The primary audience for this wiki page is new or inexperienced referees and judges who are looking for basic summaries and quick tips. Experienced officials go through formal training of course, and the rules of officiating can vary fairly widely from one tournament to the next. This page just provides general guidelines for relatively inexperienced officials, especially those who will be working smaller regional tournaments.

Again, note that the rules of officiating can vary fairly widely from one tournament to the next; this page just provides some general tips and guidelines. Consult your tournament's rulebook (of course) for specifics about the tournament you'll be officiating at.

ATA-style Tournaments Edit


ITF-style Tournaments Edit


WT-style: Judging Poomsae Edit


iPoomsae Basic - Poomsae Scoring Software for the iPad


A Taekwonsoft poomsae scoring device. Taekwonsoft is one of the WTF-approved poomsae scoring systems.

In tournament competitions (see also: Taekwondo Tournaments), there may be several different types of events:

  • For Open Poomsae events, you know ahead of time which form you will be demonstrating. The form you will be demonstrating is usually determined based on your belt rank.
  • For Sport Poomsae events, you do not know ahead of time which forms you will be demonstrating. At the time of the event, you will be asked to perform any of the standard forms with only short notice. So for Sport Poomsae events, you essentially need to practice your style's entire curriculum (or at least the levels appropriate to your rank).
  • For Team Poomsae events, you perform poomsae as part of team of people who all perform the same poomsae at the same time. In addition to all the usual judging factors (see below), in this event your team is also evaluated in terms of how well the team can stay synchronized during the performance.
  • For Creative or Freestyle Poomsae events, you perform a poomsae that you yourself have designed. See Freestyle Forms for more detail.

Of course each tournament will have its own guidelines for judging forms competitions. Performance of forms is typically evaluated (in part) by the judges using technical factors such as:

  • Stance:
    • Are the feet the correct distance apart for that stance
    • Are the toes pointed in the correct direction
    • Are the correct parts of the feet (heels, balls, toes, etc.) for that stance touching the ground
    • Are the knees bent the correct amount
    • Is the performer's weight distributed correctly among the two legs
    • And most importantly: did the performer finish the form at the same spot as where he started (within a few inches), thus demonstrating consistent length to his stances
  • Blocking, Punches, and Strikes:
    • Were the arms chambered correctly prior to the movement
    • Did the arms travel along the correct path, and finish in the correct position
    • Were the hands shaped properly before, during, and after the movement
    • Were the wrists held correctly
  • Kicks:
    • Did the kicking leg travel along the correct path, strike in the correct position, and then recover along the correct path
    • Did the supporting leg have the correct amount of bend and twist before, during, and after the movement
    • Did the kicking foot use the correct striking surface (top, toes, ball, heel, etc.)
    • Did the supporting foot support the performer's weight using the correct parts of the foot (usually the flat or the ball of the foot)
    • Note that according to some published technical guidelines for some styles, no guidance is provided for arm position during the kick
  • Kihap
    • Are the kihaps performed in the right places, and are they strong

Poomsae performance is more than just technical correctness however, it is a performance, i.e., "an entertaining show", so the technical factors listed above are not the only considerations typically evaluated. (In this sense, poomsae performance is a bit like gymnastics or figure skating - part of the score is technical correctness, but part of the score is also the quality of the showmanship.) Typically judges consider a wide variety of things such as:

  • Was the poomsae performed properly of course (no forgotten steps, and no steps performed incorrectly).
  • Were the basic techniques especially (basic kicks, basic blocks, basic strikes, etc.) performed well. (There may be less emphasis on evaluating "advanced" movements since these tend to be less standardized.)
  • Did the athlete exhibit accuracy, balance, power, snap, speed, coordination, rhythm, and energy. A competitor who makes a minor technical error might still win based on the merits of these other very important factors.
  • Expressiveness is also sometimes evaluated, though this factor can be even more subjective.
  • In summary, was this performance an "entertaining show" that highlights excellence and correctness in taekwondo.

Note: In some competitions, scoring begins not when you start the execution of your form, but when you first step onto the mat. In this situation, judges are also evaluating you in terms of how you enter the mat (do you bow as  you enter), do you bow to the judges before the start of the event, etc.

Scoring of PoomsaeEdit

Typically there are at least three judges and one referee for a poomsae competition. Only the referee interacts with the athletes. The judges typically sit in a line along one edge of the ring, usually near a score-keeping table.

