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Taekwondo Basics: Rules, Regulations, Scoring, Penalties,…

If you have watched Taekwondo in action and wondered what the basic rules are, you are at just the right place to learn. Taekwondo is not just another martial art. It requires practitioners to be precise and dedicated, and for that to be possible, rules are essential. In order for students to progress through the ranks, they need to pay attention to their physical fitness and technique, as well as the rules.

Taekwondo rules are based on 5 tenets: to be courteous, have integrity, persevere, have self-control, and display an indomitable spirit – all designed to ensure fair play. In a Taekwondo contest, the goal is to land as many blows and kicks as possible on the opponent’s specified areas. 

Many newbies to Taekwondo want to have a list of rules to learn before getting into the practice, but it is much easier to learn the rules as you train. Once you get into the practice of Taekwondo and are learning the various kicks, punches, and stances, the rules become clearer. Most practitioners learn the rules fairly quickly. 

Anyhow, here is a clip about the current and updated scoring system (according to World Taekwondo).

Video Source: YouTube / Kyiv Region Taekwondo Team

Below is a brief look at each of the rules that you will need to learn when practicing Taekwondo.

Taekwondo Rules

While there are not a lot of rules to learn, there are some that need to be constantly kept in mind when practicing or sparring in Taekwondo. Rules are designed to keep both fighters safe on the mat, but also to ensure that fighters learn correct techniques for a “win” or overcoming an opponent. Below are the Taekwondo rules to familiarize with:

1. Fair opponent fighting.

When fighters are sparring or fighting in a match, they must be paired fairly. This means that fighters of the same gender and weight class must be paired in both match and sparring scenarios. 

2. Match rounds must be timed.

How long is a round of Taekwondo? You have probably noticed that rounds are quite quick in a Taekwondo match. That is because matches and contests consist of three two-minute rounds with a rest period of just one minute between each round. 

3. The objective of the fight.

Practitioners must always have the objective of their martial art in mind, whether they are practicing, sparring, or fighting in a match. The main objective of a Taekwondo fighter is to knock out the opponent or land as many blows and kicks as possible on the opponent in a given amount of time. 

4. Kicks and blows are only allowed in certain areas.

You might notice that Taekwondo fighters kick and land blows on their opponent in the same places. The whole body is not fair game in a round of Taekwondo. 

Practitioners must land kicks and blows only in areas that are specified. If you watch a match in action, you will notice that blows and kicks are allowed to both the head and torso. Punches are only allowed on the upper body – nothing below the waist. If a fighter kicks or lands blows in areas that are not allowed, they will be penalized. 

5. Wins must be correctly declared.

How do you know who has won a round of Taekwondo? It is actually quite simple to determine a winner of a match. The fighter who knocks out the opponent will be declared the winner in most instances, but this is not always the case. If there is no knockout, there is an alternative way of determining the winner by tallying the scores. In this scenario, a fighter can win by earning the most points.

6. Fights must be held in the correct environment.

Taekwondo is most often done indoors. It is important for students to learn in a space that is flat (even) and with a fight space that is similar to that of a competition ring. The competition mat usually measures eight meters by eight meters.

7. Penalties must apply when a player is not adhering to the rules.

When practitioners are sparring or in a match, they are watched closely for any offending, incorrect behavior. Penalties apply for:

  • Punching in the face.
  • Grabbing, pushing, or holding the opponent. 
  • Turning a back on the opponent. 
  • Attacking an opponent below the waist.
  • Attacking the opponent with the knee.
  • Stepping outside of the mat with both feet.
  • Faking an injury.

Taekwondo Scoring System

Knowing how the scoring works in Taekwondo is essential as a lot of the rules can help a fighter win or lose points. 

As mentioned, during a match, there are three rounds of two minutes each, with one-minute breaks in between. The fighter who is able to score the most during those three rounds wins. So, how do the fighters actually score, and is there a strategy that can be used to score the most points quickly? 

Each part of the body is assigned a scoring value, and each time a fighter impacts those areas in different ways, a specific amount of points will be awarded. 

The current and updated Taekwondo scoring system, according to World Taekwondo, is as follows:

  • Punch to the chest (trunk): 1 point. 
  • Kick to the chest (trunk): 2 points. 
  • Kick to the head: 3 points 
  • Turning kick to the chest (trunk): 4 points. 
  • Turning kick to the head: 5 points

During a match, there are several judges observing the fight. A point can only be awarded to a fighter if two or more of these judges record a hit.

How are the Penalties Assigned?

When watching a Taekwondo match, you might wonder how the judges get to a score that is less than you originally noted yourself. That would be because of penalties that are also “scored” during a match or fight. These are determined when a player does not follow the rules of Taekwondo. The most common penalties occur for:

  • Stepping outside of the fight area.
  • Pulling an opponent onto the ground.
  • Pretending to be injured.
  • Turning a back on the opponent.
  • Pushing or grabbing onto an opponent.
  • Using more than just the feet to attack an opponent’s head.

What Happens When There is a Tie/Draw?

Many newbies often ask about the scoring system and the correct procedure in the event of a draw. So, what happens if the fighters get precisely the same tally of points?

In some sports, fighters/players will need to play a new round in order to say who the winner is. In Taekwondo, it is quite different. A new round called a “Golden Point Round” is set up. Whoever scores the very first point is awarded the win. This is unlike other sports where a complete set or round would need to be played to determine the winner. 

There are other instances where winners have been determined in different ways. In some cases, the referee will decide to use the scores prior to deducting penalties to determine who the winner is. This happens rarely but does happen.

Fighters can also earn a win by knocking out their opponent. It is not just a case of knocking the opponent off his feet; he has to stay on the floor for no less than 10 seconds before it is considered “game over”. This is called a “knockout”. 

What Other Rules Do You Learn in Taekwondo?

What are the rules of Taekwondo over and above the match and sparring rules? This might seem like a weird question, but the Taekwondo rules are not only physical behavior based during a match. Students also learn the basic rules of the Dojang, which is the term used for Korean martial arts. 

Important rules of the Dojang for Taekwondo practitioners:

  • Ensure the standards of the Dojang are always upheld by being respectful to each other and instructors.
  • Always avoid conflict where ever possible (both in the Dojang and outside).
  • Bow before entering the Dojang and bow again when leaving. You must also bow to your instructor being receiving your initial instructions.
  • Respect and obey those with a higher belt grade than you by bowing and greeting politely. 
  • Uniforms must be clean at all times, and belts must always be worn.
  • Ensure hair is tied up, and finger and toenails are kept short and clean.
  • It is strictly forbidden to use Taekwondo outside of the class unless it is for self-defense purposes.
  • It is also strictly forbidden to use Taekwondo skills for offending or bullying anyone.

These are just the basic rules of a Dojang that apply to practitioners learning Taekwondo. 


The rules of Taekwondo aren’t many and are quite easy to follow. If you learn the rules and apply them in each and every practice of Taekwondo, they will become like second nature. Remember, the rules aren’t designed to interfere with your progress or effectiveness, but rather to ensure fair play and to teach the level of discipline that is demanded (and expected) of Taekwondo practitioners.