There are numerous Taekwondo organizations, each with a different system of belt ranks, colors, and color symbolism that may or may not conform to the traditional Taekwondo belt structure. Some organizations have less or more gups and degrees than the traditional nine. Different organizations use different belt colors (some even use a camouflage color). Some use a stripe that runs the length of the belt or use various colored horizontal stripes at the ends of the belt (similar to black belt stripes) to differentiate between ranks of the same color. Short gold stripes at the tips of black belts signify the degree levels.
Note: The symbolisms and meanings described below are not necessarily those espoused any organization.
The symbolism and meaning for each belt in the following descriptions relate a student's growth in Taekwondo knowledge and skills to the growth of a oak seed into a mighty oak tree
- Gup: 11th
- Symbolism: Barren
- Meaning: The color white symbolizes the purity of barren earth that is willing to accept the oak seed. The white belt represents a student who is empty of Taekwondo knowledge, pure of mind and spirit, and willing to accept the planting of the seed of Taekwondo knowledge. Stripes indicate progress toward yellow belt.
- Gup: 10th
- Symbolism: Oak seed
- Meaning: As the oak seed is planted and begins to develop strong roots, it must struggle to reach the surface of the earth where others can see it. The yellow belt represents the student who has developed strong Taekwondo roots, but has unknown potential and requires hard work to develop skills that other can appreciate. Stripes indicate progress toward orange belt.
- Gup: 9th
- Symbolism: Pre-emergence
- Meaning: As the seedling nears the surface, it reaches the faint light that filters into the earth. It is only a short distance to the surface now. The orange belt represents the student who is almost ready to free-spar. Stripes indicate progress toward green belt.
- Gup: 8th
- Symbolism: Emergence
- Meaning: The seeding emerges from the earth and finds it is one of many saplings that are struggling for survival. into a strong oak tree with many branches and leaves. The green belt represents the student whose Taekwondo skills are emerging and feels proud of his or her skills but who finds that the skills of fellow students are developing just just as quickly are quicker.
Senior Green Belt
- Gup: 7th
- Symbolism: Growth
- Meaning: The seeding starts to grow into an oak tree with many branches and leaves. As the tree begins to absorb sunlight, it starts to bloom and bear fruit. But, although it is a powerful tree, it is still anchored to the earth. The senior green belt represents the student whose Taekwondo skills are growing and branching out, but who still feels anchored and is finding it difficult to move higher.
Senior Blue Belt
- Gup: 5th
- Symbolism: Atmosphere
- Meaning: As the oak tree continues to grow, it stretches higher into the atmosphere; developing confidence to reach even higher. The senior blue belt represents the student whose skills are increasing to the point that he or she begins to think that black belt is within reach.
Senior Brown Belt
- Gup: 3rd
- Symbolism: Space
- Meaning: As the oak tree continues to grow, it strives to reach into space. The senior brown belt represents the student who dreams of exploring dark depths of the universe for more knowledge. Forms and techniques are becoming more difficult to learn, but the student still dreams of learning the elusive skills of the black belt.
- Gup: 2nd
- Symbolism: Sun
- Meaning: The oak tree strives to reach even higher, to the sun itself, the object it first looked up to when it emerged from the earth. The sun is the symbol of warmth, growth, and life. The red belt represents the student who sees the end in sight and is reaching for the object first seen when entering the study of Taekwondo, the black belt. Red is also the color of blood, the life substance of the living body. Red belts have powerful techniques and limited control of the techniques, so they are dangerous, which sometimes leads to the shedding of red blood.
Senior Red Belt
- Gup: 1st
- Symbolism: Heat
- Meaning: As the oak tree grows higher and closer to the sun, it begins to feel the heat of the sun and it give the tree inspiration to grow higher. The senior red belt represents the student who is so close to attaining black belt that he or she feels it. Red also signifies the danger of a student believing that reaching black belt will complete his or her growth in Taekwondo.
Probationary Black Belt
- Gup: Poom
- Symbolism: Darkness
- Meaning: Even though the oak tree struggles to leave the earth and reach the heavens, it finds it cannot. It realizes it is rooted to the earth and that its strength comes from its roots. As the oak tree reenters the earth seeking its roots, the light of the sun dims and turns to darkness. The black belt represents the student who, after reach black belt, realizes that the answers to all the questions he or she has been seeking are not at the black belt level, they were always present at the beginning, at their roots, at the white belt level, in the basic techniques of Taekwondo. He or she simply did not know enough at the time to recognize their worth. As the student leaves the safety of the light, or knowledge he or she has attained, to search for the truth in his or her roots, eh or she discovers that even with all he or she knows, there is still the darkness of a greater unknown looming ahead, the first degree black belt. The black belt is the final preparation for first degree black belt.
First Degree Black Belt
- Dan: 1st
- Symbolism: Darkness with a glimmer of light
- Meaning: As the oak tree further explores its roots, it finds the roots have grown even deeper into the dark depths of the earth and it needs help to find the truth. The tree begins to produce new seeds so new oak trees can begin their growth journey and their search for the truth. As the tree dies, it turns black and falls back to the earth to nourish the new seedlings of the future.
Black represents the passing on of life, a new completion of the life cycle, now acting as a growth medium for new students. It is a sign of accomplishments of the past and preparation for the future.
Black is the opposite of white, it is the absorption of all colors, and it is the color of the unknown. The first degree black belt is the opposite of the white belt, is a combination of all the colors of the previous belts, and signifies there is much more that is unknown. Filled with the knowledge of all previous belts, the student now understands that black belt is not the end of their journey, it is just the beginning of another phase; there is so much more to learn. As Winston Churchill once said, "It is merely the end of the beginning." To learn more students must explore the depths of their Taekwondo roots. In the darkness there is a glimmer of light that signifies that a new day is coming and a new journey is beginning. That glimmer is indicated by one gold stripe on the ends of the belt. The new black belt now begins a new journey to learn the "way of Taekwondo" and he or she begins training new students, new seeds that need nourishment.
Ever notice that when you are looking for something you seem to find it at the last place you look. Actually, this is the logical outcome since you quit looking after you find it. In seeking the truths of Taekwondo, you will find them in the last place you look—the last belt you earned. If you keep looking, keep training, and keep earning belts, you will discover even more truths.
- Stripes: The first degree black belt has one gold stripe at one or both ends of the belt. For each increasing dan, another gold stripe is added to the end or ends of the belt.
Fifth through Ninth Degree Black Belts
- Dan: 5th through 9th
- Meaning: Black belts from fifth through ninth dan denote increased Taekwondo knowledge and proficiency, teaching, involvement in the Taekwondo community, and involvement in the promotion and growth of Taekwondo within the parent organization. In Taekwondo America (TA), sixth degree black belt marks the beginning of the master ranks. Currently, the highest rank held by a member of the Taekwondo America is a eight degree black belt.