WTF fighters are “sloppy”, “lack control”, “fight with their hands down”, “focus too much on the sport”, “never punch”, “unrealistic”, etc, etc, etc. Then what do you hear about ITF? Nothing! Is that because ITF is a perfect system? No, it’s because most World Taekwondo Federation practitioners haven’t seen an International Taekwondo Federation match. The ITF isn’t practiced as much as the WTF, thus not giving it the same exposure.
I can tell you the downsides to ITF, not because I’m pro WTF, but because I hold multiple Black Belts in both styles. I currently own 2 dojangs and they are WTF. I will reveal later why our school has chosen to be affiliated with the World Taekwondo Federation over the International Taekwondo Federation.
First and foremost, I am pro Taekwondo, not pro WTF. I read a blog comment somewhere and the gentleman said that it’s ALL Taekwondo anyhow. I believe it takes a mature mind to truly understand and believe that. The World Taekwondo Federation is essentially a mutated version of International Taekwondo Federation. If you recall, one was created from the other.
We all know of Gen. Hong Hi Choi. If you’re a WTF practitioner, chances are, you’ve never heard of him. The reason you may have never heard of him was because he was viewed as a traitor by the South Korean government. Korea adopted a new system of Taekwondo after Gen. Hong Hi Choi was excommunicated from the country which is why we have two large federations today- WTF & ITF. Interestingly enough, Gen. Choi is not mentioned by the WTF.
WTF or not, Gen. Choi is the father of Taekwondo and is responsible for helping coin the name Taekwondo, and should always be remembered for that. Why he was excommunicated is an entirely different subject and won’t be discussed in this article.
Most of the techniques that were created by Gen. Choi are practiced in all Taekwondo, whether it’s WTF, ITF, or even ATA. World Taekwondo Federation practitioners evolved into a mutated version, as I stated earlier. It’s important to understand that the WTF did not create what you see today. The competitors created it. Specific rules created it. The masters and grandmasters of the World Taekwondo Federation APPROVED of it, but they did not create what we see today.
The traditional roundhouse kick was no longer good enough. The powerful sidekick became ineffective in an Olympic style competition. Punching… well, that’s just plain frustrating to a lot of people, WTF or ITF. I’ll get back to that. Please, don’t say, “I could use an effective roundhouse kick or sidekick.” I thought the same thing as a point style fighter in the ITF. I decided that I wanted to take a shot at Olympic style competition (WTF). I was successful at a local level, when I competed in my first WTF tournament, so I went to the US National Championships.
I’ll admit, I had my opponent confused, but that didn’t last long. Here is what I found out quickly. WTF practitioners can cover several meters in a split second, in any direction. My kicks were too short, imagine that… I’m 6’3″, and I didn’t have the footwork or training to move across the mat fast enough to ever hit my opponent. Sure, I had fast roundhouse kicks and sidekicks. I could sit on my back leg and snap multiple kicks to the body and head like no other.
If you think about it, the ring in an official WTF match is 12 meters square. That is nearly 40 feet wide, and that ring does get used. Here I am, a highly successful point style fighter, winning first place in practically every tournament I competed in. Then, at nationals, in San Jose, California, I’m knocked out with a swift roundhouse kick to the ribs.
The WTF roundhouse kick has several variations to be more effective. Why raise your knee straight up and turn all the way over when you can cut your distance and time by going diagonal. The kick has less power this way, but it hits your opponent much quicker. The other plus is that it sets your opponent up for another kick in which you might turn your roundhouse kick all the way over. Other stylists view this practice as being sloppy. WTF practitioners deem it as being effective.
Think of WTF competition like boxing. It’s exactly the same, just with your feet. In the WTF, we throw many “Fast Kicks” or “Quick Kicks”. In the ITF, the closest version would be a “Skipping Roundhouse Kick”. It’s a very quick motion forward, usually generated from a skip, then followed immediately with a front leg roundhouse kick. These roundhouse kicks, and 45 degree kicks are similar to a boxers jab. They’re not meant to knockout the opponent, just meant to setup for another attack.
