taekwondo black belt

Taekwondo Belts: Ranking System Explained

By Way of Martial Arts

This article will delve into Taekwondo’s belt system’s intricacies and reveal much about the martial art and those who practice it. Colors have essential meanings, with the red belt denoting ultimate achievement. There are various Taekwondo levels for a reason, and I will get to know you with the meaning of every single step and belt.

The journey of a Taekwondo practitioner is marked by progress from one colored belt to another over many years of dedication and hard work. Striving for their mastery of the art, practitioners slowly accumulate skills and knowledge until they reach their highest potential – holding a red belt.

Earning this honor ranks as one of the most valuable accomplishments that one can attain in Taekwondo, as it demonstrates total comprehension and skill in both physical technique and fundamental philosophical principles such as humility, respect, generosity, integrity, patience, and discipline.

These ideals are integral to this iconic martial art and integrated into its fundamentals. Conversely, achieving a red belt requires great skill and admittance to a high-level understanding of these principles, which underpin Taekwondo’s success.

Taekwondo Belts: ranking System Explained

ITF Taekwondo ranking system has 10 ranks, ranging from 10th kyu (white belt) to 1st dan (black belt). WTF Taekwondo has 11 ranks where belt colors are: white (11th kyu), yellow, orange belt, green, purple, blue belt, blue and black, brown, brown and black, red, red and black, and black (1st dan).

Each belt represents a degree of knowledge, but – as we will soon learn – the two chief Taekwondo organizations, WTF and ITF, have different standards regarding belts. ITF taekwondo belt levels are pretty much different compared to World Taekwondo Federation.

Table of Contents

The Origins Of Belts In Martial Arts And The History Of Taekwondo Belts

Oriental martial arts have been practiced in the Far East for centuries, but the belt system is a relatively new phenomenon, just a little over a century old. Before belts were introduced, martial artists handed out certificates (or diplomas) to students who had reached a certain level of knowledge and ability.

Nowadays, some dojos give you diplomas or certifications, but a belt rank speaks about your knowledge. This phenomenon is present in many martial arts, especially if they come from the Far East.

The Evolution of Taekwondo Belts: How The TKD Belt System Has Changed Over Time

Taekwondo is a martial art that originated in Korea over 2,000 years ago. Over time, the sport has evolved and changed in many ways, including the ranking system.

In the early days of Taekwondo, no standard ranking system or belt colors existed. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the first standardized Taekwondo belt system was introduced, and this system has continued to evolve.

Today, the Taekwondo belt system is recognized worldwide and used by millions of people in many countries. The color belt means you’re a student, while a degree black belt shows your mastery in Korean martial art.

Kano’s Belt System And Its Impact On Taekwondo Belts And Geup Ranks

But, at the turn of the 20th century, a man called Jigorō Kanō, best known as the founder of Judo, decided to introduce colored belts in his art.

This was not a completely original idea, as he was inspired by a similar system present in the Japanese board game of go (similar to chess), but it was a revolution of belt colors in the world of martial arts. 

The essential idea behind the belt system was to enable students to advance more rapidly but also to enable fighters to quickly identify the level of knowledge their opponent has, thus leading to a more leveled field in potential combat.

Kanō’s original colors were blue, white, brown, and black, but as the years passed, the system became more sophisticated and included a larger palette of colors. 

The colored belts in Taekwondo are usually defined as “junior belts,” representing a student of the art. But there are also different levels, like, for example, yellow tip, green tip, or red tip.

The black belts are given to masters or instructors, people who have mastered the art and are qualified to teach it to others. They are also called “senior belts.” A black belt in Taekwondo shows your level of mastery and maturity, and color belts could serve to track progress.

The Taekwondo Belt Order And System – Understanding Dan Levels And Gup Ranks

As stated, the belts are divided into two larger groups – “junior” and “senior.” The former includes colored belts, while the latter encompasses a variety of degrees of Taekwondo black belts. The starting color is always white, and the final level is a 9th-degree black belt. 

Gup vs. Dan: Differences In Rank And Progress In Taekwondo

The “junior” levels are called geup (급), and there are, generally speaking, around 10 of them; the actual number varies between 8 and 12, depending on the style and the governing organization. WTF (federation from South Korea) offers 10 levels, while International Taekwondo Federation (North Korea-based) contains 11 belt ranks.

Each level doesn’t always mean a specific color; the system is designed to include different colored stripes representing a higher degree of the same color. Sometimes a stripe represents the next belt.

