Each taekwondo belt represents skill, experience, and status level. While it may seem confusing at first glance, the taekwondo belt order system is pretty straightforward. Here is a brief explanation.
The ranking system varies between the two main styles of Taekwondo, namely ITF, and WT.
In WT, there are 11 ranks, and the color belt order goes: white, yellow, orange, green, purple, blue, and black.
The ITF ranking system has 10 ranks and six solid color belts: white, yellow, green, blue, red, and black.
History of Taekwondo belt ranking system
The initial form of Taekwondo emerged in the 1940s and 1950s in South Korea. However, the origins of the belt ranking system used in Taekwondo date back to the 20th century.
In 1893, the father of Judo, Kano Jigoro, introduced the color belt ranking system, using color belt ranks to separate students by level of skill, age, and experience.
Jigoro’s system was so revolutionary that many latter-day martial arts (such as Karate) adopted his system with variations but similar core concepts.
What is the Order of Belts in Taekwondo?
The belt order in Taekwondo varies between the styles and countries. But in most, the ranking is split between “junior” (color belt) ranks and “senior” (black belt) ranks:
- Junior ranks – also called “geup” and are given to students below the black belt rank. The belts range from 6 (ITF) to 7 (WT) and go from white to black. Each color belt represents a numerical rank that goes in descending order. For example, a white beginner belt is the 10th degree, purple is the 9th degree, and a black belt is the 1st degree. Depending on the style, there is at least one stripe per belt.
- Senior ranks – are reserved for students who have reached the black belt rank. Senior ranks consist of nine or ten black belt ranks called “Dan.” Like in junior ranks, each senior black belt represents a numerical rank that goes in ascending order. The lowest rank is the 1st Dan, while the highest is the 9th or 10th.
For the purpose of this article, we will explain the belt order in the three most practiced styles of Taekwondo:
International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) Belt Order
ITF style is also known as the “traditional” style of Taekwondo developed by General Choi Hong Hi in the 1960s. However, in contrast with other styles, ITF is oriented more towards real-life combat, teaching you solid self-defense tactics, and it also includes competition.
Here is a detailed explanation of ITF junior and senior ranks:
|White with yellow stripe||9th Geup||Beginner|
|Yellow with green stripe||7th Geup||Beginner|
|Green with a blue stripe||5th Geup||Intermediate|
|Blue with a red stripe||3rd Geup||Advanced|
|Red with a black stripe||1st Geup||Advanced|
|Black belt||1st Dan|
|Black belt||1st Dan||/|
|Black with two stripes||2nd Dan||Assistant Instructor|
|Black with three stripes||3rd Dan||Assistant Instructor|
|Black with four stripes||4th Dan||International instructor|
|Black with five stripes||5th Dan||Instructor|
|Black with six stripes||6th Dan||Instructor|
|Black with seven stripes||7th Dan||Master Instructor|
|Black with eight stripes||8th Dan||Master Instructor|
|Black with nine stripes||9th Dan||Grand Master|
World Taekwondo (WT) Belt Order
World Taekwondo is a style established in 1973 by the Korean Ministry of Culture, and it is also known as the sports version of Taekwondo.
This style is recognized by the Olympic Committee, so WT rules apply in Olympic Taekwondo.
Here is the WT junior and senior belt order:
|Blue-Black (Sr.)||6th Geup|
|Brown-black (Sr)||4th Geup|
|Red-Black (Jr.)||2nd Geup|
American Taekwondo Association (ATA) Belt Order
Though not as popular around the world as WT and ITF, ATA is the main governing body of Taekwondo in the US.
It consists of nine solid color belt ranks in the following order:
|White belt||9th Grade|
|Orange belt||8th Grade|
|Yellow belt||7th Grade|
|Camouflage belt||6th Grade|
|Green belt||5th Grade|
|Purple belt||4th Grade|
|Blue belt||3rd Grade|
|Brown belt||2nd Grade|
|Red belt||1st Grade|
Taekwondo Belt Meanings
Signifies innocence and purity and is worn by beginners with no previous knowledge of Taekwondo.
Signifies the sunrise as beginners are slowly becoming more familiar with the basic techniques and principles.
Signifies the warm rays of the sun. The student is gaining new knowledge, drilling, and mastering the fundamentals each day to develop a strong base on which they can later add advanced moves.
Signifies springs and the growth of the plants as students begin to develop intermediate skills and grow at a high rate.
Signifies a darkening sky. Students must stay focused and hungry for more knowledge. At this stage, they might face some obstacles on their journey as techniques become more complex.
Signifies the blue sky towards which the plant is growing. It represents students’ ambition and commitment to mastering the art of Taekwondo.
Signifies danger. Despite having solid skills, students lack control. Thus, students dedicate most of their training time at this stage to learning how to execute techniques with control.
Signifies the earth and foundation. Students are slowly starting to specialize in certain areas and hone unique styles.
Signifies maturity and proficiency, but not the journey’s end. “Real” learning begins here.
How Long Does It Take To Get Each Belt in Taekwondo?
On average, a dedicated student who attends classes at least 3 times a week may need between 3.5 and 5 years to reach a black belt rank. Bear in mind that 3.5 years is reserved for the most talented students who are fully committed to mastering the art of Taekwondo.
Here is a closer look at how long it takes to get each belt in Taekwondo, both in junior and senior ranks.
|Belt Color||Rank||Level||Minimum time at this rank|
|White||10th Geup||Beginner||3 months|
|White with yellow stripe||9th Geup||Beginner||3 months|
|Yellow||8th Geup||Beginner||4 months|
|Yellow with green stripe||7th Geup||Beginner||4 months|
|Green||6th Geup||Intermediate||4 months|
|Green with a blue stripe||5th Geup||Intermediate||4 months|
|Blue||4th Geup||Intermediate/Advanced||4 months|
|Blue with a red stripe||3rd Geup||Advanced||5 months|
|Red||2nd Geup||Advanced||6 months|
|Red with a black stripe||1st Geup||Advanced||6 months|
|Black belt||1st Dan||Minimum time to black belt: 3.5 years|
|Color Belt||Rank||Level||Minimum time at this rank|
|Black belt||1st Dan||/||1.5 years|
|Black with two stripes||2nd Dan||Assistant Instructor||2 years|
|Black with three stripes||3rd Dan||Assistant Instructor||3 years|
|Black with four stripes||4th Dan||International instructor||4 years|
|Black with five stripes||5th Dan||Instructor||5 years|
|Black with six stripes||6th Dan||Instructor||6 years|
|Black with seven stripes||7th Dan||Master Instructor||7 years|
|Black with eight stripes||8th Dan||Master Instructor||8 years|
|Black with nine stripes||9th Dan||Grand Master|
Frequently Asked Questions
Taekwondo practitioner’s highest rank is the 9th dan black belt rank, known as the “Grand Master” rank. It is earned by practitioners who have dedicated their lives to practice and philosophy and have contributed to the art.
There is also a 10th Dan rank in WT, but this one is never given to living practitioners. Instead, it is awarded posthumously.
Students with average talent need between 4 and 5 years of consistent practice to reach a black belt rank or 1st dan rank in all styles of Taekwondo.
Some may do it in 3.5 or even 3 years in some cases. It all depends on your dedication and persistence, the school you train in, promotional criteria, and many other factors.
The taekwondo belt ranking system and how students progress through the rankings are pretty straightforward.
Unlike in other martial arts, there are only three main styles of Taekwondo, so the belt promotion and requirements are pretty much standardized globally.
Lastly, remember that belt ranks are just a tool to separate students by skill level, age, and experience, which means you will get each as you grow as a taekwondo athlete.