In the World Taekwondo Federation, you’ll find other variations of the roundhouse kick, like the bada chagi (counter roundhouse kick) or the ahp bal chagi (front leg kick- typically front leg roundhouse kick). Then there’s lateral bada chagi’s, and lateral ahp bal chagi’s. Then there’s double roundhouse kicks, and triples and “quads”. Most of these kicks make ITF practitioners want to vomit when they see them. I know, the first time I saw a double kick, I thought it was a joke.
The double kick is actually a highly powerful kick that requires strength, timing, and balance. Note- the WTF double is with alternating legs in a continuous fashion. It’s effective in competition, and that’s it! If I were attacked today, the double or triple kick is the last thing I’m going to do. Why practice it then? Are you ready for my answer? Because it’s FUN! People don’t do fencing competitions because they want to learn how to defend themselves. They do it because it’s an art form to master and it’s fun. I don’t know of any WTF competitor that does competition so they can become better at self defense.
I’ve been studying martial arts for over 30 years now and I’m to the point where I don’t need to pretend or convince myself or others that WTF competition is a great self defense practice. I’m also mature enough to know that any competition is not good self defense practice, and that includes the UFC.
Heck, punching should be in your arsenal if you were ever attacked on the street. In WTF competition, we don’t punch, and it’s not because we don’t know how. It’s because the dang judges won’t EVER score them. Why throw them, and waste energy? It’s unfortunate, but that is part of the game, and that’s what sparring is. Sparring is a game.
In ITF & WTF, a sparring match is nothing more than a game of tag, with kicks and punches. I do disagree that ITF is more realistic than WTF. For the record, they are both unrealistic, in competition, in their own ways. The WTF practitioners learns to feel what a devastating blow is like. The strikes are real and they hurt, and if you’re careless, you’ll be going home with severe injuries.
On the other hand, we typically keep our hands lower, and sometimes down. By the way, when your arms are down, your body is more relaxed and you can accelerate your body and kicks better. Instead of blocking with our arms, and risk having them break, we just use footwork to move away or jam our opponent.
In an ITF match, the practitioners will fight with more care and precision, usually because they aren’t wearing gear or have limited protection. A misplaced kick will jam your toe in a hurry. I liked how we alternated between kicking and punching in ITF competition. I also enjoyed the precision and control over my kicks that I gained.
On the other hand, the constant starting and stopping of the match to award the point would break the momentum of a match and wouldn’t allow for further strategies to be developed. It also allowed you and your opponent to catch their breath- not likely to happen in a real situation.
All competition stuff aside, the WTF and ITF are wonderful systems. They have great practitioners, masters, and grandmasters. The WTF is the most practiced style in the world, therefore, you’re going to find flaws in the character of athletes just from the sheer number of people competing. You’re going to find dojangs that have completely lost the meaning of Taekwondo and martial arts as a whole. I’ve seen dojangs that have lost 100% of their etiquette and respect to martial arts.
Bear in mind, I’ve also seen Karate schools and Kenpo schools that have lost the same elements. You rarely see it, because those styles are not in the Olympics and get less exposure.
So, why are we WTF and not ITF? Years ago, I became heavily involved in competition. I had a dream to one day go to the Olympics and the only way I was going to have a chance was to switch over to the WTF. I would like to think I came close. I made it to the quarter finals at the US National Championships. I lost to an outstanding fighter and individual, Michael Tang. Michael Tang was a US Team member at that time, and was basically my only obstacle from making it to the US Team Trials that year. The match was close, very close! On the other hand, Michael had a dream too!
I had started my competition career late as a WTF competitor, since I had been a part of the ITF for so long. It was essentially my one shot, before my priorities shifted to raising a family. I understand that it’s not the style of Taekwondo or style of martial arts you practice, but rather the experience you gain from it.
In our academy, we don’t train like Olympic Taekwondo competitors. We do teach students how to punch. We even teach our students how to box and grapple as well. We also teach them practical self defense maneuvers, as opposed to rehearsed 3 step fighting patterns.
Those students that are looking for competition, train separately in class geared to prepare them for Olympic style competition. I continue to stay affiliated with the WTF because of the opportunity it provides for athletes to dream, especially young athletes who have the opportunity to train for the Junior Olympics, an exciting event for kids.
WTF or ITF, it doesn’t matter. How the curriculum is presented as well as the additional insight to martial arts you’re providing to students is what’s important.