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.
14 thoughts on “The Difference Between ITF and WTF Taekwondo”
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.
Thank you for your comment, I agree..
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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.
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
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.
Thank you!! I am trying to find someone thinking like I do all these years 🙂 I have been practicing TKD since 6 years old, having black belt in both WTF and ITF (starting with WTF), but cannot really understand how a martial art can forbid the punch to the head!! When at some point I went again for practice at a WTF school, I could not stop my hands and I left.. But, WTF has become popular due to Olympic Games and it is very hard to find an ITF school…
I just read your comment on TKD, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been in WT for 10 years. My association is very small, and all our schools are in small towns. We do not allow punches to the head. Everything is passive. Self defense should include punching to the head. It should be aggressive. It should not require you to wait until someone strikes you first. That has always been a major problem for me. In fact, my whole association is mad at me right now for standing up to bullies and giving them a threat to know their behavior will not be tolerated. Apparently, in my association, self defense is in theory only. They don’t realize self defense takes on more than one form. Once you defend yourself, there will be consequences. I have decided to go to a different association just in the last week over irreconcilable differences on what constitutes self defense. We have upper belt students who couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag. Teaching Tae kwon do without teaching people how to fight is incredibly dangerous for students. I’m tired of seeing belts given out like participation trophies. All you have to do is show up and half ass the moves.. They require us to learn Korean terminology. That’s sounds great, right? WRONG. They learned the terminology by reading out of a book and just attempting to say words based on how they think it sounds. I’ve been correcting them on their pronunciation for years. Think they listen? Nope. Think they care about proper pronunciation? Nope. That’s why I’m switching to another association and doing my own thing. There are 9 students from my dojang who already said if I leave, they’re coming with me. So yeah, I’m really good at what I do, and the students and their parents like how I do things over our head instructor. Don’t get me wrong. My head instructor is a very honorable man. I’ll have his back until death. I just can’t be a part of such a soft and weak association that teaches about self defense, but doesn’t actually train you for self defense, and punishes you for defending yourself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
-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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