Some tournaments will assign an actual numerical score to poomsae performances, with each judge assigning a score (such as 1 through 10) based on the quality of the performance. In this case, often 4 points are assigned to technical correctness, with the remaining 6 points assigned to the quality of the performanc. Other tournaments will simply have each judge designate a winner among pairs of competitors, with the best 2 out of 3 judges determining the winner. In this case, at the end of a match the referee first calls-out something along the lines of "Judges, ready!" The judges then raise both elbows outward, the front of the fists touching in front of the judge's chest. The referee then calls-out something along the lines of "Judges, score!" The judges then raise either their right hand or the left hand, depending on who they are picking as the winner. The hand is swung upward into the air to point in the direction of the winning athlete, then held there for a moment so that the referee can tally the score.

The job of the referee is to:

  • Bring athletes out onto the ring (and again, in some tournaments, scoring can begin at this point, with the judges evaluting how the athlete enters the ring, does the athlete bow respectfully, etc.)
  • Place each athlete onto their starting spot (often somewhat toward the rear of the ring, so the athletes have room to move forward during the poomsae).
  • Have the athletes bow to the judges. ("Chay-ryeot! Kyung-nyeh!")
  • Start the athletes in their performance. ("Joon-bee! Shee-jahk!")
  • End the athletes' performances. ("Bah-ro!")
  • Call for the judges to score. If no designated score-keeper is assigned to the ring, the referee also records the scores.
  • Have the athletes leave the ring, and then begin the next round of competition.

A division continues in this way eliminating competitors in brackets until a winner has been determined. The referee then:

  • Calls the winners (in 3rd place, 2nd place, 1st place order) back into the ring, and lines the winners up facing the audience with 3rd place on the audience's left and 1st place on the audience's right.
  • Starting in 3rd place, hold three fingers above the athlete's head and announce "Third place!" Likewise proceed through 2nd and 1st place. 
  • Has the athletes bow to the audience, then turn, and bow to the judges.

WT-style: Judging BreakingEdit

Just as with poomsae competitions, breaking competitions should be a good show. So in addition to looking for technical correctness in the breaks (e.g., "was that kick performed with technical correctness") one is usually also looking for good "showmanship":

  • Was there good stance, energy, and kihap leading up to the break.
  • In addition to technical correctness, was there good speed, power, energy, and kihap during the break.
  • After the break, was there a good return to stance, with good energy and kihap again.

In other words, as a judge you are looking for a "good show" in addition to technical correctness.

Of course the rules and scoring for breaking will vary greatly from one tournament to the next. In smaller regional competitions judging is often done on a 10-point scale, with 10 meaning a "perfect" performance (which should never or almost never be awarded, depending on the guidelines of your tournament) and athletes rarely receiving a score below 5. As with poomsae competitions, the start of judging might actually begin when the athlete enters the mat, and so can include evaluation of the athlete's courtesies, such as bowing respectfully when they enter the mat, well before the breaking even begins.

As an example of how evaluation factors can very from one tournament to the next, consider the case of failed-breaks:

  • In some tournaments, the judging guidelines are that the athlete has 3 chance to break the board, and there are no deductions of points for failed breaks
  • In other tournaments, the guidelines are that the athlete has as many chances as he likes, but each fail costs the athlete a point.

Scoring and Fairness in Judging Edit

Typically there will be three judges, and the athlete's score is the sum of all three judges's scores. In the case of a tie, often the highest and lowest scores are tossed-out so that the middle-score rules. If there's still a tie after that, an approach is to pick the athlete with the highest single score.

A typical approach for judging breaking is to start with 10 points and deduct points or half-points for every flaw. Another approach, however -- equally valid -- is to assign a somewhat arbitrary score (like "7" or "8") to the first competitor in the division, and then judge all the other competitors based on how good they are in comparison to this first competitor.

  • As long as each individual judge judges consistently, it generally doesn't matter which technique he uses. Since the final score is the sum of each judge's score, it generally doesn't matter if one judge is the "nice" judge (always awarding scores between 7 and 10) while another judge is a "mean" judge (always awarding scores between 5 and 8).
  • Where the judge's approach can make a difference however is if one judge always clusters his scores (e.g., "always between 7 and 9") while another judge spreads his score ("always between 1 and 9"). This is why for smaller regional tournaments judges tend to stay in the 5.0-9.5 scoring range, because it keeps their score from outweighing the other judges's scores.

To announce scores, different tournaments use different systems.

