Wilde Lake Karate & Learning Center



(410) 884-7340

When you first walk into a dojang, you notice that the students are wearing white uniforms and
belts of various colors. You may wonder what is the significance of the different color belts. The
belt colors signify the approximate Taekwondo skill levels of the wearers.

In the dojang, there is no age, gender, cultural, or racial barriers; all students begin their training at
the lowest skill level, the white belt. Each student then trains and progresses at his or her own rate in
accordance to his or her own desire and ability. During this training process, students develop
proficiency at performing Taekwondo techniques, while also developing the physical characteristics of
strength, stamina, quickness, flexibility, coordination, and balance. They develop the important mental
characteristics of patience, humility, self-control, perseverance, concentration, and respect. They also
gain knowledge about Taekwondo and its origin. As students develop these skills, physical and mental
characteristics, and knowledge, they are awarded colored belts to signify their level of knowledge and

 A specific colored belt is awarded to a student based upon his or her meeting the minimum
requirements for the belt and for his or her demonstration of skills during a test that are substantially improved from his or her last belt test. Belts are awarded to students based on
improvement of their own personal skills. For this reason, belts give only a rough estimate of a
student's Taekwondo skills.  One red belt student may display extraordinary skills in comparison to
another red belt student. It may appear that the lesser skilled red belt does not deserve the red belt,
when in actuality, he or she trained an extraordinary number of hours and showed great progress to
earn the belt in comparison to the more skilled red belt who was able to easily learn the skills in short

 The final goal of Taekwondo is supposed to be the "perfection of human character." However, many
times this goal is forgotten. If you listen to Taekwondo students talk to each other, you would think
the goal to Taekwondo is to make everyone a superb fighter. If a student goes to every tournament and loses every match, some feel they do not deserve their present rank and should not be promoted.
However, a student who persists and continues to improve his or her skills, is always congratulatory
to the winners, and cheers for teammates is more deserving of promotion than a superb fighter who is
many times self-congratulatory and neglects others. Rank is determined by many factors, having a true
"Taekwondo spirit" is foremost among them.
Anyone who is willing to make the commitment of time and effort may learn Taekwondo and advance
through the belt system. For some, advancement may take longer than for others due to time conflicts
with other phases of life, money problems, physical differences, physical or mental disabilities, or
injuries. However, since belt advancement is awarded on personal improvement, anyone who preservers
may reach the black belt level. The secret to earning a Taekwondo black belt is simplecommitment.
 Colored belts signify the position/rank of each student in the dojang hierarchy. The higher the
belt/rank, the more respect is deserved. After years of studying and training, a student may advance
to the top of the belt/rank hierarchy, the black belt level.
Since rank is awarded based on tenure,
performing certain minimum skills, and on making substantial personal improvement, it is more a social
and psychological status than it is an indicator of fighting ability. A higher rank many times indicates
the person has higher tenure in the dojang/organization, not necessarily that the person has a higher
skill level than the lower ranks. Skill level does not always equate to rank. Just because a young red
belt may be able to consistently beat an older 6th degree, it does not demean the 6th degree nor raise
the red belt's esteem.
The practice of Taekwondo requires strict order and discipline, which comes from respect of the
seniority of the belt system. The more respect a student has for the significance of the belt system, the
more serious he or she may become in his or her Taekwondo training.

Endless Cycle of Learning

    "If you seek the answers long enough, you will find that they were always present at the beginning."
Such is the Taekwondo belt system. As students near the end of their journey to black belt, they find
the answers they were seeking were always present at the white belt level, they just were not aware
of the answers at that point.

 Belt Ranks

    In the Taekwondo belt/rank system, each student begins training as a 9th gup (class) white belt, progresses through the color gup belts, earns a 1st dan (degree) black belt, and may conceivably eventually progress to the highest rank, 9th dan black belt. There are three distinct groups of Taekwondo belts: white (beginner), the colors (amateur), and black (expert). Black belt degrees are also divided into three distinct groups. The first group consists of first through third degree black belts, which are the novice dans where students are still considered beginners in comparison to the higher degrees. At the fourth degree black belt level, students enter the next group, the expert group (4th through 5th degrees). They are considered Taekwondo experts who know everything their is to know about the technical aspects of Taekwondo. Sixth through ninth degree black belts are considered the masters, the elite who fully understand all the mental and physical elements of Taekwondo and have devoted their entire lives to its practice. Basically, first through fifth degree black belts are awarded based on what the person can do and sixth through ninth degree are awarded on what the person has done for Taekwondo and the certifying organization.

