From my experience, if a student diligently trains 2 to 3 times a week, it will take about 4 years before it all comes together and the student understand what Taekwondo is about. At that point, the students' techniques will be quick, powerful, and proper, a proper understanding of patterns will have occurred, and the student's sparring will be reflexive, not planned. At this point, when the student spars, he or she will do very little. Instead, he or she will be at the right place at the right time, will be able to read opponents' intentions, and will only attack openings when they occur or are created by the students. All these should be attributes of a first degree black belt, but regrettably, by the time these things occur, the student is usually a second degree black belt or higher. This means that the student was not ready to be a black belt when promoted to first degree black belt. It is a shame, but that is how the martial arts have evolved. If things keep evolving this way, students will not be achieving these black belt attributes until third degree or higher.
Kong is a Korean term for the merit or credit you gain from your service and achievements. In the Navy, if two sailors were being considered for promotion, their records would be searched for kong. The one with the most awards and achievements would probably get the promotion.
In some Taekwondo schools and organizations (regrettably, not many) promotions, especially to the senior color belt levels and to the black belt level, are awarded not for just attendance and physical ability, but also for kong. Without kong, a student should never be promoted to black belt. To build kong, a student must show leadership abilities, set an example as to what a true black belt should be, volunteer for school projects, do what needs to be done without being told, be available to junior students when they need assistance (all the time, not just during class), be a mentor to junior students, work within his or her community to make it a better place for all to live, etc. When any problem arises, people should say "I will go to him; he is a black belt. He knows what to do and will help me."
As mentioned at the beginning of this topic, a black belt may be compared to a U.S. Navy Navy chief. Being selected to be a chief petty officer is a great accomplishment that puts the person into a unique fraternal order of other chief petty officers. As a chief, your every action will be scrutinized by the lesser ranks, so chiefs must constantly set an example for them to follow. With many years of dedicated effort, a chief may earn the coveted highest rank of master chief petty officer. Black belts are also members of a fraternal order and must set the example for lower belts. With years of hard work and study, a novice black belt may one day be considered an expert, but regrettably, many novices harbor the misconception that they are experts and thus will remain novices forever.