  • Some tournaments provide judges scoring cards
  • Other tournaments have the judges hold up fingers for the number of points awarded
    • In some tournaments, the judge's arms are crossed to denote a .5 add to the number of fingers shown
    • In other tournaments, the judges hold up their hands twice: once to show the unit score, then again after a few seconds to show the decimal score (with a closed-fist denoting a zero decimal)

As with all scoring, judges should not look at their fellow judges while awarding points; you don't want to create the perception that you based on your score on your fellow judges' scores.

WT-style: Sparring Edit

The sparring area can vary depending on the style of taekwondo and the type of tournament. A typical sparring area is 8 meters square with a 2 meter safety zone around the ring. Smaller regional tournaments may use smaller rings, for example 7 meters square with 1 meter safety zones. There may be 4 judge around the corners, or 3 judges where (in the diagram below) judges 1 and 4 are combined into single sideline judge who sits near the recorder (the score-keeper).


Scorring for Sparring Edit

In a WTF-style tournament, there are three kinds of officials at the mat:

  • The referee, in the center of the ring, who controls the match and the athletes. Only the referee speaks to the athletes.
  • The judges, who sit at the edges of the ring and award points.
  • The  recorder or scorekeeper, who sits at the scorekeeping table and controls the score-keeping computer system.

Note that judges award points, while referees deduct points. When the judges take an action (e.g., awarding a point), the athlete's score goes up. When the referee takes an action (e.g., awarding a penalty), the athlete's score goes down.

Rules vary by taekwondo style and by tournament. A typical WTF-style scoring system would be:

Beginning in June 2018, WT-style scoring is as follows:

Points Edit

  • One point for a strong punch to the opponent's torso.
  • Two points for a regular kick (a non-spinning kick) to the opponent's torso. (In 2016, this was just one point.)
  • Three points for a regular kick to the opponent's head.
  • Four points for a spinning kick (i.e., a technical kick) to the opponent's torso. (In 2017, this was just three points.)
  • Five points for a spinning kick to the opponent's head. (In 2017, this was just four points.)

Penalties Edit

  • All penalties are a one-point add to the opponent. In other words, there are no more half-point penalties, as there were in 2016 and before, and penalties now add a point to the opponent, rather than deducting a point from the offender. Penalties include:
  • Grabbing, holding, or throwing your opponent
  • Pushing is allowed, but pushing may not be used to stop an attack. Pushing an opponent out-of-bounds is a penalty on the pusher, not on the person who steps out of bounds.
  • Falling to the floor (so that a body part other than your feet touch the floor). 
  • Attacking with the knee or leg (rather than the foot)
  • Targeting hits below your opponent's waist (although kicks to the buttocks are often less likely to be penalized)
  • Turning your back on your opponent to evade
  • Kicking your opponent's spine-area, including the back of the head
  • Punching your opponent's spine-area, including the back of the head
  • Prolonged inaction (not attempting any kicks or strikes for too long a time); in WTF taekwondo, this rule was added to make the sport more exciting for spectators. More recently, for the same reason, some tournaments also declare a penalty if an athlete's foot is held in the air for more than 3 seconds (i.e., to avoid "foot fencing").

Definitions and Clarifications Edit

  • A kick must have some force behind it to score a point. A light tap does not yield a point.
  • The kick must use the foot below the ankle. A kick with the shin or knee does not count.
  • Note that if electronic sensors are being used, most systems have sensors only on the top (instep) of the foot, so kicks with the bottom or side of the foot are less likely to score.
  • Kicking along the spine itself is not allowed, but otherwise kicks on the back are allowed.
  • Kicking below the waist is not allowed. Kicking to the head is allowed (but generally not for child competitors).
  • Intentional kicks below the waist or to the spine will result in a penalty. 
  • A punch must use only the front knuckles, not the side of the hand or other striking surfaces on the hand or wrist. In order to score, the punch must demonstrate sufficient force and be thrown through a distance (short jabs do not score).

Referees need to make judgment calls about warnings and penalties. For example, should every kick to the thigh be a formal warning? Generally no, here's an example:

  • Suppose the attacking athlete was making a clean kick to the torso while at the same time the offending athlete started to do the same. The attacking athlete then inadvertently winds-up kicking the defender's thigh while both legs are in the air. Generally speaking, that's not a penalty or warning: the attacking athlete was attacking the correct area of the target's body.
  • Now compare that to the situation where the defender has kept both legs on the ground, and the attacker kicks the defender's thigh because the attacker simply failed to bring his leg up high enough -- it was just a sloppy kick. A referee might call that as a formal warning.
  • Finally, compare that to an attacker who clearly, intentionally kicks the defender's leg. Of course that should be called as a full penalty.

In other words the intent of the attacker comes into play, which is where the referee needs to use good judgement.

