Martial arts competitions can be a little confusing to the untrained eye. The scoring systems simply favour landed hits, no matter how slight or imperceptible. During a recent exhibition, the Korea Taekwondo Association demonstrated a brand new piece of technology designed to make the sport more spectator-friendly, essentially turning competition into a real-world fighting game.
The system features brand new wearable sensors that measure the striking power of every attack and deduct from the fighters’ health bars appropriately, very much like a fighting game. Both competitors start out with 100 health points, and the first to drop the opponent to 0 is the winner. Everything is accompanied by sound effects and larger-than-life graphics. The result is something that looks like a combination of Olympic sport and Tekken competition—without the bears and Jaguar-masked wrestlers, of course.
There are several ways to score points in a traditional taekwondo match, most of which revolve around a fighter’s ability to land attacks on their opponent. Participants in high-level competitions will often wear special gear that tracks these movements and rewards points, even for hits that barely graze acceptable zones of attack. While this has been a boon for judges looking to be as fair as possible in their analysis, some see this as a diminishing of traditional taekwondo techniques in favour of overly defensive poking by competitors, giving rise to derogatory terms like “foot fencing” to describe this more slow and methodical style of approaching technology-supported matches.
As such, the benefits of the fighting game-inspired system are two-fold. It re-emphasises the sound taekwondo skills that have been diminished with the introduction of strike-detecting technology and makes matches easier to follow—and therefore more exciting—for spectators. Everyone won’t always understand the intricacies of every feint and attack but, just like with fighting games, the presence of easily digestible information greatly expands the amount of people who can follow matches at a base level.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap News, the Korea Taekwondo Association hoped to show the advantages of this style of taekwondo scoring with these exhibitions, but it remains to be seen if the organisation will officially adopt the new technology for future competition. All I know is that, as someone with very little interest in combat sports, the above video captivated me in a way that no other fight has before. The more inspiration real-world taekwondo can pull from Tekken, the better.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and loves writing about them even more. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.