Ranks below black belt, range from 9th gup (lowest) to 1st gup (highest). In contrast, black belts range
from 1st dan (lowest) to 9th dan (highest). Therefore, gups descend from 9 to 1, whereas dans ascend
from 1 to 9. This inverted progression stems from the eastern belief that all life develops in and
descends from heaven, lives on the earth, and then returns to to heaven. Nine is the highest single
integer in the decimal system and, in some eastern cultures, it represents the highest attainable goal
or heaven.

    In the Orient, three is the most esteemed of all the numbers. The Chinese character for 3 contains three lines: the upper line symbolizes heaven; the middle line symbolizes mortals; and the bottom line symbolizes earth. Eastern belief was that a King was one who could link these three things (God, mankind, and country) so the Chinese character for three and the one for King are nearly synonymous. As mentioned above, there are three groups of Taekwondo belts and three groups of back belts. When the number three is multiplied by itself, the product is nine, the highest integer. So, the numbers three and nine are important in the Taekwondo belt system.

    The number nine is interesting in another way. When it is multiplied by any of the integers, and the individual integers of the product are added together, the answer is always nine, i.e. 9 times 1 equals 9, 9 times 2 equals 18 and 1 plus 8 equals 9. etc. Nine is the only integer having this property. 

Purpose of Belts

    In Korea, the ordinary belt is addressed as "horitti" or "yodae" (meaning waist belt). The belt used in Taekwondo is called "tti." In Taekwondo, the belt serves the utilitarian purpose of holding the uniform together, but its main purpose is to document a student's progression through Taekwondo. Just as the "The sapling is hidden amongst the taller oak trees and must fight its way upward," students must struggle to achieve Taekwondo proficiency. The belt system rewards them for their struggle and perseverance and encourages them to develop their skills, discipline, and self-control so they may progress to even higher belt levels. Belt color denotes the proficiency level of the wearer and it is the outward expression of the wearer's inner level of confidence and wisdom.

Belts also help an instructor properly manage a training class. From the front of a class, an instructor may quickly evaluate the training levels of the entire class using the belts the students are wearing. An instructor may determine the following from the belts the students are wearing:

  • The overall skill level of the class, using the number of yellow belts, green belts, blue belts, etc.
  • The approximate skill level of each student.
  • The approximate physical fitness level of each student.
  • The approximate number of months/years each student has been training.
  • The approximate level of commitment of each student.
  • What patterns, step-sparring sequences, and techniques each student knows.
  • What patterns, step-sparring sequences, and techniques each student needs to learn.
  • Whether a student is allowed to free spar.
  • The approximate sparring ability of each student.

    An instructor may glean all this information from the belts students are wearing, whether it be in the instructor's own class or in a class with which the instructor is unfamiliar. Therefore, a visiting instructor knows how to manage a class of students he or she has never seen before.

Care of Belt

    Do not wash the belt, clean stains individually. To relax a new belt so it will hang freely, continuously crush it into a ball with the hands and store it in this shape. A belt may be stretched by hanging it over the top of a door and pulling down on the ends of the belt.

Belt/Rank Structure

    There are numerous Taekwondo organizations, each with a different system of belt ranks, colors, and color symbolism that may or may not conform to the traditional Taekwondo belt structure. Some organizations have less or more gups and dans than the traditional nine. Different organizations use different belt colors (some even use a camouflage color). Some use a stripe that runs the length of the belt or use various colored horizontal stripes at the ends of the belt (similar to black belt stripes) to differentiate between ranks of the same color. 

    Short black stripes at the tips of belts signify completion of specific skill level tests The symbolism and meaning for each belt relate a student's growth in Taekwondo knowledge and skills to the growth of a oak seed into a mighty oak tree.