Taekwondo belts are awarded to the students of this martial art to rank them and represent the stage they are currently at in their journey towards becoming master practitioners. The system of belts used today is common to almost all martial arts.
Belts in taekwondo, signify progress and make its students feel more connected and committed to their art form. To learn more about how this practice began and the true significance of the belt system, keep reading.
What Is Taekwondo?
Taekwondo is a martial art style that emphasizes perfecting different forms of kicks, such as head kicks, spinning kicks, leg sweeps, and more. It involves rigorous training to achieve better speed and timing and also includes punching techniques.
The word taekwondo in Korean translates to:
Tae – meaning kicking with the foot.
Kwon – meaning punching with the fists.
Do – means art, or way of.
When combined, it means the way of fighting with your hands and feet as though they were one. It’s a pretty crude definition but it characterizes the techniques of taekwondo along with the mindset its practitioners strive to achieve.
History of Taekwondo
In the Korean kingdom of Koguryo, there is a mural painted on the wall of a tomb dating back to 37 BC. It depicts two fighters facing each other in battle using stances practiced in taekwondo today. They’re also shown wearing similar uniforms that are called “dobok.”
Taekwondo was used to train soldiers for unarmed combat and was called “Tae Kyon” at the time. The Kingdom of Silla, where Tae Kyon reached its zenith, established a class of elite warriors trained in Tae Kyon who were known as the “Hwarangs,” which means “flower of youth.”
In the 1940s, there were several new martial arts schools being established by masters with Chinese or Japanese martial arts backgrounds. These schools were called “Kwans.” They each practiced a moderately unique style but drew strong influence from Taekyyon, a traditional Korean martial art.
A 1952 demonstration by one of the kwans made South Korean president Syngman Rhee urge all Kwans to practice and create a unified system of martial arts that could be taught to the army. This became known as, you guessed it, taekwondo.
Taekwondo thus has had a long history of being constantly perfected. Today, it is a combat sport practiced in 206 different countries and is also part of the Olympics.
What Is a Taekwondo Belt?
A taekwondo belt acts as proof of a certain level of competence in the art achieved by the holder. The ranks, however, are not standardized. Many people are mistaken that there is only one universal belt system in taekwondo, but in reality, there are many.
Typically, belt holders in taekwondo can be divided into two sections — juniors and seniors. In Dojangs, which is what formal training halls are called, these are colloquially referred to as “colored belts” and “black belts.”
Colored belts can range from white, which is the lowest rank, to red or brown depending on the ranking system. The belt colors can be solid or include a color stripe. What this means is, if the next solid color after white was yellow, you’d be promoted in the order — white, white with yellow stripe, and then yellow.
The Order of The Belts and Their Meaning
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There are many styles and organizations of taekwondo with subtle differences in their training, forms, and ranking systems. Here are the generally accepted colored belt rankings as well as their meaning and significance, not only in taekwondo but for almost all martial arts.
#1. White Belt
The color white represents the purity and innocence of an individual about to start his journey in martial art with no knowledge of it.
When something is white, it means they are like a blank canvas that can be dyed in any color. The white belt holder has no preconceptions about a martial art that impedes anything “new” from being absorbed. They are transient, and when guided well, they can transcend in both physical as well as mental aspects of their life.
#2. Yellow Belt
Yellow is a stand-in for gold, which symbolizes truth. At this stage, the individual needs to abandon their pride, conceit, and/or all egoistical behaviors to commit to their goal of growth.
Yellow represents seeds. It takes a quality seed to create a quality plant. And what the seed will grow into has already been decided. The seed must not expect to grow into something it is not. In simpler words, the yellow belt is about self-acceptance of who we are as individuals.
#3. Green Belt
Green represents when the plant has germinated and is growing to reach the skies. Growth often comes with change, which can be challenging for students with insecurities or worries. One must accept change and keep moving forward because growth is essential to living.
At this stage instructors usually tell their students to go back and practice the fundamentals over and over again. Doing so will build a stronger foundation for your growth and help you weather change.
#4. Blue Belt
Blue symbolizes the sky that the plant is rapidly growing out towards now. However, our naked eyes cannot comprehend the full vastness of the sky. We also can’t tell how deep water is under the continuously moving current.
