Tournaments are usually all day affairs. They can seem frustrating and confusing, especially when one is unsure of the rules. Here are a few pointers that may help during tournament time.

Most tournaments will have several events. The two main events are forms and sparring (Olympic Style). The tournaments may also have board breaking, weapons forms, point style sparring, team sparring, creative forms, musical forms, demo competition, etc.

In general, the competition will proceed from events where you are least likely to hurt yourself to events where you are more likely to hurt yourself.


In the forms competition, two competitors will perform their forms at the same time. The judges will then give them a score. If there are three judges, they will use all the scores. If there are five judges, then they will throw out the highest and lowest score.

The scores are based on power, execution, balance, kihap, beginning and ending in the same spot, presence, etc. There is no objective scoring system. Judges are usually told to disregard slight stylistic differences between schools, ie, chambering, etc. That means if one school is all doing something small “wrong” the kids probably won’t get scored up or down for it.

The judges mainly worry about being internally consistent within a division. Thus, if you got a 7.7 in one tournament and a 7.9 in the next it doesn’t mean that your form is better now. Also if a black belt got an 8.0 and a blue belt got an 8.5 it doesn’t mean the blue belt’s form is better.


Sparring (Olympic Style)

Each tournament director will set the rules for his tournament. However, most of the rules are the same. The only thing that is different is usually who can use head contact and if it must be light or full.

Points are scored when one person kicks with any part of his foot to the scoring area on the hogu. Sound helps a lot in determining the points. If the attack is only partially blocked, a point may still score. There are usually three corner judges. If two of them press the score button within 1.5 seconds then a point goes up on the scoreboard. There may also be electronic hogus. The judges will then mainly score punches and head shots.

Oftentimes, the judges will not be that experienced and will be tired from referring all day. They are usually volunteers although sometimes they are paid or are black belts who get free entry. Even the highest rated referees in the world will miss points. Points often happen in the blink of an eye.

In many years of Colorado Taekwondo, there has been very little outright cheating. Often, the referees will miss your points, but they will miss your opponents’ points the same amount on average.

When the corner judges miss an obvious head shot, the coach can quietly stand up and raise his hand. The center referee can then stop the match and poll the corner judges. Just because he does this does not mean the point will go up. The corner judges might not have seen it, the kick might have been to the neck or the back of the head, or the point might not have been valid. Remember, two out of three (or three out of four) must score the point for it to count.

The number of matches you will have will depend on the number of competitors in your division. Because of bye matches and the luck of the draw, the person who is third might be better than the person who is second in single elimination.

The main thing to remember is that tournaments are just vehicles that we have to make the kids better martial artists. Everyone wants to see their kid win. But a loss where they learn something might be much better for them than an easy win. Also, discipline is still the most important thing. The worst thing that can happen in a tournament is for a student to lose his cool and do something like yell, hit someone with a cheap shot, throw his helmet, etc. This reflects poorly on him and the school and parents. It’s important for parents to always keep their cool too and to remember that when it’s a matter of winning or losing, it’s just a sport.


What you can do:
• Make sure the kids get a good night’s sleep. This is important two nights before the tournament because they probably won’t sleep well the night before anyway.
• Make sure that they eat well before and during the tournament. Not eating or drinking enough water in the long day can cause a loss of energy during the match.
• Make sure that they have all their equipment (helmet, shin and forearm protectors, instep protectors, mouthpiece, cup (males), hogu) water and any medicines that they need (inhalers), and that their fingernails and toenails are trimmed.
• Warm them up with kicking paddle drills and watch their form.
• Videotape the matches and let them analyze them later.
• For younger kids especially, make sure they are in the right ring (holding area) at the right time.
• Cheer!