How Judging WorksEdit

Judges are, of course, looking for clean kicks and punches. When they see one, they should award a point. Nowadays, judges are generally given electronic controllers that allow them to award points. Judges push buttons to award points.

Suppose there are three judges around the ring (two in corners, one along the opposite side); the way these electronic systems generally work is that if at least 2 of the 3 judges award a point, the point is awarded on the score-keeping computer system. But if only 1 judge tries to award a point however, the electronic system will note that only 1 judge saw the strike, and the scoring system will not award the point. For this reason, judges should move from their seats if needed to make sure they can see the action and not miss awarding any points. The electronic scoring systems generally have a few seconds of "window" in which they check to see if multiple judges have all pressed a button; in other words, all of the judges don't need to press their buttons at precisely the same time for the system to work. You'll sometimes hear complaints about "slow" judges who press buttons too late, outside the window, and thus fail to award legitimate points.

Simple electronic systems will have different buttons for the different point values: for example, a button for 1 point, a button for 3 points, and a button for 4 points. (In current rules commonly used, there's no way to score 2 points.) In this example there will be two sets of buttons: blue and red, for a total of 6 buttons. The judge pushes the appropriate button for the strike that he or she sees (a kick ot the torso, a spinning kick to the torso, a kick to the head, etc.).

More sophisticated electronic scoring systems will be tied to sensors on the athlete's sparring gear. The sensors can tell when a strike has been made, but of course the sensors cannot know if the kick was a basic kick or a spinning ("technical") kick. For this reason, judges are still needed even when electronic sparring gear is used. For example, in this situation one button might be pressed to indicate that a kick was a "technical" kick, while another button might be pressed to indicate that there was a kick to the head (since head-gear generally doesn't incorporate sensors).

Sparring Commands Edit

Taekwondo Kyorugui competition,rules,interpretation & guideline

Taekwondo Kyorugui competition,rules,interpretation & guideline

This 90-minute video from 2013 provides a very comprehensive summary of referee commands and hand signals.

TKD referee basics

TKD referee basics

This 10-minute video from 2008 summarizes much of the above material.

Taekwondo Sparring Terminology Korean English

Taekwondo Sparring Terminology Korean English

A short video that summarizes just the basic vocabulary.

In WTF-style tournaments, the referee's commands and hand signals are used as follows:

Setting up: Edit

  • The referee points to where the Blue opponent should stand and says "chung!" (meaning Blue). The blue opponent should move to his starting spot. The Blue opponent's spot is always on the referee's right side.
  • The referee then points to where the Red opponent should stand and says "hong!" (meaning Red).
    • Often you will see experience referees says these two things very quickly..."chung-hong!" as if they are one word.
    • In some cases the referee also points both arms forward, angled down and says "ip jong", further instructing the opponents move to their designated spots.
  • The referee inspects the Blue opponent to make sure his or her sparring gear is ready. The referee feels the arms for arm pads, feels the legs for leg pads, checks for mouth guard, and (for males) has the athlete knock his cup to show that it's ready. Typically the referee also takes this opportunity to wish the athlete good luck.
  • The referee then likewise inspects the Red opponent.

Starting the contest: Edit

  • The referee holds both arms out to the side, elbows bent upward and says "chay-ryeot" ('attention').
  • The referee bends both elbows inward (as if the referee's forearms are bowing towards each other) and says "kyuhng-nyeh" ('bow'). Often the referee will also have both opponents shake hands.
  • The referee steps forward with his left foot (as if going into a Long Front Stance); at the same time passing his right open hand from beside his ear, chopping downward in between the two opponents and says "joon-bee" ('ready')...he holds that position for a moment to make sure both opponents are ready.
  • The referee then slides the left foot back (as if into a Tiger Stance), while bringing both arms out to the side; then says "shee-jahk" ('begin') while rapidly bringing the hands together.
Sparring Gestures
Sparring Penalties

During the contest: Edit

  • If the referee needs to separate the two opponents (for example, if one opponent falls, or if one of the opponents clinches the other), the referee says "gahll-yeo" ('break').
  • When the contestants can resume, the referee says "gyay-sok" ('continue').
  • NOTE: half-point warnings were eliminated in WTF-style sparring as of 2017, so the following no longer applies in many tournaments: If the referee needs to issue a penalty warning (i.e., a half-point deduction) to a contestant, the referee stops the action ("gahll-yeo"), stands to face the offending athlete, takes his right hand to his left ear, then sweeps the right hand outward to point at the offending athlete. If the offense is against the Blue athelete, the referee says "chung kyong-go" ('blue warning'). If the offense is against the Red athlete, the referee says "hong kyong-go" ('red warning'). The referee then resumes the action ("gyah-sok")
  • For a more serious offense (for example, an intentional kick to the groin or punch to the head) the referee again stops the action, faces the offending athelete, sweeps his right hand from his left shoulder to point at the offending athlete, and calls "gam-jeum" ('penalty'), holding his pointing hand outward for a moment to make sure the scorekeeper can see the penalty call.
  • At the end of each round, the referee stops the fight by saying "geu-man" ('end'), gesturing that the opponents should move away from each other. The next round begins as before with the "joon-bee" and "sheejak" commands and gestures.

