on “The Difference Between ITF and WTF Taekwondo

  • 10. February 2018 at 12:19

    Very nice description of the differenses, at the end the main thing is the love for Taekwondo. No matter which school or which corner of the sport you prefer. Thank you for a great post.

    • 10. February 2018 at 13:07

      Thank you for your comment, I agree..

  • Pingback: Interview with ITF athlete Jalyn Croft |

  • 1. May 2018 at 6:55

    You completed various nice points there. I did a search on the subject and found most folks will have the same opinion with your blog.

  • 23. January 2019 at 6:16

    I’ve train in both for years starting with ITF and then WTF. The forms are different period. Kicks and punches are the same. The sparring rules vary. The philosophy is the same. It’s all Taekwondo and is only to be used in self defense. We spar in open tournaments ITF/WTF all the time. Just have to honor the rules of whoever is sponsoring.

    My responses are cat like. If you grab me or startle me in any way, I react. I can’t help it. Responding is so ingrained in me from being yelled at in class by an instructor. We are taught to react immediately.

    Several schools add grappling, arm bars, choke holds, etc. All teach self defense techniques other than traditional. My current one also teaches judo falls, front,back, and side. Find a school and instructor you enjoy. I love Taekwondo. One hell of a journey for anyone.

    • 6. June 2019 at 0:29

      I’ll agree with that thought, it is one Hell of a Journey for anyone
      But with any other Self Defense club its all to do with Fitness & Health, I’m an Instructor myself
      training & teaching children of most ages within the WT club here in New Zealand & they all enjoy my company

    • 8. September 2020 at 6:10

      I disagree. The differences run very deep and while key kicks, blocks and hand strikes are the same not much else is. I started TKD in 1979 this is not my first redo! Anyone that preaches TKD “as a passive self-defense” is clueless and has been taught a corrupted system intended for shopping malls and mass marketing to mom’s. TKD works best when it is used aggressively not in terms of looking for a fight but definitely ending it fast so you can make a rapid retreat and call law enforcement. When you know talking has failed waiting for the bad guy to throw the first punch is foolish and reckless! Likewise turning a martial art into a pure sport in a world where 99% of attacks will be with fists by aggressors with less training but 100X more fight experience is again foolish and careless! ITF is much more practical because students have to be ready for something as mundane and real life as a fist to the head or an elbow to the head. If you think I am old fashioned just watch the tuff going down with ANTIFA and BLM all of them are throwing blows 90% to the head! I dare say more people outside of Korea practice TKD and do people in Korea.

  • 6. May 2019 at 18:25

    As I understand it, even though there are several ITFs at present they all use a similar syllabus and adhere to the TKD encyclopedia written by Gen. Choi.

    There are, however, a number of independent Chang Hon style organisations who differ.

  • 8. May 2019 at 4:45

    I wouldn’t say ITF is more traditional . And I wouldn’t say it allows self-defense both Taekwondo Styles allow self-defense both Styles teacher self-defense. To say the ITF teaches self-defense it’s basically saying WTF is not a Taekwondo. Both styles is Taekwondo. And both of them have one step sparring. And the same kicks the same blocks just not the same sparring Style but they are both have self defense techniques. To say ITF is the one that does is incorrect.

  • 6. July 2019 at 15:18

    To add a bit of extra complexity, a new taekwondo ‘council’ has been created recently with the unimaginative but confusing name of World ITF Taekwon-Do Council – based in Scotland they offer free membership to any Taekwondo group (?) and list quite a few of them on their website. Looks like they are operating since 2018. Their name strike me as extremely arrogant. With both World Taekwondo (known before as WTF) and the real ITF being founded in the 60’s I find very audacious and petulant to name yourself a confusing mix of both in 2018.

  • 22. November 2019 at 5:33

    I am currently a 4th dan black belt in ITF and a 1st dan in WTF and there is quite a difference.
    ITF is the original TKD and WTF is, more or less, a knock-off version of it. Despite both of the variants having similar patterns/self-defence/step-sparring, ITF is more strict with the technique. WTF also is firm but is more laid-back.
    ‘fun’ facts:
    -WTF spars with their hands down, while ITF implants the ‘hands up’ rule at white belt.
    -ITF is more non-profit as it doesn’t have a (single) country supporting it
    -WTF originates from ITF but had some disagreements and broke away (politics involved)


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