When I started TaeKwonDo I was really young and was put into a TaeKwonDo school by my parents. They way they chose the school that I went to was not because they knew what the difference was between the WTF ATA or ITF schools and styles of Taekwondo, but because they had a friend whose children where taking classes there and it was right up the road to where we lived.
I don’t think my case is uncommon and I believe this is probably the case for most parents or adults whose are looking to start them or there kids studying TaeKwonDo.
I don’t think that enough consideration ( or any) is given to the particular style (or school) of Tae Kwon Do that they or their children take and this could have some far reaching effects down the road.
For me, personally, I was just lucky because just by chance, I was able to experience a couple of them (as well as other Martial Arts styles) as I went from High School to College and eventually when I went back to Tae Kwon Do quite a few years later.
Choosing A Taekwondo School
You may find, after reading this, that choosing a TaeKwonDo style or school is not a big factor in your decision making process for you or your children when looking to study Taekwondo.
However, I think its good to at least understand the differences so you can make a more informed decision.
That said, I am not going to try to overly complicate things here as I am not sure on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go and how you want to define “style” or “school” so I am going to keep it basic and give you a general overview of what, generally speaking, are currently, the different styles or schools of TaeKwonDo so you can make a more informed decision.
This is not really a style but it is the headquarters of the World Tae Kwon Do association based in South Korea. You may hear people refer to this as a style but I think they are confusing this with the World Tae Kwon Do Style. Kukkiwon is officially recognized Tae Kwon Do body of South Korean.
The Kukkiwon is the governing body of the WTF and is responsible for belt promotions. It is also the organization that is recognized by the Olympic Committee for Tae Kwon Do in the Olympics and its sets the official curriculum for those who wish to become Kukkiwon certified instructors
World TaeKwonDo Federation (WTF)
This is sometimes associated with Kukkiwon and where a lot of confusion lies but they are not all one in the same. The WTF uses the teaching curriculum and rule book from the Kukkiwon that they follow and is the basis by which they teach.
Its the style I first started with and the one I went back to when I started up again.
It is the most traditional style of Tae Kwon Do and the most common type that people take when they start practicing and the mostly taught in Schools in the United States.
Most likely any school that you join, in the United States at least, will be teaching this style.
In part because it is the most practiced style and because the ranking systems is the most accepted and recognized sporting events, such as the Olympics, use it as the standard for allowing those to participate.
The WTF concentrates mostly on kicking techniques and tournaments and is much more geared toward being a sport then a true self defense martial art.
If you want to learn to defend yourself “in the street” then I don’t think this is the only form of martial arts you should take.
You could or should incorporate this with other styles such a say Muay Thai if that what you are looking for.
American Tae Kwon Do ( ATA)
I took ATA for a little while when I was in college and shortly after leaving the WTF style which I had already been in for about 5 years.
It is rooted in Chung Do Kwan, was founded by Grand Master H.U. Lee and has different sparring and forms techniques to the WTF.
It also has a different belt ranking system and is much smaller in size than its larger brother the WTF.
In the ATA they have what called Songahm and serve the same purpose as the forms do in WTF of increasing a students skill levels as they make their way up the belt rankings.
As the name implies it is primarily a North American organization and like the WTF it has its own international competitions but its not neary as large or as well recognized as the WTF.
Tae Kwon Do Association of Great Britain (TAGB)
This style of Tae Kwon Do was founded in 1983 so its a very new style. As the name implies its a style that is used in England and is nationally recognized.
Even though they are based on the Chang Ho form styles, they act and have almost an autonomous style and therefore they certify their own instructors and have their own belt system.
They also have their own rules when it comes to sparring as well.
As with the TAGB its in independent organization that has its own style that is used in Australia (and New Zealand ) . Also like the TAGB they have their own instructor certification and belt system based on the Chang Ho forms.
Their sparring is non contact which is a well known trait of Chang Ho. So the natural question I get here is what is Rhee? Rhee is a person whose full name is C C Rhee and is the so called “father of Tae Kwon Do” in Australia.
He started is own school which was the first and then also became the largest in Australia.
International Tae Kwon Do Federation (ITF)
is a relatively new style of TaeKwonDo that was started in Korea in 1966. The person who started the new style was a General Choi Hong Hi and his vision, like the others was to promote his style of Tae Kwon Do and in his case to about 9 other nations.
The main difference between the ITF and WTF is mostly in the area sparring where they use more of combination of punches and kicks and even allow punching to the face area.
Another key difference is that in the ITF, they have patterns instead of forms.
You should choose your style carefully as you are hopefully going down a lifelong path with Tae Kwon Do.
Its not to say that once you start with one style you cannot change to another but its more problematic and you will probably need to take a few steps back in order to learn that styles forms and sparring techniques.
What I see happen more often is that students will stick with the style of Tae Kwon Do that they start with and continue for as long as they study this art form or they will incorporate another martial arts style such as Krav Maga if they want to learn more about how to defend themselves “on the street“.
Either way the most important point is just to get started, I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the styles, you just have to determine what is the best for you and the one that you think you will stick with for the long haul.