Taekwondo Belts And Ranks – All Organizations (World Taekwondo, ITF, ATA)

Many taekwondo practitioners are often confused about taekwondo belts. 

Some think there is only one universal taekwondo belt system but in reality there are many.

This difference between belt systems is due to the variety of taekwondo organizations, and your school is adopting its belt system depending on its affiliation with a specific organization.

There are 3 main organizations regulating Taekwondo:

I- International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF)

ITF is an international governing body of taekwondo.  ITF is geared towards a taekwondo self-defense style.

Schools affiliated with ITF have “Geup” or “Gup” or “Kup” which means rank in Korean. 

There  are 10 Geups until black belt and 9 dans after. 

The word “dan” means degree in Korean, it is used to designate ranks of black belts.

itf belts order
  • White Belt (10th Geup): White has a meaning of blankness, it manifests the humbleness and lack of knowledge of a beginner.
  • Yellow stripe (9th Geup): A middle phase between a total beginner and yellow belt.
  • Yellow Belt (8th Geup): The metaphor of yellow is the seed planted.
  • Green stripe (7th Geup): Middle phase between yellow and green
  • Green Belt (6th Geup): The seed now is starting to grow a plant and the practitioner is growing slowly but surely
  • Blue stripe (5th Geup): Middle phase between the green belt and the blue belt.
  • Blue Belt (4th Geup): Signifies the sky as the plant is aspiring to go high towards the sky without limits
  • Red Stripe (3rd Geup): Middle Phase between blue belt and red belt
  • Red Belt (2nd Geup): Red is a sign of blood, this is a warning to the student that they are aquiring a lethal weapon, self-control  should be very present.
  • Black Stripe (1st Geup): Middle phase between red belt and black belt
  • Black belt: The student is rewarded the black belt once they pass the 1st Geup.

World Taekwondo is another governing body of taekwondo geared towards the point system as it is in the olympics.

World Taekwondo has the most affiliation of schools in the World. The majority of schools are using the belt system cited below, but others use it with slight variations.

world taekwondo belts order2
  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Blue Senior Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Brown Senior Belt
  • Red Belt
  • Junior Black Belt
  • Black

III-  ATA Martial Arts Previously (ATA) American Taekwondo Association

ATA is the organization with the least affiliations in the World, but it has great dominance in the United States.

In the ATA belt system there are nine colors before reaching black belt.

In his book “The Way of Traditional Taekwondo” founder and grand master Haeng Ung Lee uses the metaphor of the growth of a pine tree to give meaning to the different belt colors in taekwondo.

ata taekwondo belts
  • White Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Camouflage Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Red Belt
  • Black Belt

What is the required time to advance in ranks?

Taekwondo schools in general test their students every three to four months. More traditional schools require longer intervals between tests, sometimes it can go up to six months.

Please note that higher ranks demand longer periods of time, especially between Dans (After black belt) it can take years to advance from one Dan to another.

How taekwondo schools promote practitioners for belts?

Each school uses different promotion tests, but in general schools test their students in:

1. Poomsae (as called in World Taekwondo) or patterns (as called in International Taekwon-do Federation): Each belt has its own form called poomsae or patterns, these forms are a combination of standard and unified kicks, defending and blocking techniques that student have to memorize and execute perfectly. The complexity of forms goes up as the belts are higher.

2. Sparring: Some schools include sparring in their promotion test to examine students’ reflexes in real time.

3. Physical conditioning: Students have to be at a certain level of physical conditioning, strength, athleticism and stamina. Therefore push-ups, burpees, jumps, etc. are often included in the tests.

4. Flexibility: More flexibility is demanded as the student goes up in ranks. Certain techniques need a high amount of flexibility to be executed perfectly. Therefore side and front splits are often included in the test.

5. Sometimes some schools do include a theoretical test by asking students questions on taekwondo history and taekwondo lexicon.

How long does it take to get a black belt in taekwondo?

It all depends on how long you have spent in the dojang. In general, it takes around 1200 hours (equivalent of 4 years) of practice to get a black belt.

Also, it depends on the quality of the teaching and your learning abilities. Some people spend around 6 years to get their black belt, others spend less than 4 years.

In South Korea, there are some schools offering training programs for foreigners to get a black belt within 10 to 12 months of training intensely.

Training is on a daily basis for around 4 hours. Once the training is complete, the student is tested by a national committee.

Many schools in South Korea consider black belt as the end of the beginners’ stage and the starting of the “real” knowledge.

What does Dan mean in Taekwondo?

The Dan is used in taekwondo and in many martial arts as a ranking system once the practitioner reaches black belt to indicate their level of mastery in taekwondo.

Each Dan is equivalent to some sort of title depending on the organization the school is affiliated to.
Usually from 1st dan to 3rd dan a student can have the title of instructor, from 4th dan to 6th dan the student can be called a master.

Once the students go beyond the 7th dan they are considered grandmaster.
There might be slight differences in titles from a school to another.
A dan is also referred to as “degree”, so instead of saying 1st dan black belt some say 1st degree black belt.