The geup system starts with the highest number in the system and continues until the 1st geup, the last colored rank, before attaining a black belt. The 1st dan is a basic black belt.

The black belts are divided into ranks that are called dan (단) or, in English, degrees. The degrees start with the lowest number (1st dan or first-degree black belt) and reach the final, 9th dan (ninth-degree black belt), associated with the grandmaster title.

The WTF Taekwondo belt order and ITF Taekwondo belt order have a title-based system associated with black belt degrees. Instructors holding degrees 1-3 are called assistant instructors and cannot issue black belts themselves; degrees 4-6 are related to the title of master instructor (just instructors via ITF).

Bu Sabum Nim is the person who teaches good moral values. For me, a real instructor will teach you to respect Taekwondo tenets and never fight in the street unless you have no choice. This is a must for a really good, dedicated instructor.

The last ranks show the biggest difference between WTF and ITF – WTF associates the title of grandmaster status with all the ranks from 7 to 9, while ITF does so only for the final, 9th rank, giving the holders of ranks 7 and 8 the titles of masters. As well as you know, the 9th dan black belt rank is the highest degree one can earn.

Taekwondo Belts order

Age Limit and Time Requirements for Achieving Higher Ranks in Taekwondo, Such As Black Belt

The black belt is awarded from 15 onwards (the age limit has changed throughout the years and is currently set at 15).

That doesn’t mean younger children cannot pass dan exams, but they are awarded a special poom rank, a “junior” black belt (usually red and black, or red with black stripe). Just to remind you, there is also a brown belt in the ancient martial art.

The poom rank automatically converts to a regular dan when the trainee reaches the proscribed age of 15 years. 

Taekwondo Belts

Forms, Technical Elements, And Sparring For Promotion In Taekwondo

Promotion in Taekwondo is achieving a higher rank within the discipline. As a student of Taekwondo, the journey begins with the mandatory white belt. Through hard work and dedication, students progress through the ranks, starting with the yellow belt and moving up through the different colored belts.

The process of promotion becomes increasingly challenging as the ranks become higher. Still, it is a testament to the technical and tactical skills a trainee has learned throughout their training journey. Some dojos offer yellow stripe belt as a higher level of white belts in Tae Kwon Do.

Forms, also known as promises or hyeong, are key elements students must master to be promoted. These pre-arranged patterns of movements demonstrate a student’s understanding of Taekwondo’s basic techniques and principles. Technical elements, such as kicks, strikes, and blocks, are important aspects of a student’s training and are closely evaluated during the promotion process.

Sparring is another important element of Taekwondo training and is often used to evaluate a student’s ability to apply their technical and tactical skills in a more realistic setting. Through the combination of forms, technical elements, and sparring, Taekwondo students can ultimately demonstrate their proficiency and progress through the ranks to achieve the coveted black belt.

How Much Time Do I Need To Progress In Taekwondo Belt Rankings? And How To Be Prepared For Sparring

Lower ranks usually require not more than a demonstration of different attacks present in Taekwondo and one specific form, predetermined as a skill test for each degree. Forms demonstrate the offensive and defensive skills of students’ Taekwondo training while also demonstrating technical skills.

The number of forms depends on the style used (p.e. WTF has 8, while ITF has 9), and the forms change regularly, but only to a smaller degree. A successful demonstration of all these necessary skills allows the trainee to obtain a promotion.

You must know all previous forms when you’re getting a promotion. It means, for example, when you get a red belt promotion, the master instructor might not give you a higher belt if you forget a yellow belt form.

To be prepared for sparring, it is important to focus on physical conditioning, practicing proper technique, and developing good reflexes. This can be achieved through regular training, drilling, and sparring with partners of varying skill levels. Additionally, it is important to have the proper gear, such as a mouthguard, headgear, and gloves.

Higher ranks usually add more complex techniques, including sparring, simulated sparring, self-defense, breaking skills, and even a written test on the basics of Taekwondo. Although the organizations have a system of guidelines, each federation can have its variations of minimal standards.

“Junior” promotions are usually held within the school or local community, while black belts (and poom ranks) are usually awarded by the national federation and are internationally recognized. The time necessary for promotion depends on the school, the national federation, and the rank in question.

Lower ranks are usually attained after a few months (1-3) in rapid progression, while higher ranks typically require a certain period to pass before trying out for promotion. In some cases, promotion from rank one to rank two is given automatically, while others require a regular promotion.

The period between promotions can range from one month to more than a year. Each school and/or national federation determine those periods. Sometimes you can even skip a belt rank if your coach recognizes you as a very talented or a gifted athlete.

