Most of the time, the coloured belt around a Taekwondo practitioner’s waist seems to hold many presumptions for people who are new or unfamiliar with the martial art. Those who see someone with a yellow belt, for example, may think that the bearer of the belt lacks a key ability. As another example, many will believe that a black belt practitioner is the ultimate expert and that they have achieved everything possible within Taekwondo.
Both of these examples are actually incorrect though. The reality is that the belts just represent that the practitioner has reached another step in their learning process. Although one might be ahead of another in terms of what they’ve learned or how much they’ve practiced, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than another. They are both at different steps of their Taekwondo journey.
In this article, we will break down what Taekwondo belts mean and how is the belt-system structured.
Where did the Taekwondo belts come from?
There are several myths as to the origin and significance of the Taekwondo belts, but it is difficult to be sure which one is based on facts. What we do know is that Taekwondo belts only really started being implemented once Taekwondo became more developed and formalized into a martial art.
One of the myths behind the belts was that originally, students were only given white belts, and that coloured-belts were not even a thing until recent times. It is also said that students were not permitted to wash their belts, meaning that their belts would become darker after more and more practice until they turned black in colour.
The most popularly-accepted origin of the belts and belt system is that the Judo founder, Professor Jigoro Kano, had implemented a belt system derived from a ranking system used in Japanese schools. The colours were a way of allowing any individual to see how the practitioner progressed. It was also a system that created anticipation and inspired students to work hard towards the next belt colour. When a student moves up in the ranks, however, they tend to realize that it is not the belt they are striving for, but rather the knowledge which they have gained to achieve that belt. The belts, therefore, act as a sort of certificate of completion, with new ones available once new skills and techniques have been mastered.
The belt colours and what they represent
Many martial arts have a belt ranking system, but some do not use belts at all. Taekwondo has its own set of belt colours, with each one representing something unique. Here’s how the system is structured, and what the student will learn as they progress through each one.
1. White belt
White is the traditional colour of the Taekwondo uniform, called a “Dobok” in Korean. New students wear a white belt as their first colour. White represents honour, purity, virtue, and innocence. It also signifies innocence, like that of a beginning student who has no previous knowledge of Taekwondo.
2. Yellow belt
Yellow is the second belt colour of Taekwondo. It is the colour of honour, wealth, royalty and well-being. Yellow signifies the Earth from which a plant sprouts and takes root as the Taekwondo foundation is being engrained into the student.
3. Green belt
Green is the third belt colour in Taekwondo. The first of the intermediate colours, it is here that practitioners will realize how much there is to learn and how far there is to go. Green signifies the plant’s growth, like how Taekwondo skills really start to stem from within the student.
4. Blue belt
Blue is the fourth belt colour of Taekwondo. Blue denotes authority, truth, loyalty, and mystery. It also symbolizes quality. To wear a blue belt is to start learning and appreciating the vast history, philosophy, traditions, culture, and mysteries of Taekwondo. Blue signifies Heaven, towards which the plant now matures into a towering tree as training progresses.
5. Red belt
Red is the last coloured belt before black belt. Red evokes excitement, anger, and intensity. Red orders attention. There is great joy and passion in red. It signifies danger, teaches the student to exercise control and warning the opponent to stay away. The student is a seasoned veteran and has built a strong foundation of Taekwondo to further develop on.
6. Black belt
Black is the colour most commonly associated with martial arts, including Taekwondo. To a non-martial artist, to have a black belt is to have mastered the art. To a student, however, it symbolizes the true beginning of learning Taekwondo. Black is the colour of wisdom, silence and eternity. To have a black belt is to have the sum of all knowledge from prior belt levels, and to move on to new levels. Black is the opposite of white, therefore, signifying the maturity and proficiency in taekwondo. It also indicates the wearer’s immunity to darkness and fear.