What to Look for when Judging & Competing

What to Look for when Judging & Competing

What do judges look for when judging traditional Taekwondo? And what should you be focusing on for your own personal training, competitions, demonstrations and gradings?

The most important thing to do when on show is to get yourself noticed and make the judges sit up and pay attention. Getting lost in the crowd means that you will not get those high marks. So how do you get noticed?

KI HAP (Ki call): There are many reasons for ki-haping in the martial arts; to let your instructor know you are ready, to motivate yourself, to create energy in the dojang, to shed inhibitions etc. However, in competition and grading the main reason you kihap is to focus your mind, show your Taekwondo spirit and get yourself noticed.

When you ki-hap ensure it is short, sharp and comes from your abdomen. You should also MEAN the ki-hap. A lot of student ki-hap but there is nothing behind the shout. Your shout is your inner voice, your time to show that you mean what you do and be taken seriously. It’s your Taekwondo spirit.

STANCES: One of the most important aspects that the judges will be looking at are your stances. Because stances are so basic a lot of students overlook their stances and concentrate on the harder elements of the poomsae or one step sparring. However, your stances are the foundation of your power and if they are weak your technique as a whole will be weak.

When practising your taekwondo, always ensure your stances are technically correct and low to the floor, the lower the better as you have more balance and more body condition.

A mistake a lot of students make when competing or at a grade is rushing through the movements and not showing their stances to their full ability. Slow down and don’t sacrifice speed for technique, ever.

BREATHING: The whole point of performing a poomsae is to practise your breathing control. A lot of students breathe erratically in competition. They forget to breathe. This leads to tension in the upper body and overall bad technique. For Kup Grades breathe every move and try and relax. Remember power does not originate from muscles, it is created through breathing, speed and technique.

For higher grades who practise restricted breathing, the same applies, remember to relax or you will burn all your energy unnecessarily and not complete the poomsae.

TECHNIQUE: One of the most important aspects the judges will be looking for is technique, it is the difference between an excellent martial artist and a mediocre one and those top marks. Technical ability is preparation, execution and recovery, and every move should be analysed when practising.


Once you have the basic technique and understand the preparation and recovery positions, try and include power into the technique, remember this is done by breathing control and speed not brut force.

REMEMBERING YOUR MOVEMENTS: Especially in competitions if you want to achieve those high marks you must perform your poomsae without mistakes. Incorrect technique or bad memory will affect your marks. The only way to ensure this doesn’t happen is repetition repetition repetition. The more practise you fit in the more confidence you will be. Preparation for competitions is key.

Saying that anyone can blank in pressured circumstances, especially lower grades, if this happens put it down to experience. The more competitions you enter, the more gradings you do, the better you will become at controlling your nerves. Remember that the people at International level will have entered hundreds of competitions over the years, it’s only perseverance and practise that distinguishes the elite.  

TAEKWONDO SPIRIT: Probably one of the most important aspects of competition is your Taekwondo spirit. Your spirit is shown is not only your techniques but your Ki Hap. Every single move must have character, power and effect, and should work if attacked.

Many competitions perform a poomsae or one-step without fault but put no personality into the movements. If you want top marks don’t be happy hiding in the crowd, get out there show your techniques and be confident.

What happens if you make a mistake or fall down?

Falling down doesn’t happen that often but if it does don’t hesitate, simply get up and carry on. Muttering to yourself, shaking your head or making a scene doesn’t do any good and only prolongs the event. Learn from it for next time and put it down to experience, it only makes you better next time.

The same applies if you make a mistake, try and instantly forget it and carry on, if you do this it won’t make that much difference to your points, compared to stopping and starting again.

If you totally forget your routine half way through. Simply stop, bow, and ask permission from the judges to start again. Again simply put it down to experience, we’ve all been there and it probably won’t happen again.


  • From the moment your name is called and you approach the ring you are being judged. Remember to keep your eyes forward, walk smartly to your starting position and bow sincerely and pronounce the name of your poomsae strongly.      
  • Remember that the reason you are there is to show your martial art and therefore your etiquette should be excellent. Always bow correctly and sincerely and show respect to the other competitors.
  • When leaving the ring walk backwards. Never turn your back on the judges as this is deemed as bad etiquette.
  • Try not to show your nerves or that you are unconfident, even if you feel it on the inside. Learning any martial art is about positive body language and making the best out of every situation you are in.
Basis for Judgement Important Points  
Approaching Be smart, take it seriously, approach the ring with focus and intent. Bow properly and respectfully, pronounce the name of your poomsae with confidence and concentrate whilst performing your junbi.  
Position & Posture Be vertical and strong all the time.  
Balance Losing your balance will mean lower marks. For good balance keep low and keep your weight central.  
Stance  Ensure every single stance is technically correct and low to the floor  
Basic techniques Ensure your technique (hand formation, foot formation, preparation of technique) is perfected and polished.  
Power & Focus Hitting your accurate target with the correct weapon is extremely hard to do. For every movement that you do always concentrate on hitting the target. It’s vital in your taekwondo training.  
Breath Control your breathe accordingly from the abdomen.  
Speed of technique When you strike, strike fast, when you breathe and slow the poomsae down (or come back to junbi) do this slowly.  
Flexibility Technique is the most important thing in Taekwondo. Someone who performs an excellent side kick to the knee should score higher marks than someone who throws a high section kick with no power. However, if you can do both that is where the highest marks are.  
Body movement The performance should be fluid and rhythmical. Don’t be jerky and unnecessarily stamp the feet. Don’t introduce extra movement such as slight movement after a block.  
Interpretation Understand what the poomsae means, what each move is for, and don’t just practise and execute it, mean it.