Many high-level CEOs have a blackbelt in Taekwondo, so it’s not as time-consuming as perceived.

WTF Belt At ITF Competition: Understanding The Differences In Taekwondo Belts

An interesting question is whether ranks are interchangeable and recognized by opposing federations, i.e., does WTF recognize ITF ranks and vice versa?

The answer is yes – ITF senior student degree holders can participate in WTF events and vice versa – but due to political tensions and quarrels, the situation was not always simple and easy for the competitors. 

Taekwondo Belts: ranking System Explained

Taekwondo Belt Colors Ranked: From White To Black Belt And ITF vs WTF Belts, And The Significance Of Color

We have already explained that black belts have nine degrees so we won’t dwell on that question anymore.

That system is simple enough. But, the “junior” degrees, which use different colors, are interesting as they show how the initial belt system, developed at the start of the 20th century, was incorporated into the sport of Taekwondo.

ITF Vs. WTF Belts

Since WTF and ITF have somewhat different standards for“junior” belts, we will briefly analyze both systems: 

  • The ITF system

The International Taekwon Do Federation system uses what we have already called a geup. There is a total of 10 geup in the ITF system, and they start from 10 and finish at 1.

The system uses only five colors, with each color having a higher degree variant, represented by a colored stripe added to the main belt; the color of the stripe is always the color of the next degree color (p.e. a second-degree green belt has a blue stripe because blue is the next color in the system).

For example, white with yellow stripe, yellow belt with green stripe… In this case, a green stripe means the higher level of the basic yellow belt. The colors are as follows:

Taekwondo Belts: ranking System Explained
Taekwondo Belts: ranking System Explained

Color Geup Meaning 

  • 10th – Blankness, lack of knowledge, beginning
  • 9th – Middle phase between white and yellow
  • 8th – A seed planted
  • 7th – Middle phase between yellow and green
  • 6th – A planted seed starts to grow and mature
  • 5th – Middle phase between green and blue
  • 4th – The sky the grown seed tries to reach
  • 3rd – Middle phase between blue and red
  • 2nd – The color of blood, a warning about the dangers of the skill
  • 1st – Middle phase between red and black 
  • black belt (1st dan)
  • The WTF system

WTF doesn’t use the geup system per se, but the general idea is similar. WTF uses only ranks, and a specific color generally represents each rank; there are some variations of the same color with the higher ranks.

Most WTF schools use the system presented below, but slight variations exist worldwide. WTF has 11 ranks obtainable before the red belt, ergo one more than the ITF systems

Stripe Example And Understanding The Significance Of Belt Stripe In Taekwondo, Including Red Stripe For Seniority

In Taekwondo, the belt system indicates a student’s progress and experience within martial arts. One way this is done is through stripes on the belts.

A vertical stripe on a belt is used as a symbol of seniority, with the number of stripes indicating the level of progress. For example, a red belt with a black stripe would indicate 1st kyu, while a red belt without a stripe would symbolize 2nd kyu.

The belt is typically divided into two halves, with the upper half red and the lower half black. This represents the 1st-dan level. As the student progresses, they will earn additional stripes on their belt, representing their increased skill and experience.

The use of different colored belts and stripes is a unique aspect of Taekwondo and helps to visualize a student’s journey and progress within the discipline. Understanding the significance of belt colors and stripes is important in Taekwondo training, as it allows students to track their progress and recognize their peers’ achievements. In addition, it helps instructors and other students identify a student’s skill level and experience.

It’s important to note that the belt colors and stripes system may vary slightly depending on the organization or style of Taekwondo. Still, the general concept of using them to represent skill and experience is consistent across different organizations.

Additionally, it’s crucial to remember that the belt stripe is only one aspect of Taekwondo’s overall progress and ranking system. Many other factors, such as forms, sparring, and testing, are also considered.

For example, a lower belt color doesn’t mean you can’t do more technical moves, it just reflects your current promotion. I’ve seen many fighters with green belts who can perform way better spinning hook kicks than many black belts, but they simply didn’t use their promotion opportunity.

The Importance Of Properly Earning And Wearing Taekwondo Belts In The TKD Community

Wearing a taekwondo belt symbolizes achievement, and earning a new belt is a significant accomplishment in the taekwondo community. It is important to understand that a taekwondo belt is not simply a piece of cloth but a representation of the hard work and dedication of earning it.