Blue belts represent the newly acquired maturity of the students who are awarded for their determination and perseverance in face of the uncertainty that is the sky.
#5. Red Belt
Red symbolizes blood and fire. It is a warning to students that, yes, they have achieved a great deal of proficiency and have come far. But their skills are not fully honed and that there are still ways to go; until then, they present a danger to others or themselves.
Strong physical development requires adjacent mental development. At this juncture, students evaluate their progress, try to get a better understanding of their limitations, and figure out what they need to do to reach their ultimate goal.
#6. Black Belt
What happens when you combine all the colors of the spectrum? You get black. The black belt is the sum of all the concepts underlying the previously attained colors.
The black represents a student’s commitment to the value system, years of dedication, and being able to overcome pride. It doesn’t mean your journey is over, however, rather it is a fresh start.
The student now has a responsibility to use the tools he’s been given rightly and to acquire the infinite amount of knowledge that yet remains to be discovered. Black belts are qualified as well as encouraged to pass on knowledge and motivation to others and help them along in their journey.
Special Order of Belts for Different Organizations
There are three major worldwide organizations of taekwondo with their own standardized belt system. All of them include the concept of the striped belt. The stripe is usually awarded before a student is promoted to the next color to represent the achievement of a short-term goal that brings them closer to the next color.
ITF (International Taekwondo Foundation)
ITF was founded in 1966 by Army General Choi Hong Hi to promote the spread of taekwondo in Korea. It has 10 levels up to the black belt, called “Gups,” and 9 dans after.
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#2. White with Gold Stripe
#4. Gold with green stripe
#6. Green with blue stripe
#8. Blue with red stripe
#10. Red with black stripe
World taekwondo is a worldwide taekwondo governing body that practices a point-based system similar to the Olympics. The world taekwondo belt system is used by a majority of schools over the world and has the following ranks.
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#7. Blue Sr. (Black stripe across the belt from end to end)
#9. Brown Sr. (Black stripe across the belt from end to end)
#11. Jr. Black (half-red, half-black belt)
ATA (American Taekwondo Association)
ATA is pretty dominant in the United States but has a weak presence in other parts of the world. ATA has 9 colored belts before reaching the black belt.
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How to Tie A Taekwondo Belt?
Wrap the belt around your waist by layering each loop over the other evenly. Hold both ends in each of your hands. If they’re not even, pull and adjust accordingly so they’re at even length. Tie a strong knot over the waistline, and that should do it.
Check out this video if you would like to see a full demonstration.
Black Belts for Children Under the Age Of 15
On average, it takes 4 to 5 years for a student to be awarded a black belt. So students who begin their training early in life could reach the black belt at an early age. Regardless of their experience, however, many of them wouldn’t be a match for fully-grown adults with lower belts and this is not reflective of their skill. It’s just age.
Children under 15 are awarded a certificate when they reach the black belt stage. Once they’re older, this can be converted for an actual 1st-degree black belt as well as a dan certificate that allows you to continue your training and be further promoted.
How to Wash A Taekwondo Belt?
Do not wash your belt in a washing machine because that might shrink the material. Some instructors tell their students not to wash their belts because it might ruin the belt or loosen the stripes earned.
If you’re washing your belt, wash it in cold water manually. Fill your sink up with cold water, add some vinegar to help kill germs as well as foul smells, and a little bit of detergent. You will start to see some studs. Gently scrub your taekwondo belt clean and air-dry it.
For a demonstration, check it below.
What is the required time to advance in ranks?
As we mentioned earlier, it can take anywhere between 4 and 5 years, provided there are no hiatuses in training.
How do taekwondo schools promote practitioners for belts?
Promotions are made based on tests conducted every 3 to 6 months. The duration between each test varies from school to school.
How long does it take to get a black belt in taekwondo?
On average, it takes 4.5 years of continuous training.
What does dan mean in Taekwondo?
Dans are basically the levels of promotion post the black belt. They’re there to show that, even for a black belt, the journey has far from ended.
A Few Parting Words
Belts and rankings are essential to martial arts. Not just for the sense of accomplishment it gives students or as a representative of their present skill, but also because growth happens in the same stages for all of us, none of us are made that different. And Taekwondo belts symbolize the students’ journey.
Taekwondo aims to strengthen both the mind and body to weather changes while unifying us under a common discipline.