Especially for younger competitors in regional tournaments, in addition to formal warnings, you will also see the referee issue informal warnings; the match is usually not paused for these informal warnings, and the warning is given in the native language (such as English). For example, if a younger athlete accidentally kicks his opponent in the thigh once, the referee might remind the competitor to keep his kicks above the waist -- then if it happens a second or third time, the referee will issue a formal warning or penalty.

Between rounds:

  • When the match-timer has counted down to zero, the referee stops the fight by saying "geu-man" ('end'). He gestures for each opponent to return to their starting positions. 
  • When it's time for the match to resume, the referee re-starts the competition just as he did at the start of the match: "chung-hong" followed by "joon-bee" and "shee-jahk".

Coach's Cards: Edit

Each coach (blue and red) has a "card" that he can raise when he has an objection to a referee's or judge's ruling. When the coach raises the card to get the referee's attention, the referee halts the match (gahll-yeo) then take the coach's card and asks what the objection is. The referee then relocates to an isolated area on the mat and gestures for all the judges to come to him; the referee consults with the judges to determine if the coach was correct. If the coach was correct, the coach is given his card back and may continue using the card to make objections. If the coach was incorrect (even just once) his card is taken away and he is no longer able to make objections. The referee starts the match as before: "joon-bee" with the right hand held between the opponents, then stepping back and bringing both arms inward to signal "gyay-sok" ('continue').

Ending the match: Edit

  • When the match-timer has counted down to zero, the referee stops the fight by saying "geu-man" ('end'). He gestures for each opponent to return to their starting positions.
  • Looking at the score-keeping system to verify the final score, the referee announces the winner by pointing upward toward the winner's side of the ring; this is done by starting with the open hand down by the opposite waist, then swinging the arm to point upward toward the winner's side of the ring. At the same time, the referee states the winner's color (chang or hong), and then says "seung" ('victory').
  • The athletes are usually then directed to bow and shake hands again, and also directed to shake hands with the opposing coach.

The match may also end when one athelete has accumulated 4 penalty points; this results in a disqualification ("shil-kyuk"). For example, 8 half-point warnings ("kyong-go"), or 4 half-point warnings plus 2 full-point penalties ("gam-jeum").

Also, ending the division:Edit

At the end of several matches among multiple athletes, it's time to declare who is the first, second, and third place winners in that division. Typically this is done by first lining up the athletes facing the audience, calling up the 3rd place athlete first, then the 2nd place, then finally 1st place. The athletes are lined-up so that the 1st place athlete is on the audience's right. The referee then stands behind the 3rd place athlete, holds up 3 fingers above the athlete's head, and announces "third place!" Repeat for 2nd and 1st place. Have the athletes bow to the audience. Note that the athletes often do not bow to the judges and referees for sparring events, because these officials are spread all around the mat, and doing so would be time-consuming and impractical (i.e., slowing down the tournament too much).

Command Hangul Hanja English Hand Signal
Charyeot (chay-ryeuht') 차렷 Attention Both arms held vertically in front of the body, palms open, pointing upward
Gyeong-nye (kyuhng-nyeh) 경례 Bow Both arms held horizontally in front of the body, palms down
Junbi (joon'-bee) 준비 Ready Downward motion with the right arm
Shijak (shee-jahk') 시작 Begin (start) Both arms brought inward
Gahllyeo (kahl'-lyuh) 갈려 Break (separate) Downward motion with the right arm
Gyay-sok (kyeh'-sohk) 계속 Continue
Kyong-go Warning Sweep the right arm from the left ear to point at the offending athlete
Gam-geum Penalty Point at the offending athlete, then straight down, then straight up
Geuman (geuh'-mahn) 그만 Finish (end) Downward motion with the right arm
Seung Victory (winner) Swing the open hand from the opposite waist up into the air in the direction of the winning athlete

Additional References:

See Also Edit

References Edit