Wearing a Taekwondo belt improperly, or misrepresenting your rank, can be seen as disrespectful to the Taekwondo community and those who have earned the same belt through hard work and dedication. If you have a red belt, don’t wear 1st dan black belt, as it means you disrespect your martial art.

To properly earn and wear a Taekwondo belt, it is important to follow the guidelines and standards set by the Taekwondo community and strive for continual improvement and growth.

Taekwondo Conclusions: Dive Deeper Into The Martial Arts And Its Belt System

In conclusion, Taekwondo is a dynamic and exciting martial art that holds a standard for physical skill and knowledge. The ranking system, with its different colored belts, including the highly respected red belt, is a significant aspect of the discipline.

As you progress through the ranks and learn more about the art over the years, you will be tested on your knowledge and physical skills. With the help of dedicated instructors, you’ll soon discover that Taekwondo is a discipline that can change your life for the better.

If you’re looking for a new challenge and an exciting way to improve your health and fitness, we encourage you to try Taekwondo. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced martial artist, Taekwondo has something to offer everyone. So, take the first step and find a school near you.

With the help of dedicated instructors, you’ll soon discover that Taekwondo is a discipline that can change your life for the better. The tests and standards held in Taekwondo are rigorous but attainable, and reaching the red belt is the ultimate goal for many students after years of dedication and hard work.

Related articles: The history of belts and belt colors in martial arts.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Taekwondo Belts

What is the significance of Tae Kwon Do belt ranks in the martial art’s progression system?

The Tae Kwon Do belt ranks are an integral part of the martial art’s progression system. Each belt color represents a different level of the practitioner’s journey, reflecting their skills, knowledge, and experience in Tae Kwon Do. The belt ranks start from white, symbolizing a beginner with no prior knowledge of Tae Kwon Do, and progress through various colors until reaching black, which signifies a high level of expertise and mastery. Each rank requires the practitioner to learn and demonstrate specific techniques, forms, and principles of Tae Kwon Do.

Taekwondo belt colors reflect the level of your knowledge and how far have you reached on your Taekwondo voyage. Every single belt rank has its meaning, from the beginning and lack of knowledge to blood, danger for your opponents, and mastery.

The red stripe means good attitude and bravery. If you earn this stripe, make sure to work even harder, because it is the easiest to lose too!

Make sure you have a good attitude and a level of dedication at every single class because you’ve roughly reached half of your Taekwondo voyage, and now you should start training even harder. 🙂

To progress in Taekwondo belt rankings, you’ll have to do forms and sparring. Also, there are power tests at some points of your voyage.

Smaller ranks demand less technical knowledge, while spars and a power test mostly start from the 6th kyu. You’ll have to break a board or show more difficult elements, depending on your Taekwondo black belt.

It depends on the Taekwondo style. ITF Taekwondo belt system contains 10 rankings, while WTF has 11 rankings. Check ITF vs. WTF belts section of this article and you’ll get to know every single color.

Check the color geup paragraph in this article. Every single color reflects something, from the beginning and lack of knowledge to a master’s degree.

The two most popular belt systems are ITF and WTF, and I will describe both:

  • ITFwhite belt, yellow stripe, yellow belt, green stripe, green belt, blue stripe, blue belt, red stripe, red belt, black stripe, black belt;
  • WTFwhite, yellow, orange, green, purple, blue senior belt, brown, brown senior belt, red, junior black belt, black belt.

The third belt system is the American Taekwondo Association, its rankings are described in the paragraph below.

American Taekwondo Association has the following belt ranks: white belt rank, orange, yellow, camouflage belt, green belt, purple, blue, brown belt, red, and black belt.

Tae Kwon Do levels, represented by different belt colors, are differentiated based on the practitioner’s skill level, knowledge, and experience. Each rank or level signifies a step forward in the practitioner’s journey of mastering Tae Kwon Do. The white belt is the starting level, representing purity and potential. The next levels include yellow, green, blue, and red belts, each requiring the practitioner to learn new techniques, forms, and principles. The black belt is the highest level, representing maturity, calmness, and full mastery of Tae Kwon Do. It’s important to note that within the black belt rank, there are further degrees or “dans” to achieve, symbolizing continuous learning and improvement.

Stefano Secci, French Savate Boxing, and Martial Arts champion
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Stefano Secci

Stefano Secci was born on the outskirts of Genoa. He began practicing sports at 11 by enrolling in a Ju-Jitsu class; from there, I have not stopped playing sports until today. At 16, he switched to French Savate Boxing, which I married and has remained my first and only true love. Our testing and reviewing method.
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