Taekwondo Belts Ranking Systems ? [ Full Guide ]

The Taekwondo belt ranking system, deeply rooted in its historical development, reflects a structured and disciplined progression for practitioners. Originating from the colored belt system of Judo in 20th-century Japan, Taekwondo adapted this concept to suit its unique style and philosophy. Understanding how Taekwondo belt promotion works is crucial for practitioners as they progress through the ranks.

The system is divided into two main categories: the Junior group (geups) and the Senior group (Dan). In the Junior group, practitioners start with a white belt, symbolizing the beginning of their Taekwondo journey, and progress through various colored belts, each representing a different level of skill and knowledge. The ITF system includes 10 color belts, while the WT system has 12.

Upon completing the Junior ranks, students enter the Senior group, where they pursue various degrees of black belts, known as Dan ranks. This progression is marked by rigorous testing, including demonstrations of Poomsae, sparring, board breaking, and theoretical knowledge.

The journey to each belt, particularly the coveted black belt, requires dedication and consistent effort, typically taking an average student 3 to 5 years to reach the 1st Dan. However, the time frame can vary based on individual talent, fitness, and the specific standards of the Taekwondo school.

The highest achievable rank in Taekwondo is the 9th Dan Black Belt, also known as the “Grand Master” rank. While the 10th Dan is traditionally awarded posthumously, there have been rare exceptions. The commitment to reaching such high degrees of mastery in Taekwondo signifies a lifelong dedication to the martial art.

How to throw a haymaker punch in boxing is a skill quite distinct from Taekwondo, yet it highlights the diversity and richness of martial arts techniques.

History Of Taekwondo Belt Ranking System

Taekwondo (TKD) was born in the 1950s in South Korea, but its belt ranking system predates its inception. The foundational elements of this system weren’t originally conceived by the founders of TKD, such as Hong Choi and other kwan leaders. Instead, they embraced the colored belt system from Judo, adapting it to fit the nuances of Taekwondo.

The roots of the colored belt system in Taekwondo trace back to 20th-century Japan, where Judo’s founder, Kano Jigoro, a visionary in martial arts, was formulating a distinctive grading system. His objective was to establish distinct ranks to differentiate students and competitors based on their skill levels.

Inspired by the strategic intricacies of the Japanese board game “go,” akin to chess, he introduced the concept of colored belts. Initially, this system comprised only four colors: white, blue, brown, and black. Jigoro’s system proved to be so effective and adaptable that it was soon incorporated into other martial arts, including Karate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and TKD. While each discipline tailored the system to its specific requirements, the fundamental principle of the colored belt ranking remained consistent across these arts. For those interested in delving deeper into the history and significance of colored belt ranking systems in martial arts, there are numerous informative online videos available that provide insights into the evolution of this concept and its impact on various disciplines worldwide.

Taekwondo Belt Ranking System Explained 

In Taekwondo, practitioners encounter two primary belt ranking systems, namely World Taekwondo (WT) and International Taekwondo Federation (ITF). This article delves into both systems, highlighting their unique aspects. A key point to note is that both WT and ITF categorize their rankings into two distinct groups.

Firstly, there’s the Junior group, known as “geups”, which comprises color belts. The ITF system includes 10 color belts, while the WT system incorporates 12. Every practitioner begins their journey with a white belt, symbolizing the start of their Taekwondo training. They then progress through up to eight additional color belt ranks before attaining the ultimate goal – the black belt.

The second category is the Senior group, referred to as “Dan”, which represents various degrees of black belts. In Korean, ‘Dan’ signifies a degree or level. This group consists of nine distinct black belt ranks. A student enters the Dan ranking after successfully navigating through all the junior geup ranks.

It’s important to understand that while the Dan levels are consistent across both WT and ITF styles, the junior belt systems vary between them. The following is a comprehensive list of all the junior geup color ranks in Taekwondo.

International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) junior belt ranks:

World Taekwondo (wt) Belt Ranks: 

How Do You Progress in Taekwondo?

tae kwon do belts

Advancing in Taekwondo involves a structured process of belt testing, which is typically held every two to four months, varying from one school to another. To ascend to a higher rank, students must successfully pass these tests, which are overseen by a panel of judges and coaches. The tests are designed to assess the student’s proficiency in both technical and tactical aspects of Taekwondo, appropriate to the rank they aspire to achieve. While initial tests for lower ranks are relatively simpler, the difficulty escalates as students progress to higher ranks.

