Sports week: 10 things to know about para taekwondo


Defined by its spinning kicks and last-second flourishes, para taekwondo will become the first full contact Paralympic sport when it makes its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games:

1. Developed in 2006, para taekwondo exploded in popularity due to its practicality, minimal need for equipment, and spectacular spin kick techniques.

The first World Para Taekwondo Championships were held in 2009 with 36 athletes from 16 countries. The 2019 Para Taekwondo World Championships saw 333 athletes from 66 countries compete. The sport has added several new sport classes since to accommodate this growth.

© Lima 2019

2. As Para Taekwondo was specifically developed by World Taekwondo, the rules are exactly the same as for Olympic Taekwondo, with some modifications made for safety. Para Taekwondoins use the same padded mat (8m in diameter), same handle and time format, and same points and penalties, with some minor adjustments.

3. Like its valid counterpart, in Para taekwondo, kicks are king. Athletes score points based on kicks received to the body with sufficient power and precision.

Unlike taekwondo, kicking to the head is prohibited and punches to the body are not marked, as athletes have different blocking abilities. Instead, para taekwondoins can score extra points for more difficult kicks – one more (3) for a spinning kick and two more (4) for a spinning kick. This translates into spectacular bursts towards the end of close matches.

© World Taekwondo

Minor penalties – known as Gam-jeoms (deduction penalties) – give the opponent a point. Penalties can be for things like falling, grabbing or pushing, dangerous play like kneeling or kicking under the belt, going out of bounds or not engaging the opponent.

Coaches have challenge cards and can stop the game to challenge a referee’s decision on score or penalties.

4. Kyorugi vs Poomsae: Like other martial arts, there are two forms of Para taekwondo – Kyorugi (sparring) and Poomsae (forms). Only Kyorugi will be contested in Tokyo 2020.

5. Classification is used in all parasports to ensure fair competition. There are four sport classes at Para taekwondo Kyorugi, two of which will be presented in Tokyo. K44 and K43 fighters in the same weight classes will compete in a “super” Paralympic division.

K44: For athletes with a disability or an amputation of an arm below the elbow.
K43: For athletes with a disability or an amputation of both arms below the elbow.
K42: For athletes with a disability or an amputation of an arm above the elbow.
K41: For athletes with a disability or an amputation of both arms above the elbow.

© Lima 2019

6. The goal of Para taekwondo is to outdo your opponent. The fights last three rounds of two minutes.

If the score is tied after three rounds, a golden round follows, with the first two-point fighter winning (a scoring kick or two opponent penalties). Ties after the golden round can be broken in a number of ways, including a higher number of non-scoring hits or, if applicable, the referee’s decision.

Fighters can win in other ways as well, including disqualification (for a header, for example) or receiving too many penalty deductions (10).

7. In Tokyo, para taekwondo will take place at Makuhari Messe, alongside goalball, sitting volleyball and wheelchair fencing.

8. The uniform of a taekwondoin is called a Dobok. All fighters must wear head, mouth and chest protection. The chest protector is electronic, automatically recording points if a kick or punch lands with enough power and precision.

© Lima 2019

9. Three judges press a button when a spinning kick has landed. If two or more press their buttons within one second of each other, the attacking fighter will be awarded the extra points.

ten. Where black belts in other martial arts denote “masters” or “experts,” taekwondo uses a different belt system. White, denoting purity, is intended for beginners – followed by yellow, blue, red, and black, which denotes experience and is the opposite of white.

Black belts are divided into “Dan” levels and go up to 9 Dan level. Levels 1 to 3 are intended for “trained students” who can serve as assistant instructors; 4-6 are for masters (full instructors), and 7-9 are for grand masters. The 10 Dans level was only awarded to the founders of the sport.


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