Understanding the Rank Structure of Taekwondo

By Scott Shaw

The Taekwondo practitioner wears different colored belts to symbolize what level of expertise he has achieved in the art. There are nine steps and five colored belts in the promotional system of Taekwondo. The belts are: white, yellow, blue, red, and black. Though these are the formalized belt colors of Taekwondo, some school have added additional colors as a motivational tool for their students.

The colors of the belts are symbolic of Taekwondo's philosophic basis. At the root of this expression is the beginning and ending belts: white and black.

The white belt and the black belt symbolize Um and Yang. This ancient philosophic understanding is more commonly known by the Chinese expression, Yin and Yang.

Um and Yang describes the inter-linking diversity of this universe. White symbolizes day, while black symbolizes night. White represents lightness, as black represents fullness. White is purity, where black is knowledge, and so on.

In is understood in the philosophy of Um and Yang that one element cannot exist without its counterpart. As such, the entire universe is based upon a system of duality. In terms of Taekwondo, this represents that the student learns from the instructor, while the instructor functions due to the student.

The three remaining belts are depicted in primary colors: yellow, blue, and red. These represent a student's progression from the realms of naiveté' to the deeper dimensions of knowledge.

Wearing the Taekwondo Belt
The Taekwondo belt is tied in a very specific manner. It loops around the body two times and then is tied in front in a triangle shaped knot. The wearing of the belt and the tying of the knot, which binds it to your body, is a symbolic gesture and should never be taken lightly. Tying your belt, in this predetermined fashion, represents that you are focusing your mind and your body, organizing your thoughts, and that you are ready to enter into Taekwondo training. The triangle shaped knot represents oneness of purpose.

More than simply symbolism, the conscious tying of the belt alerts the Taekwondo student that he is becoming aware of what is known in Korean as the, "Tanjun." The tanjun is the body's center of gravity and the bodily location where ki is located. As this is a very sacred location on the body, it is treated with the highest respect.

The student of Taekwondo begins training as a white belt. He progresses through the rank system from 9th gup to 1st gup. This descending manner of ranking symbolizes that the Taekwondo student is ascending towards black belt status.

The Taekwondo Lower Belts:
9 Gup White Belt
8 Gup Yellow Belt
7 Gup Yellow Belt
6 Gup Blue Belt
5 Gup Blue Belt
4 Gup Blue Belt
3 Gup Red Belt
2 Gup Red Belt
1 Gup Red Belt
1 Dan Black Belt

Understanding the Taekwondo Black Belt
Depending upon the school and the governing body, it can take any where from one year and a half to four years to earn a 1st dan, "Degree," black belt in Taekwondo. In South Korea it commonly takes one year and a half to reach the 1st Dan Black Belt level. The minimum age one must be to obtain the Taekwondo black belt is sixteen years old. For students younger than this, who have studied Taekwondo for the necessary amount of time and have demonstrated proficiency in the art, they are awarded the junior black belt. Whereas, the adult Taekwondo black belt holder possesses a dan ranking, a junior black belt is referred to by the Korean term, "Pum."

In South Korea, a junior black belt does not wear the black belt. Instead, they wear a belt that is half red and half black. This belt signifies their junior status.

It is essential to understand that simply because one has achieved a 1st dan black belt in Taekwondo, this does not make him a master of the art. In fact, the 1st through 3rd dan black belt rankings are considered to be only advanced students of the Taekwondo. It is not until a Taekwondo practitioner reaches the 4th dan level that he is considered an instructor. One is not considered a Master of Taekwondo, "Sabumnim," until he reaches the 5th dan level.

Taekwondo Black Belt Advancement:

1st Dan Black Belt
Minimum of one and a half years of training.

2nd Dan Black Belt
Minimum of two years of continued training after receiving the 1st dan.

3rd Dan Black Belt
Minimum of three years of continued training after receiving the 2nd dan.

4th Dan Black Belt
Instructor
Minimum of four years of continued training after receiving the 3rd dan.

5th Dan Black Belt
Master
Minimum of five years of continued training after receiving the 4th dan.

6th Dan Black Belt
Minimum of six years of continued training after receiving the 5th dan.

7th Dan Black Belt
Minimum of seven years of continued training after receiving the 6th dan.
The individual must also have made a substantial contribution to the art.

8th Dan Black Belt
Grand Master
Minimum of eight years of continued training after receiving the 7th dan.

9th Dan Black Belt
Minimum of nine years of continued training after receiving the 8th dan.

10th Dan Black Belt
Founder of the system or President of an organization.

Copyright ©2003 -- All Rights Reserved.
Taken from Scott Shaw's book, Taekwondo Basics, Published by Tuttle Publications.
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.