If you are looking into the various belt colors and ranks in Taekwondo and feeling a bit confused, don’t worry, that is fairly normal. Taekwondo schools have a habit of mixing in a few extra belts of their own, making it difficult for someone to determine what the official belt colors and associated ranks are in Taekwondo.
For many newbies to Taekwondo, working through the various belt colors and finally achieving that much-coveted black belt is what it is all about.
Taekwondo belt levels fall into 3 main categories:
- Gup – the colored belt rank.
- Poom – the junior Black Belt for students under 15 years old.
- Dan – the full Black Belt rank which is only available to students over 15 years old.
These 3 categories actually have several belts and ranks within them.
Whoa, belt ranks within belt ranks? How does that work? If that’s what you are thinking, you are not alone. I was wondering the very same thing when I first started looking into Taekwondo, and this is where things can get sketchy from one school to the next.
The school that you are learning Taekwondo with might have a completely different belt system structure within those 3 ranks than mine does. Do not worry though – as long as you have a general idea, the school is legitimately certified and your instructor is experienced, you can’t really go wrong.
Below, I explain a bit more about each of these categories and the belts and ranks that fall within them. Read on to learn more.
Three Main Taekwondo Belt Categories and the Belts Within them
Understanding the main ranks and belts that fall into them can be tricky, so I have broken down the belt system of a typical Taekwondo school. Your school should have something quite similar, even if there are a few variations.
1. Gup rank – Junior Colored Belt Ranks.
All Taekwondo students start off in the Gup rank. What is the Gup rank, and what does it mean?
It is sometimes also referred to as the “Kup” rank or “Geup” rank – all of which translates to “grade”. This is basically the most junior of ranks in Taekwondo. In the Gup rank, there are 9 levels or ranks, and students have to work their way up.
The first belt that a student gets is white, and the last one they get before they progress to the Poom rank is usually red with a black or a white stripe. You can expect the series of belts to look something like this:
- White belt
- Yellow belt
- Yellow belt with a green stripe
- Green belt
- Green belt with a blue stripe
- Blue belt
- Blue belt with a red stripe
- Red belt
- Red belt with black or white stripe
In most schools, students are allowed to test for the next grade every 4 months or so, depending on their progress and skill.
2. Poom rank – Junior Black Belt.
The Poom rank is essentially the transitional or interim rank where students move from the junior color belt grades and into the adult degrees. If a Taekwondo student reaches Black Belt status but is under the age of 15 years, he will be awarded a Poom rank.
The Poom belt essentially indicates that a student has met the requirements academically and in terms of skills, but is not of the same performance in self-defense skills as an adult. It is an honor to be awarded a Poom belt under the age of 15 years. Students that do so show great promise in the art of Taekwondo.
3. Dan rank – Full Black Belt
Students who have progressed through all of the colored belts of the Gup rank can move onto training for a full Black Belt or Dan. There are also 9 belts and ranks that fall within the Dan category. Each of these Black Belts is referred to as a Dan or a Degree. Unlike the junior levels, students start on the first belt in the category and work their way through them.
When you look at a Dan belt, the number of gold bars on the belt will indicate which degree they are in. Here is what you can expect in terms of Dan Black Belts when training:
- 1st Dan Black Belt usually tested for 1 year after receiving your final colored belt or Poom Black Belt.
- 2nd Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 3 or 4 years of training.
- 3rd Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 4 or 5 years of training.
- 4th Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 5 or 6 years of training.
- 5th Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 6 or 7 years of training.
- 6th Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 7 or 8 years of training.
- 7th Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 8 or 9 years of training.
- 8th Dan Black Belt usually tested for after 9 or 10 years of training.
- 9th Dan Black Belt usually achieved after 10 to 12 years of practice.
What Happens When You Complete All of the Belts and Ranks?
Some students wonder what’s left after completing all Taekwondo training.
For starters, Taekwondo 9th Dan Black Belt is very rarely achieved. In order to be a Master, you have to achieve 5th Dan Black Belt or higher. That being said, those that reach the very end of their training and considered competent are encouraged to start the entire course from the very start so that they can continue to perfect their technique.
The general idea is that there is always room for brushing up, learning, and improvement.
Why Are Belt Ranks and Colors Used in Taekwondo?
You would be forgiven for thinking that Taekwondo belt colors are randomly chosen, especially in the junior levels. This is not the case. Each and every color is symbolic and has deep meaning. While each school varies in its interpretations and symbolism, this is the generally accepted meaning of belt colors:
- White belts: these belts signify a type of innocence. It basically means that the student is starting with a clean slate, and there is room for growth and development.
- Yellow belts: this color symbolizes a new plant sprouting and setting down roots in the ground. It is symbolic of the earth and the start of new life.
- Green belts: green belts are a sign of the development of skills in a student. It is symbolic of the plant beginning to grow and flourish.
- Blue belts: the symbolism of a blue belt is that of the student (or plant) growing heavenwards. Then plant grows towards the heavens it signifies progress.
- Red belts: a red belt symbolizes danger. When students reach the red belt rank, it has deep meaning. It signifies that students need to be cautious with their newly formed skills and not take them for granted.
- Black belts: black belts are opposite to white belts in that black is a sign of maturity, knowledge, skill. A black belt indicates a student’s competency in all the principles and techniques of Taekwondo.
What is the Process of Testing for the Next Belt Level?
In most circles, it is considered poor manners if a student currently with a colored belt or a Poom belt personally asks to test for the next level. It is the responsibility and privilege of the Master to recommend when he/she feels you are ready to test for the next level.
Be patient and keep working on your technique. The right time will come when your instructor sees that you have grown and are maturing in the art.
The Importance of the Belt
As a belt is a symbolic representation of where you are in your training and of course your maturity in the art of self-defense, it is expected that you respect your belt and those of others. Everyone is on their own unique journey, and their belt is vastly important to their progress.
While some schools reissue black belts, many masters find it honorable to have just one original Black Belt that is kept over the years. Yes, it may fray and fade in color, but that is merely an indication of many years of dedication and hard work.
Look after your belt to ensure that it stays in good condition but avoid replacing it or sewing your details into it. Some believe that that is just taking away from the deeper meaning and symbolism of your belt.
While it is evident that various schools incorporate more colored belts to help keep students motivated and working hard towards their next goal, some stick more closely to the simplicity of the 3 main categories. If you want to join a Taekwondo school, ask them about their belt ranking system, and assess whether it is a ranking system that fits in closely with the 3 categories.