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How do Taekwondo Belts Work?

Taekwondo Black-Belt

Taekwondo is a traditional martial art that has a number of similarities to karate, but has more of an emphasis on kicks. It is a Korean art, but it uses a belt system similar to that of Judo and Karate. The belt colors vary between branches, but will start with the white belt (for beginners) and work up to the black belt (for advanced practitioners), with ‘degrees’ being awarded for people who continue to train after black belt.

To earn each belt in Taekwondo, the practitioner must take a test. In this test, they will perform the moves that are required for the belt in question, as well as be expected to demonstrate skills with ‘forms’ (which in karate would be called katas). Forms are scripted sequences of movements which demonstrate an understanding of how the movements link together, balance, timing and power.

In addition to the forms, the practitioner will also be expected to show ability to break boards, an understanding of applying moves from the forms in a live situation, and sparring.

Some Taekwondo styles do more than just kicking and punching. They may require some skill in takedowns and grappling, especially at higher ranks. They will also expect a degree of fitness befitting of the rank in question.

The belt colors usually go something like white, red, yellow, orange, green, purple, brown and black – but for all there are organizations such as the World Taekwondo Federation and the International Taekwondo Federation, there are plenty of other affiliations and unaffiliated clubs that may do things like ignore the red belt (or place it differently in the order), add a ‘camo’ belt, have stripes at each belt level to increase the number of grading required, or use ‘half belts’ with stripes running through them.

There is time in grade and lesson requirements for many of the belts, and these exist to ensure that the practitioners are not promoted too quickly. Some schools have minimum age requirements, especially for black belt. Others will allow children to earn the black belt.

Sparring in Taekwondo is usually done on a point basis, where if a kick hits cleanly, points are awarded and the bout is paused. After a certain number of points, the bout ends. This is a thing that confuses a lot of people, especially those who are used to continuous sparring. Taekwondo bouts can appear, to the uninitiated, to be aimless bouncing around – but doing well enough to grade requires skill.