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ITF Taekwondo Belt Order and Color Meanings

The belt system used by those of us that practice taekwondo, according to the teachings of General Choi Hong Hi, is pretty simple.

White Belt – This is where everyone begins. The color white symbolizes the student’s innocence and ignorance of taekwondo. (A student with a white belt is classified as 10th Gup.)

White Belt with Yellow Stripe – This is the next step, and the only step that is sometimes skipped for quick-learning students. (9th Gup)

Yellow Belt – The first full color, this belt means that the student is beginning to learn and create a foundation in taekwondo. The color yellow represents the ground or earth in which the seed of knowledge has been planted and will grow.

Yellow Belt with Green Stripe

Green Belt – This belt is in my experience, a milestone. I would say that most people never make it past this point. The student’s taekwondo knowledge and experience is growing at a good pace now. The color green represents the plant as it sprouts and begins to grow.

Green Belt with Blue Stripe

Blue Belt – At this point, the student should have a good foundation in taekwondo and is prepared to begin learning more advanced techniques and theories. The color represents the sky toward which the plant reaches as it matures into a tree.

Blue Belt with Red Stripe

Red Belt – My favorite definition: The red belt is a student who knows quite a bit about taekwondo, enough to be dangerous. Now, the student must learn control, a crucial skill. The color red signifies danger, warning others to stay away and reminding the student to practice control.

Red Belt with Black Stripe

Black Belt (1st degree) – This is the end of the introductory stages. On average, this rank takes 3-5 years to reach. Traditionally, only after achieving the rank of black belt, is the pupil considered to be true student of taekwondo. It is without a doubt a great mark of progress, but is far from the end. Truly, it is only the beginning. The definition of the color black is simple the opposite of the color white.

Novice Black Belt (1st-3rd degree) – This first three ranks of black belt are designated as Novice. The student should concentrate on perfecting (or at least thoroughly understanding) the basics that they have learned while also learning a good bit of new material. The student is also considered an Assistant Instructor during these ranks, addressed as Bo-Sabum.

Expert Black Belt (4th-6th degree) On average, the student has been an actively training and advancing black belt for 9-10 years before they may test for 4th degree. It is a very serious achievement, the student having been training as a black belt about twice as long as they were a colored belt. During this stage, the student should have enough understanding of taekwondo to begin pursuing theory more deeply. Many students begin to specialize as well. The student is considered an Instructor and is addressed as Sabum.

Master Black Belt (7th-8th degree) – Students who achieve this rank have probably been an active black belt for close to 30 years. They are very knowledgeable. At this point, the student is no longer allowed to compete at most tournaments. (Feel free to join me in pondering this.) There are no more formal examinations to gain rank after this point. The student is expected to pursue further knowledge about taekwondo with little or no oversight. Most masters only teach other black belts, leaving the colored belts to the lower ranks. The student is now called Sa-Hyong, or Master Instructor.

Grandmaster (9th degree) – The ultimate rank in traditional taekwondo, there are very few who have made it this far and they are considered to be the greatest experts on the art of taekwondo. The student is now called Grandmaster or Sa-Song.

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