Tae Kwon Do Competition and Ranks

The Tae Kwon Do | What is Taekwondo | Taekwondo History | Taekwondo Description | Introduction to Taekwondo | Origins and Evolution | Philosophy of Taekwondo | Taekwondo Ethics | Taekwondo Organizations | Taekwondo Patterns | Taekwondo Vital Points | Competition and Ranks | Five Tenets | The Taeguk | The Theory of Power | Founder of Taekwondo | The Life of Choi Hong Hi

Taekwondo ranks are separated into “junior” and “senior” or “student” and “instructor” sections. The junior section typically consists of ten ranks indicated by the Korean word geup 급 (also Romanized as gup or kup). The junior ranks are usually identified by belts of various colors, depending on the school, so these ranks are sometimes called “color belts”. Students begin at tenth geup (usually indicated by a white belt) and advance toward first geup.

The senior section typically includes nine or ten ranks indicated by the Korean word dan 단, also referred to as “black belts” and “degrees” (as in “third dan” or “third-degree black belt”). Black belts begin at first degree and advance to second, third, and so on.

The degree is often indicated on the belt itself with stripes, Roman numerals, or other methods; but sometimes black belts are plain and unadorned regardless of rank.

To advance from one rank to the next, students typically go through promotion tests in which they demonstrate their proficiency in the various aspects of the art before a panel of judges.

Promotion tests will vary from school to school, but may include such elements as the execution of patterns, which combine various techniques in specific sequences; the breaking of boards, to demonstrate the ability to use techniques with both power and control; sparring and self-defense, to demonstrate the practical application and control of techniques; and answering questions on terminology, concepts, history, and the like, to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the art.

Taekwondo Olympics Day

Students are sometimes required to take a written test or to submit a research paper in addition to taking the practical test (especially for higher ranks). Promotion from one geup to the next can proceed fairly rapidly, since schools often allow geup promotions every two, three, or four months. Students of geup rank learn the most basic techniques first, then move on to more advanced techniques as they approach first dan.

In contrast, promotion from one dan to the next can take years. The general rule is that a black belt may advance from one rank to the next only after the number of years equivalent to the rank. For example, a newly-promoted third-degree black belt may not be allowed to promote to fourth-degree until three years have passed. Some organizations also have age requirements related to dan promotions. Dan ranks usually have titles associated with them, such as “master” and “instructor”. However, these titles and their associations with specific ranks vary among schools and organizations.

The two main Taekwondo organizations have their own rules and standards when it comes to ranks and the titles that go with them; for details, see Kukkiwon and International Taekwondo Federation.

Tae-Kwon-Do Woman

Competition: Taekwondo competition typically involves sparring, breaking, patterns, and/or self-defense (hosinsul). However, in Olympic taekwondo competition, only sparring is contested; and in Olympic sparring the WTF competition rules are used.

Under WTF and Olympic rules, sparring takes place between two competitors in an area measuring 10 meters square. Each match or bout consists of three non-stop rounds of contact with rest between rounds. Colored belts fight in 1-minute rounds with a 30-second break, while black belts fight in 2-minute rounds with 1-minute breaks. Points are awarded for permitted, accurate, and powerful techniques to the legal scoring areas.

A kick or punch that makes full force contact with the opponent’s hogu (a trunk cover that functions as a scoring target) scores one point; a hard kick to the head scores two points. Punches to the head are not allowed. If a competitor is knocked down by a scoring technique and the referee counts, then an additional point is awarded to the opponent. Soft contact to the body and head does not score any points.

At the end of three rounds, the competitor with the most points wins the match. If, during the match, one competitor gains a 7-point lead over the other, or if one competitor reaches a total of 12 points, then that competitor is immediately declared the winner and the match ends. In the event of a tie at the end of three rounds, a fourth “sudden death” overtime round will be held to determine the winner, after a 1-minute rest period.

The ITF sparring rules are similar, but differ from the WTF rules in several respects. For example, hand attacks to the head are allowed; flying techniques score higher than grounded techniques; the competition area is slightly smaller (9 meters square instead of 10 meters); and competitors do not wear the hogu used in Olympic-style sparring (although they are required to wear approved foot and hand protection equipment).