One important aspect in martial arts training are grading exams. They’re an excellent way of gauging a student’s progress and overall proficiency, allowing instructors to have a general idea on what lessons to teach and how far they could push their students. Taekwondo is no exception to this rule.
Taekwondo uses a color coded belt system to help distinguish the skill levels of its students. The International Taekwondo Federation, or ITF pretty much uses the same belt order system, with slight differences from other Taekwondo organizations such as the WTF and ATA.
Today, we’ll look closely at the ITF’s belt order and how a taekwondo student can progress through its system.
ITF Belt System
The ITF has 10 colored belts in its ranking system, and 9 black belt levels on top of that. Only 5 colors are used to denote ranks, each with 1 more advanced variant. White belt, for example, has a rank above it which is lower than yellow belt, usually denoted by a yellow marker at the tip of the belt.
In order to progress through the ranks, students are required to take proficiency tests, which includes doing patterns, board breaking, sparring, and tests on their knowledge of Taekwondo terminology and theory. Naturally, the complexity of each grading exam increases as the student progresses through the belt order.
To be eligible for promotion, the student will need to have been attending each class as required by their school and will need to have spent a specific amount of time in their current rank.
For a white belt to advance to a yellow tip belt, for example, the student will need to have spent at least 3 months as a white belt first. It’s also possible for a student to skip ranks if they have shown great skill, though this is usually rare, and only happens in the lower ranks.
It will take a student 3 and a half years to get from white belt to 1st degree black belt, provided that they pass all the grading exams. Of course, is they show proficiency beyond their current rank, it’s possible to get to black belt sooner by skipping certain ranks.
ITF Taekwondo Patterns (Forms)
A very important aspect of the grading exams are the patterns, otherwise known as forms. Taekwondo patterns provide students to practice certain techniques outside of sparring, and as such, can be done without a partner. Patterns are also a way to improve strength, balance and focus.
There are 24 ITF patterns overall. The number of movements in each pattern varies from 19 to as many as 72. Aside from the 24 patterns, there are 2 other basic patterns that are specifically tailored to white belts and yellow tip belts.
These patterns usually start from a defensive stance, due to Taekwondo being a primarily defense-focus martial art. Students are expected to start and end their pattern at roughly the same place. This indicates that they’re able to use proper distancing and reach.
ITF Belt and Rank Order
White Belt (10th Geup)
This rank is where Taekwondo students begin. The white is meant to signify innocence from Taekwondo, given that newer students have no experience with it whatsoever. In order to be eligible for promotion, a student will need to stay as a white belt for 3 months. The student will also be required to know the Saju Jirugi pattern, which has 15 moves, and the Saju Makgi, which has 19 moves, in order to be promoted.
White Belt with Yellow Tip (9th Geup)
The 9th Geup rank are composed of newer students who have very basic knowledge of taekwondo. They’re still considered new, but not as much as the white belts. Students of this rank will have to wait 3 months before getting promoted and must learn the 19 movements of the Chon Ji pattern.
Yellow Belt (8th Geup)
Yellow belt students represent people who have a firm grasp of the basics. Still considered new, but have considerable experience already. The yellow on their belts is meant to signify the soil where the seeds of knowledge have been planted and are already sprouting. Yellow belt students will need to wait 4 months before being eligible for promotion. They are also required to learn the Dan Gun pattern, which has 21 movements.
Yellow Belt with Green Tip (7th Geup)
Green tip yellow belts are a rank higher than yellow belt students. Students are expected to stay here for 4 months before moving on. For their proficiency exam, they’re expected to perform the Do San pattern, which has 24 moves.
Green Belt (6th Geup)
Students at this stage have grown significantly in their skills, though still have much to learn. The green coloration is meant to represent the seed of knowledge growing into a plant.
And like a plant, the student has already taken root in taekwondo, but still has a long way to go. There’s a 4 month minimum requirement for green belts before they can advance, and they’ll also need to learn the Won Hyo Pattern, which has 28 movements.
Green Belt with Blue Tip (5th Geup)
This belt level represents a middle point for green belt and blue belt. This stage is where younger students are prepared to transition into the intermediate belt levels. Students will need to wait another 4 months before advancement and are expected to learn the 38 movements of the Yul Gok pattern.
Blue Belt (4th Geup)
The blue color for this belt level represents the blue sky which the plant of knowledge will start aiming for. The blue belt is considered an intermediate level, and students are expected to wait 4 months before advancement. They are also expected to learn the Joong Gun pattern, which has 32 moves.
Blue Belt with Red Tip (3rd Geup)
The transitional level between blue belts and the advanced red belts. The waiting time here will last 5 months, and students will also need to learn the 37 moves of the Toi Gye pattern.
Red Belt (2nd Geup)
The red belt represents the first of the advanced levels, where students have a firm grasp of the techniques, but not the mental nuances associated with them.
The red color is meant to represent the danger of using techniques not tempered with caution, and also as a warning to keep opponents away. Students are required to stay here for 6 months before advancing to the next stage. They will also need to learn the 29 moves of the Hwa Rang pattern.
Red Belt with Black Tip (1st Geup)
This level is the final stage a student gets before they move on to the mastery levels of the black belt. Students are expected to further enhance their mental discipline and control for at least 6 months before becoming eligible for advancement. They will also need to learn the Choong-Moo pattern, which contains 30 moves.
Black Belt Levels (1st Dan to 9th Dan)
The black belt in the ITF represents a significant mastery over taekwondo. Instructors will need to be at least this level before they are allowed to teach. 1st Dan black belts aren’t considered instructors at all, while 2nd Dan and 3rd Dan black belts are only allowed assistant instructor status. 8th Dan black belts are considered Masters, while 9th Dan black belts are considered Grand Masters.
The amount of time between each examination is also increased dramatically, from 1 and a half years for 1st Dan black belts to 8 years for 8th Dan black belts.
Another aspect that separates black belts over the previous levels is the number of patterns they will need to master before they can advance. Unlike the previous levels where a student is only required to master 1 pattern per level, black belts will need to master at least 3 patterns before being eligible for advancement.