Why Is Punching Banned In Olympic Taekwondo?

Everyone knows that the rules of every sport can change and differ from tournament to tournament and the same is true in taekwondo.

Even certain instructors or schools will have their own unique rules enforced in order to protect their students – but what about when it comes to the biggest sport competition of all time, the Olympics?

Why Is Punching Banned In Olympic Taekwondo

Here, we are going to be discussing punches in taekwondo and why they never seem to happen in the Olympic events.

This way, you can understand more about taekwondo and why competitors make certain decisions when it comes to their tactics and techniques.

Are Punches Banned In Olympic Taekwondo?

The Olympics introduced taekwondo first in 1988 but it officially became a permanent olympic sport in 2000 and has appeared in every Summer Olympics since.

However, the Olympics are not the body that sets the rules for their taekwondo tournaments. Instead, that duty falls down to the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) who governs all Olympic taekwondo events.

This means that taekwondo events in the Olympics actually follow the rules set out by the WTF – which does actually allow punches!

In taekwondo, each competitor wants to score points by either kicking or punching their opponent’s body or head. However, there are certain rules in place.

For a kick to be rewarded, they need to be delivered using any part of your foot that is below the bone of your ankle. For punches, you need to use the bone of your knuckle.

However, while kicks are rewarded for the body and head, punches are now only permitted for the body.

The WTF banned punches to the head due to safety concerns, and the head is not the only part of the body you are not allowed to punch. You are also banned from punching the groin and joint areas.

So, punches themselves are not banned in the Olympics – just punches to the face!

This means that in taekwondo, a competitor can only be rewarded a point for punching their opponent’s trunk protector but not their head!

Why Are Punches Rare In Taekwondo?

Why Is Punching Banned In Olympic Taekwondo

So, even in tournaments that allow punches to the body, they are still far rarer than moves such as kicks. Why is that?

Well, punching in taekwondo used to be far easier to do and years ago, students who wanted to win tournaments more than show off their skill would resort to frequent punching in order to score more points quickly.

As a result, taekwondo began to dissolve into a sport mainly using punching rather than kicking.

So, to combat this, taekwondo tournaments began to implement rules that would reward skillful kicks and thus, they became more important to help you win.

This can be clearly seen in the scoring system of taekwondo.

The only way to be rewarded a point for a punch is to punch your opponent’s trunk protector and even then, the competitor will only be rewarded a single point.

Kicks, on the other hand, are worth far more points. You can receive two points just for kicking your opponent’s trunk protector, therefore it’s worth more to competitors to kick their opponent’s trunk protector than to punch it.

Not only that but you can receive three points for kicking your opponent’s head, four points for landing a turning kick to your opponent’s trunk protector, and five points for landing a valid kick to your opponent’s head.

This means that it’s way easier for a taekwondo competitor to rack up lots of points more quickly by relying on kicks rather than punches.

Now, the reverse is in effect – more students and competitors use kicks because they are more likely to be rewarded compared to punches.

This has led to punches being less common and more competitors to rely on skillful footwork and kicks.

As a result, you will see that many professional taekwondo competitors will compete with their guard down, hands by their sides, and rely on kicks.

This is because to get in close enough to punch, your competitor will surely score more points by fitting in a few easy kicks while you land a single punch.

It’s far easier to block a punch than a kick and so, competitors are also more likely to score points just by kicking instead of punching.

However, the WTF have said that they are looking to change the rules after the taekwondo events in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were criticized and dubbed ‘foot fencing’.

Taekwondo is supposed to be the ‘way of the first and foot’ not just the foot – and so, we can expect some rule changes in the future to help encourage competitors to use a range of strikes and kicks rather than just relying on their feet to carry them to victory.


So, punches to the head are banned in Olympic taekwondo because the WTF banned them from tournaments due to safety concerns.

Despite this, punching to the body is still allowed and is rewarded with a single point.

Most taekwondo instructors will still teach their students how to strike the head even though they will not be rewarded for such moves in tournaments (instead, they will be penalized) but many diehard taekwondo enthusiasts still believe that strikes to the head a part of the art and should not be left behind.

However, despite being legal, punches to the body are still very rare to see in taekwondo tournaments, yet alone the Olympics.

This is because rule changes made to avoid taekwondo tournaments from devolving into punching matches had the reverse effect.

Now, competitors rely on their kicks to win because they are easier to do and are rewarded with far more points.

This is likely to change in the future with some taekwondo competitors calling for punches to be rewarded with more points to make them more appealing and more likely to be performed by competitors.

So, the reason why taekwondo fighters rely on their kicks is not actually because punching is banned – it’s just that kicks are rewarded with more points and more likely to land!

Christopher Anderson
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