Taekwondo’s belt system corresponds to rank earned by demonstrating a proficiency of required martial skills and parallels a student’s growth and knowledge in the martial
In Taekwondo, as with any martial art, skills and knowledge increase in direct proportion to the length time spent training. Curriculums may differ from school to school but most have a ranking system in which students are generally identified as novices, intermediates, advanced, or black belts. The former categories are further divided by a series of colored belts, with common colors being white, yellow, gold or orange, green, blue, brown, and red. Additionally, stripes of any color are sometimes added to indicate intermediary steps between these belts.
Typically, curriculums begin with white belt and have a progression of colored and striped belts before arriving at the first black belt level. Testing is the venue in which students have the opportunity to progress to the next level and usually consists of a demonstration of techniques within the context of individual drills, forms, self-defense, sparring, and breaking. The long term goal for many is to earn the rank of black belt and for some to continue to earn multiple degrees in the black belt rank or even become an Instructor some day. This progress from white to black belt is represented in the expectations for each rank color and is directly mapped to the anticipated growth of a student as they learn Taekwondo.
White, Yellow and Orange Belts
White indicates newness to Taekwondo, so students new to the martial art wear a white belt with their uniform. Once they begin their training, however, the imagery of a planted seed is conjured, and it takes root and struggles to grow into a small plant. The colors of these next levels are yellow and sometimes a gold or orange color, identifying with the student’s increasing grasp of the techniques they are learning. KwanJangNim Jong Sung Kim, describes the parallel as “representing the student who has developed strong Taekwondo roots, but has unknown potential” and “the faint light that filters into the earth” as seen by the new plant just before it cracks through the surface.
Green, Purple and Blue Belts
Intermediate colors of green, blue, and sometimes purple continue to trace the growth of a tree as it reaches towards the sun and sky. These stages parallel the student’s growing confidence as they progress from the unfamiliarity of Taekwondo to building a strong foundation of technique. At this stage, students are also becoming comfortable about applying the techniques within a variety of contexts from self-defense, sparring, and forms practice.
Red and Black Belts
Red, and sometimes brown belts represent a student’s progression to advanced techniques. The color red is often associated with the blood resulting from unintentional injuries caused by the students at this level; however, as they become more aware of their execution and power, they gain increasing control. Then, having mastered the basics, one web source called the Taekwondo-Connection summarizes “the Black Belt represents full maturity and knowledge of Taekwondo. The black color of the belt also represents this student’s ability to overcome fear and triumph over darkness.”
A final meaning can be found in the tree’s branches which stretch out in different directions but remain part of the tree throughout the constant renewal of the seasons. Similarly, students begin to explore the details of Taekwondo and refining their techniques from their first black belt and continuing the cycle of learning through 2nd, 3rd Dan, or degree, and beyond. Furthermore, the tree illustration underlines the intangible meanings behind each rank level that involve more than performing for a test.
About the author: KwanJangNim Fred Parks is the Testing Committee Chairman, Manager of the USNTA National Taekwondo Team and co-host of the World Martial Arts TV Show. He is also a highly respected internationally certified Judge and Referee who has officiated at numerous National and International Competitions. Like and follow him at https://www.facebook.com/grandmasterfredparks/