Taekwondo Gear

If you or someone close to you competes in Olympic-style sparring, you know that they have to wear some form of gear–specifically Taekwondo sparring gear.  The same is true for someone competing in forms; they have to wear a WTF sanctioned or endorsed uniform.

Sparring Gear

Can the right Taekwondo sparring gear make a difference in one’s sparring performance?

First of all, in order to compete in an Olympic style Taekwondo sparring competition that is officially endorsed by the USAT (USA Taekwondo), you’ll need to get sparring gear that meets the following requirements:

  • World Taekwondo Federation Certified equipment
  • blue, red, or white head gear
  • blue or red chest protector
  • note in newer tournaments, the event provides equipment that has electronic sensors for automatic electronic scoring; in this case, you don’t have to bring gear, but I wouldn’t go to one without  a set, just in case.

On top of these minimum requirements, you’ll want to make sure the following are also true:

  • Each piece of equipment is of proper size
  • Each piece of gear has the correct protection coverage
  • The gear fit and feel well (i.e. not distracting)

One of the most significant piece of equipment is the groin protector. If this piece of equipment doesn’t fit right, the competitor will be constantly distracted by the crotch discomfort. Remember, trying to keep up with the opposing guy is tough enough, and definitely adding a constant distraction will not help the situation any, but would certainly put the opponent at an advantage.

Bottom line: make sure you have the right certified equipment, and that they have the proper protection coverage, color, and most importantly, fit.

Taekwondo Uniform for Forms Competition

Having the right gear for forms (or poomsae) competition is just as important.  In this case we are looking at the uniform being worn in competition.

It might sound irrelevant, but the right uniform can either enhance or detract from one’s performance.

Here are points to remember when competing in forms (these are some of the things judges look for):

  • Snappiness of technique
  • Performer’s balance
  • Correctness and accuracy of the form
  • Form presentation

Snappiness of Technique

The right uniform can enhance the snappiness of your kick, punch, block, or strike.  In general, a uniform that is heavy will help produce more snap–that’s assuming there is snap in the technique to begin with.  Look at and try various uniform.  Your find that the ones that are heavier and have already been broken in will provide the maximum snap.

Performer’s Balance

I’ve seen poomsae or forms competitors having to adjust their pants because it is too long or it is hanging too low.  When your feet ends up stepping on your pants, that can cause you to lose balance.  Make sure your uniform fits you well, especially the length of your pants.  The last thing you want to worry about is slipping on your own pants; this can definitely make the judges deduct points from the lose of balance this causes.

Correctness & Accuracy of the Form

Aside from losing balance, having improperly fitted competition Taekwondo uniform can cost you or your student in terms of form correctness and accuracy.  Imagine having to adjust the pants or the top in the middle of a performance because they are too big or too long.  This can happen to the less experienced poomsae or forms competitor.

Form Presentation

Judges are human.  All humans are subjective to some degree, and even though they try to be objective, little things can sway them to be more subjective when judging you.  Thus, if you are using a uniform that makes you look sharp, it can only add to your advantage in convincing the judges you are the best.  Note that you’ll have to reinforce that look with your very confident actions in coming up and leaving the floor.


There are two areas in Taekwondo competition where the proper gear or equipment can help enhance your performance:

  • Sparring
  • Forms or poomsae

In Taekwondo sparring, having the right gear can help make sure you can compete (that’s because the more serious competition events require that you have WTF endorsed or certified gear).  With the right size, fit, and protection coverage, the gear is the last thing you have to worry about because it isn’t distracting, but simply doing its job of protecting you.

Poomsae or forms competition is slightly different.  The right uniform can actually help accentuate your performance quality.  If you already have good form, a better uniform should be able to enhance your snap.  In addition, a properly fitted uniform can help prevent balance and accuracy issues with too big or too long uniform.  Lastly, a nice looking uniform can help accentuate your presentation.

If you are looking to do Olympic style Taekwondo sparring, you will need to know which essential pieces of equipment you’ll need to have.  The video below shows which ones you will need.

