Taekwon-Do, character development, fortitude, tenacity, and technique are graded as well as the individual's physical
capacity. The military traditions of this art have created a foundation for the development of these traits.
This foundation is also carried over into the disciplined and consistent methods of how the student ties the Taekwon-Do uniform belt and the system of rank that is adhered to in the art. The promotional
scale is divided into nineteen ranks - 10 grades (geups) and nine degrees (dans). The geup levels begin with the lowest
grade, 10th Geup White Belt (given to new students when they begin their training), and end at the highest grade, 1st Geup
High Red Belt. The degrees of Black Belt begin with the 1st Dan Black Belt and end with the ultimate, 9th Dan, Grand
There is, of course, certain significance in the numbering system. With degrees,
the number 9 is not only the highest among one digit numbers, but is also the number of 3 multiplied by 3. In the Orient,
three is the most esteemed of all the numbers. The Chinese character representing three (三) is written as three horizontal lines stacked vertically. The upper line symbolizes
the heaven; the middle line, mortals; and the bottom line the earth. It was believed that the individual who was successful
in promoting his country, fellow man, and God, and able to reach an accord with all three would aspire to become the King.
The Chinese character for three (三) and king (王) are nearly synonymous. Additionally, when the number three is multiplied
by itself, the result is nine (九), the highest
of the high. Therefore, ninth degree is the highest of the high-ranking belts. It is also interesting to note
that when the number 9 is multiplied by any other single digit number, the resultant figures added together always equals
9 (i.e. 9x1=9, 9x2=18, 1+8=9, and so on up to 9x9=81, 8+1=9 ). Since this is the
only single digit number having this property, it again points to the number 9 as being the most positive of figures.
Taking the use of the number three one-step further,
the degrees are further divided into three distinct classes. First through third degree are considered the novice stages
of black belt. These students are still merely beginners in comparison to the higher degrees. At fourth degree,
the student crosses the threshold of Taekwon-Do puberty and enters the expert class. Seventh through ninth degree is
composed of Taekwon-Do masters - the elite who fully understand all the particulars of Taekwon-Do, mental and physical.
The different degrees of black belt are denoted on the belts with embroidered with Roman numerals representing the specific
The 10 grades, or geup levels, are represented
with five colors of belt, each color representing two geup levels. The lowest of each of these levels is represented
by the plain belt of that color - the highest is represented by the belt of that color with a colored stripe at the end of
the belt. These stripes are the color of the next potential rank, and are to be as wide as the belt is thick and placed
as far from the end of the belt tip as the belt is wide.
There is perhaps one question that remains; why begin with the lowest of the two digit numbers, "10" why
not begin with the lowest one digit number and proceed from first grade to ninth grade, and then begin again for degrees?
Though it would certainly be more logical, the 10 to 1 and 1 to 10 numerical system used in the Orient is ageless. It
would be impossible, if not even a bit impertinent, to attempt to change a practice that has even been carried into children's
games. Perhaps there was an initial logical reason for it: however, it seems to have been lost in antiquity. Anyway,
the number "10" (十) is the
lowest existing two-digit number: consequently, a beginner starts at this number rather than 11 or 12 which are numerically
In the martial art of Taekwon-Do, students
must test through the rank levels in the following order: