What Is the Highest Belt in Taekwondo?

What Is the Highest Belt in Taekwondo

Taekwondo, just like many martial art styles has a belt system that shows the level of progress, seniority, and proficiency of each practitioner. But what is the highest achievable belt rank for a Taekwondo practitioner? What is the highest belt in Taekwondo?

Generally, the highest belt in taekwondo is the 10th-degree black belt earned by a tenth Dan and is reserved for exemplary masters of the art. This belt is an honorary title and there are only a few people who hold this honor and are traditionally awarded posthumously. Therefore, the 9th Degree Black Belt is the highest active degree Black Belt awarded to “living” people.

Let’s examine further these two highest belt levels in taekwondo and how they are achieved.

Highest Belt in Taekwondo

Technically, the highest “belt” in Taekwondo is the Black Belt.

After the change of grades (geup) through all of the color belt levels, the Taekwondo Black Belt is the first permanent belt and the last change of color.

This is an achievement for the rest of your life.

There are increasing degrees (Dan) of the Black Belt that one can attain by meeting advanced test requirements and being dedicated to a life-long commitment to the martial art principles, philosophy, and ideals of Taekwondo.

The 10th Dan is occasionally used in the Kwan system as an association rank or as a Kukkiwon honorary degree for dead persons.

But these days, many are not waiting to climb into the grave to get one.

The Kukkiwon 10th Dan is occasionally awarded posthumously for those who have died after honorably dedicating their life to the advancement of Taekwondo.

Generally, the lower ranks require more hands-on technical capability, median ranks tend to require more academic knowledge, and higher ranks tend to require a contribution to the style.

As a result, the higher ranks are normally awarded when a significant achievement in contribution has been made, thus the reason for honorary awarding.

In the Kukkiwon/WT style, only a few honorary tenth-degree black belts have been bestowed by the Kukkiwon.

One was for WTF founder Un Yong Kim.

The others were bestowed posthumously. They include:

  • Byeong Roh Lee for founding Jido Kwan
  • Moo Yong Lee from Moo Duk Kwan
  • Chong Soo Hong for founding Moo Duk Kwan
  • Il Sup Chun from Jido Kwan
  • Chong Woo Lee from Jido Kwan
  • Nam Suk Lee from Chang Moo Kwan

These masters were instrumental in developing the systems of their particular kwans, which later joined together to become Taekwondo.

The highest active degree of the Black Belt rank in Taekwondo is 9th Dan.

It takes approximately 40 years of dedicated and consistent training to reach this level and you must be at least 53 years old.

At this point, you will have served the Taekwondo community in various capacities — as an instructor, mentor, referee, or by sitting on a board.

The required Poomsae is Ilyeo.

Taekwondo Black Belt Levels

When numbering the dan ranks, Sino-Korean numbers are used (rather than traditional Korean numbers).

In other words, the ranks are il dan, ee dan, sam dan, etc., not hana dan, dool dan, set dan…

Different styles and schools assign different naming and meanings to different ranks.

Common names for the dan ranks are:

  1. Il dan (일단): first-degree black belt (also sometimes called cho dan (hangul: 초단 hanja: 初段), or 조교님 jo kyo nim: Assistant Instructor, or Junior Instructor)
  2. Ee dan (이단, or yi dan): second-degree black belt (also sometimes called 교사님 kyo sa nim: Instructor)
  3. Sam dan (삼단): third-degree black belt (also sometimes called 부사범님 boo sa bum nim or kyo bum nim: Assistant Master)
  4. Sa dan (사단): fourth-degree black belt (often the first “master” rank, 사범님 sa bum nim)
  5. Oh dan (오단): fifth-degree black belt
  6. Yuk dan (pronounced yook 육단): sixth-degree black belt
  7. Chil dan (칠단): seventh-degree black belt (often this is the first rank that receives the title 관장님 kwan jang nim; in English this is often called “grandmaster”, but more correctly denoting the “head of a school”, where the word kwan means school)
  8. Pal dan (팔단): eighth-degree black belt
  9. Gu dan (구단): ninth-degree black belt (sometimes known as 총관장님 chong kwan jang nim: Chief Master)

Note that in the above list, the suffix -nim is an honorific, analogous to the Japanese suffixes -san, -sama or -chan.

You could translate the term roughly as “respected”. So “sa bum nim” could be translated as “respected teacher” – though in English the term is often translated as simply “master.”

Kukkiwon/WT Ranks

In Kukkiwon/WT Taekwondo,

  • 1st – 3rd dan are considered “trained students” who may serve as assistant instructors (kyo bum nim)
  • 4th – 6th dan are considered to be instructors/masters (sah bum nim)
  • 7th – 9th dan are considered to be grand masters (kwan jang nim)
  • Kukkiwon/WTF 10th Dan – Supreme Grand Masters.

ITF Ranks

In ITF Taekwon-do,

  • 1st – 3rd dan is considered to be a national instructor
  • 4th – 6th dan is considered to be an international instructor
  • 7th dan is considered to be a junior master instructor
  • 8th dan is considered to be a senior master instructor
  • 9th dan is considered to be a grandmaster

Is There a Belt Higher Than Black in Taekwondo?

No, there is no belt higher than black in taekwondo. Once you achieve your first-degree black belt (first Dan), you only progress through various black belt levels.

As stated earlier, the 9th-degree black belt is the highest active belt for every practitioner, but there is also the 10th-degree black belt which is traditionally awarded (usually posthumously) to honor special individuals of the art.

This black belt progression is physically shown with the addition of strips to the belt as you progress through each black belt rank.

How Many Years Does It Take To Get a Black Belt in Taekwondo?

On average, a student can earn a taekwondo black belt (first Dan) within three to five years. However, some schools stipulate a minimum of four to five years of training before a student can get a black belt, while others do not.

A student can earn a Taekwondo black belt faster than in any other martial arts form.

Just like karate, Black belts in Taekwondo are achieved in degrees, with the practitioner able to earn the first-degree black belt within three to five years.

To earn the black belt, the student must first pass a test that is based on the school’s curriculum.

It is not uncommon for students to fail the test multiple times; taekwondo however remains one of the easiest martial art to get a black belt in when compared to other martial arts.

Related post: What Is the Highest Belt in Karate?

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