Improvement is the sign of growth, and in martial arts, there are systems in place that indicate such progress. These systems specify a person’s abilities and are a manifestation of how far along any given person is on their martial arts journey. Taekwondo in particular indicates this growth through belt levels.
The American Taekwondo Association, or the ATA, uses a two-series colored belt system. There are 18 attainable belt levels in total, 9 in each series. Progressing through the ranks requires years of training and the mastery of a number of forms or Poomsae.
Each of these belt levels also have a stripes system, which indicate the progress of each student on a particular belt level. If a student achieves 4 stripes on their current belt, they are eligible to being promoted to the next rank.
Each of the ranks will also have a “recommended” designation or a “decided” designation. Recommended is pretty much considered a “half-rank” while a Decided is a full rank.
Students can choose whether they take belt exams half rank at a time or go for the full rank. The half rank system is designed to help students having a hard time memorizing forms to advance at a pace that they are more comfortable with.
It can be a bit overwhelming for a new Taekwondo student to keep track of the ATA belt levels, so here is a list of each Taekwondo rank, what they represent, and what you need to do in order to progress through each one.
9th Grade White Belt (Songahm-1)
This is where all Taekwondo students start their journey. The white belt is meant to signify the lack of knowledge in the martial art, where the students is supposed to be “pure” or unsullied. The white belt form has 18 moves, which the student will need to memorize in order to be eligible to advance.
8th Grade Orange Belt (Songahm-2)
This grade is the second belt level in taekwondo. Orange is meant to signify that the “seed” of knowledge has just sprouted, seeing the sunlight for the first time, though the seed has not been fully exposed to it yet.
The students have just experienced the basics of taekwondo but have not been shown the full extent and power of its techniques. In order to be eligible to advance, an orange belt student will need to learn a form with 23 moves.
7th Grade Yellow Belt (Songahm-3)
Students of this rank have just started to advance their knowledge in the basics of Taekwondo, feeling the full power of the sunlight as it were. Yellow belt students will need to learn 28 moves in their Poomsae forms in order to get a promotion.
6th Grade Camouflage Belt (Songahm-4)
The camo patterns on this belt is meant to signify a forest full of trees, where the seed of knowledge has grown into a sapling that will need to fight its way to the canopy to find sunlight. Students will start to find their place in the world of taekwondo and martial arts as a whole.
As such, on top of learning 31 moves in their Poomsae forms, they’ll also need to undergo sparring in order to advance. Sparring will now be a further requirement to advance in future ranks on top of learning new forms.
5th Grade Green Belt (Songham-5)
By this rank, the student is expected to have mastered all the basic techniques and have gained considerable power in each. The student is also expected to use each technique in complete harmony.
The green is meant to signify the pine tree of knowledge growing in strength. Much like the 6th grade, a green belt will also undergo sparring on top of learning 34 moves of their rank’s form.
4th Grade Purple Belt (Inwha-1)
This grade is the first of the “intermediate” belt levels, so a significant increase in difficulty is to be expected. Purple is meant to signify the steep mountain that the student will need to overcome in order to progress. Purple belts will need to learn a total of 44 moves in order to advance, as well as to undergoing sparring.
3rd Grade Blue Belt (Inwha-2)
The second intermediate level focuses more on polishing the techniques learned by the student up to this point. The blue represents the sky that the student will need to focus their efforts on to reach. Though there are only 42 moves in this belt level’s form, compared to the purple belt’s 44, they require a lot more precision and more concentration to complete.
2nd Grade Brown Belt (Choong Jung-1)
The first of the “advanced” belt levels, the brown belt is a preparation for the mastery needed to reach the coveted black belt level. Usually at this point, the students are encouraged to revisit their fundamentals in order to create deeper roots and create a more stable foundation in taekwondo. This belt’s form has 46 moves.
1st Grade Red Belt (Choong Jung-2)
The red in this belt is meant to represent the setting sun, where the first phase of training has ended. Students at this level are expected to have mastery of their physical skills, though not their level of control.
In order to cross the threshold into the next series of grading, they will need to hone their physical and mental discipline to near-perfection. This belt’s form contains 46 moves that need to be mastered.
Black Belt and Mastery
The black belt levels represent a new level of mastery in taekwondo. It pretty much signifies a new wall of difficulty for many taekwondo students, with each technique, form, and sparring presenting a significant challenge.
The black belt levels have 9 degrees, each one with their own specified forms, with each form containing 81 moves for the 1st degree, and up to 99 moves for the 1st degree black belt. Unlike the previous belt levels, black belts do not have a “half-rank”.
Another requirement for advancing between black belt levels is you will need to have spent a specific length of time in your current degree before you are eligible for promotion. For example, in order for a 1st degree black belt to advance to the 2nd degree, you’ll need to have been actively practicing taekwondo for at least a year to be eligible.
For a 2nd degree to get to the 3rd degree, you must have been a 2nd degree black belt for 2 years before becoming eligible, and so on. This is in contrast to the previous belt levels where students can be tested and promoted every 2-3 months.
Master levels can also be given to 6th degree black belts onwards. The mastery is represented by various colors on their uniforms. The title Master is given to a 6th degree black belt, Senior Master to a 7th degree, Chief Master to an 8th degree, and Grand Master