ITF Taekwon-Do isn’t unique amongst martial sports, or even sports in general in having infractions against the rules impact the score. We have fouls (major infractions) which result in an immediate loss of one point from each score card and warnings (minor infractions) which result in a point loss for every three received. That simple math doesn’t quite convey how warnings work or impact the result of matches however and I want to spend a little time digging deeper into the true value of a warning.

On the surface you could say that a warning is a third of a point in value, but that immediately fails to consider the fact that scores are only allocated by judges who see the contact. That means that punches and kicks to the body are usually seen by 1-2 judges, while punches to the head are seen by 3-4 and sometimes kicks to the head are seen by people not even watching the match when they hear the OOOOHHHHH! Therefore, your scores are normally distributed across the scorecards and your totals on each card won’t equal the number of points landed. With that in mind, fouls and accumulated warnings that apply instantly to all four cards have proportionally higher value. 

Warnings and fouls matter more when the scores are close. That is to say, the value of a warning when you’ve a significant lead or are severely behind is next to nothing, while in a level match with limited time on the clock a warning can be worth infinite points. The first warning of three doesn’t apply major pressure, but everyone has felt the weight of two warnings when closing out a tough and close match. The reality of the shifting value of a warning means that we have to be attuned to the game state to appropriately value the warning and adjust our strategies accordingly. 

Warnings also have value beyond their direct impact on the scoreboard. We can use warnings (particularly traveling) to increase pressure and build momentum, improving ring position and bringing your opponent closer to a lost point. We can also use a warning to interrupt our opponents momentum (if we’re careful to observe the rules) and slow the match down for a moment. We can take advantage of re-starts to catch our opponent watching the scoreboard  or focusing on their coach rather than the opponent. We can even use our opponent’s shot selection preferences to force warnings, drawing a spin or retreating side kick for example.

Warnings exist to protect the fighters and promote a desired style of play. The match should take place; on your feet, within the square, hitting legal targets, without undue celebration or gamesmanship and without employing obstructive tactics to deny scores. But of course sparring is a game and to be successful in any game you have to utilise all the avenues to victory as appropriate. That’s why we design scenarios and constraints to force us to evaluate the game state and make the correct decisions under pressure when we train around warnings in sparring.

Keep an eye on our @tkdcoach_academy content for ideas and examples


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