During these tests, students are required to perform a series of tasks:

  • Demonstrating Poomsae, which are patterns or forms comprising various blocks, punches, and kicks. This is a solo performance where precision and flawless execution of techniques are crucial.
  • Engaging in sparring sessions to showcase the practical application of learned techniques in a combative scenario.
  • Board breaking to exhibit strength and control.
  • Physical fitness exercises to prove their physical capabilities.
  • Theoretical examinations that test their knowledge of Taekwondo’s terminology, concepts, and history.

For those in the senior (Dan) ranks, a written test is often a prerequisite before proceeding to the practical examination.

In some schools, consistent attendance and loyalty are also factors in belt promotion. Students are expected to regularly attend classes, participate in special training sessions, and engage in school events, adhering to all rules and regulations.

The time it takes to progress from one rank to another varies depending on the student’s current level. Lower ranks often see quicker progression due to less complex testing requirements, typically involving 8 to 9 offensive and defensive forms and an improved fitness level. However, as students reach intermediate and advanced ranks, the pace of progression slows, and the tests become more challenging.

It’s important to note that the criteria and pace of progression can differ significantly between schools. Some schools may have less stringent testing, allowing for faster advancement through the ranks. However, achieving a black belt rapidly might mean a compromise in proficiency compared to those who train in traditional dojos with more rigorous standards.

How Long Does It Take to Get Each Belt in Taekwondo?

How Long Does It Take to Get a Black Belt in Taekwondo?

Typically, a student of average ability and fitness can expect to attain the black belt rank (1st Dan) in Taekwondo within a span of 3 to 5 years. This timeframe, however, can vary based on several factors, including the student’s natural talent, physical fitness, commitment, and enthusiasm for the sport. It’s important to note that achieving a black belt in under three years is nearly impossible due to the rigorous standards set for promotion.

Nevertheless, some Taekwondo schools may have more lenient promotional criteria, allowing students to advance through the ranks more rapidly, potentially earning a black belt in under three years. Certain schools might even promise a black belt within two years. It is advisable to steer clear of such low-standard martial arts schools.

Possessing a black belt is an admirable achievement, but its value diminishes if the skill level does not match the rank. In essence, a legitimately trained blue belt from a traditional dojo with stringent promotion standards could be more adept than someone who has been fast-tracked to a black belt in a shorter period.

Students who rapidly achieve black belts often struggle in competitions due to inadequate skill development. Thus, for those serious about excelling in Taekwondo, it is crucial to avoid schools offering quick advancement to black belt status without the necessary skill development.

What Is The Highest Degree of TKD Black Belt You Can Earn?

In the realm of Taekwondo, the pinnacle of achievement is the 9th Dan Black Belt, commonly referred to as the “Grand Master” rank. This esteemed level is the zenith for living practitioners, as the 10th Dan Black Belt is traditionally bestowed posthumously. An exceptional case in this regard was Kim Ki-Wang, who was awarded the 10th Dan while on his deathbed in 1993, marking a rare deviation from the norm.

Within the World Taekwondo (WT) framework, there have been six individuals who have been honored with the 10th Dan Black Belt, and 45 who have reached the 9th Dan. In contrast, the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) has recognized 39 individuals with the 9th Dan Black Belt, but none have been awarded the 10th Dan. Notable figures who have achieved the highest 10th Dan rank in WT include Choi Joon, Lee Moo-yong, Kim Ki-whang, Lee Jong-soo (also known as Chong Lee), Sell Edward B, and Pan Sim-woon.

This distinction underscores the exceptional dedication and mastery required to attain the highest degrees in Taekwondo, reflecting a lifelong commitment to the art.

TKD Belts Vs Karate Belts – Difference And Comparison


Q1: What is the significance of belt colors in Taekwondo and Karate?

Answer: In both Taekwondo and Karate, belt colors represent a student’s progress and proficiency in the martial art. Each color symbolizes a different stage of knowledge and skill. For example, white typically represents a beginner, while black signifies a high level of expertise and mastery.

Q2: How often do students typically test for new belts in Taekwondo and Karate?

Answer: The frequency of belt testing varies among schools and styles, but it’s common for students to test for new belts every 3-6 months. This can depend on the student’s progress, attendance, and mastery of required techniques.

Q3: Can a student transfer their belt rank from Karate to Taekwondo or vice versa?

Answer: Generally, belt ranks are not transferable between different martial arts due to differences in techniques, philosophies, and ranking systems. A student switching from Karate to Taekwondo, or vice versa, typically starts at a beginner level to learn the specific techniques and principles of the new martial art.

Q4: Are there age-specific belt systems in Taekwondo and Karate for children?

Answer: Yes, many schools have age-specific belt systems, especially for children. These systems often include additional belt colors or stripes to provide younger students with more frequent progression milestones.

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