The essential list of Taekwondo sparring equipment includes:

  • Head gear
  • Shin and instep guard
  • Groin protector (not applicable for females, although a female version is available)
  • Forearm guard
  • Chest protector (hogu)
  • Mouth piece (not shown)
  • Gear bag
The hand protector is optional, but I would recommend using it to maximize protection and minimize hand injuries.  Also, in place of the instep protector, you can use a foot protector; it takes a little longer to put on, but it provides better foot protection coverage.
I would also recommend getting knee and elbow pads.  They are not required, but if you ever get hit on either of those parts, you’ll know what I mean.  They definitely would provide added protection to minimize injuries.

I have noticed that the chest protectors my students use do not last very long, or they don’t seem as durable.  Specifically, the lower most loops tend to wear out and break.  Note that these tend to break even for students that haven’t really been around that long–say about a year.

What are they doing that causes the chest protector to become useless sooner, rather than later?  And what can one do about it?

Here’s what I’ve observed over many years.

When the kids help each other out in preparation to spar, they form a chain to help each other out in putting their chest protectors on.  When they tighten the straps they push the student in front of them, then pull on the strap.  This act causes wear and tear in the bottom loops because as the student is pushed forward cutting friction is generated by the strap as it slides against the loops.  The greatest pressure ends up at the bottom where the bottom loops are placed under the highest strain due the pulling.

Over a short period of time, the bottom two loops will begin  to show tears; and in time, one or both loops break.

Chest Protector

I’ve had my chest protector for decades, and it is still as functional today as the first day I got them.  The reason is that I tie my own chest protector.  When I tie them, I pull the loops toward each other in a gentle but snug way.  I then tie a knot keeping the chest protector in place.  Over the years, the bottom two loops have not been put through any major friction at the level the kids put their through.

To help make the chest protectors last, pull the straps in so that the loops are pulled towards each other, and not push the student away from them.  This change in approach will help reduce the wear and tear on the bottom two loops of the chest protector–making them last long enough for the students to outgrow them.


Distance is an important aspect of sparring.


In sparring, the winner knows to take advantage of their best skills, their opponent’s weaknesses, and distance.  Everyone generally talks about improving skills to become better at sparring; and on most occasions, they also talk about how to take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses.  But it is rare that anyone discusses distance and how important it is in sparring, or for that matter, real life self defense (we’ll save that for another topic of discussion).

This article will discuss distance and why it is a very important aspect of sparring.  Through the proper use of distance, one can achieve the following:

  • Gain enough reaction time
  • Prevent an opponent from scoring
  • Help you score

Gain Enough Reaction Time

This may be as plain as the nose on your face, but you can gain reaction time simply by increasing the distance between you and your sparring opponent.  Now, you can go all out and stay back 15 feet from your opponent, but that would be too extreme, as it would make it impossible for either person to score.  The only thing you can cause by doing this is make the referee warn you to “fight”.

The right distance is such that the opponent cannot reach you without taking at least some motion to close the distance then executing their attack.  The motion to close the distance is your cue that he’s on the move.  This should give you enough time to adjust your distance for a counter attack.  Give this a try during any of your sparring sessions and see h0w it works out.  You’ll see that you’ll have that extra warning time to make adjustments to your position before your opponent delivers their attack.

Prevent an Opponent from Scoring

Through distance, you can prevent your opponent from scoring.  It is obvious that going further back from your opponent can guarantee that your opponent cannot score when you aren’t ready to counter.

It is also true when you close the gap to the point of jamming your opponent.  By closing the gap, you keep your opponent from making contact with their foot on your scoring area.  The closer your are to within the length of your opponent’s leg, the less likely they can score.  After all, olympic sparring is a sport, and all sports have rules on how one scores; you might as well take advantage of rules to prevent your opponents from scoring against you.

Help You Score

The right distance can help you score.  For attacks, if you maintain just the proper distance, you can apply proper footwork to close the gap and score with your kicks.  The distance should still be far enough so that you can see them coming when they attack, but short enough to close the distance using fast footwork and executing the appropriate attacking technique.

For counter attacks, you must maintain just the right distance so that you can move away without getting hit, yet reach your opponent when you deliver your scoring kick. This means that your opponent’s kick should just barely reach you!  This distance is just perfect for your counter.


Distance is a major factor in sparring.  It can help you gain reaction time, prevent your opponent from scoring, and most importantly, help you score.

Who would have thought such a simple factor could have such a major effect in sparring?