The International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) was founded in 1966 by General Choi Hong Hi. ITF headquarters were moved to Toronto, Canada, in 1972, and to Benidorm, Spain, in 2007. The ITF systems focus on more traditional Taekwondo, including forms (patterns) that General Choi developed.
The ITF is not affiliated with the WTF. It sanctions its own schools and has its own requirements. Its sparring principles are very different from WTF. The ITF hosts international competitions annually.
There are several different splits within the ITF, which causes some confusion; a black belt from an ITF or sub set school is not always recognized at all ITF schools. An ITF black belt is NOT the SAME as a WTF or ATA black belt and may not always be recognized as such.
ITF Taekwondo is highly focused on technique, using the scientific theory of power to perform patterns, self-defense, many types and levels of sparring. The disciplines, techniques, forms and basic principles are the same at all "authentic" ITF dojangs (schools) across 156 countries.
ITF Taekwondo is an art form, not a sport.
The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) was founded in 1973 and is the officially recognized body for Taekwondo for international competitions such as the Olympics.
The headquarters are in Seoul, South Korea. The WTF organizes the forms and belts for WTF dojangs, but does not dictate standards other than the minimum WTF requirements for black belts. A black belt who receives a certificate from Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters) is considered a black belt at any WTF Taekwondo dojang worldwide.
WTF considers itself to be developing the sport of Taekwondo, and the basic principles, disciplines and forms are set in each WTF dojang (school).
The American Taekwondo Association (ATA) was founded in 1969 in Nebraska by Master Haeng Ung Lee (later called "Eternal Grand Master"), who was taught by General Choi of ITF.
According to its web site, the ATA has over 1,500 schools across North America. The ATA licenses its Master Instructors to teach under the ATA umbrella.
ATA practices non-contact and full contact standards for sparring; it is said that ATA uses a blend of both the WTF’s and the ITF’s sparring and forms.
The ATA conducts closed tournaments, which means that if you are not a member of the ATA and/or a school you cannot compete in the tournament.
Unlike the WTF and ITF, the ATA is not recognized outside of the USA.