First and foremost, I must say that nobody should begin learning a martial art with the thought or expectation of rank or the ability to claim they have a black belt. Rank, belt color, and status shouldn’t even be of concern and should remain low priority compared to actually learning the art. With that said, time has proven these belt ranks to be a positive way to break down the system into steps or goals that students can strive to achieve. Understand also that modernized martial art systems live with the stigma that they are all about making money rather than teaching an art. This is due to widespread abuse of the testing system as a means to generate extra revenue rather than its intended purpose of being a scale for skill assessment.
As stated in the programs list of expectations, testing will occur at the discretion of all instructors based upon their assessment of the student body. Rank testing is a tradition that was adopted from the Japanese by most modern martial art systems and we carry on this tradition by having students complete a skill assessment test when it is believed they are ready to do so. A student may pass this test and be awarded their next rank or they may not and have to retake the test again when deemed appropriate. Instructors will do their best to make sure students are prepared for testing, but it is up to the student to practice, study, and give 100% during testing in order to pass. If a student does not perform the belt level skills as required, chooses not to apply themselves, or cannot complete testing for some other reason, they will not be promoted at that time. We encourage all those who do not pass a test to work hard, practice more often, and try again!
“Taekwondo ranks are typically separated into "junior" and "senior" sections. The junior section typically consists of ten ranks indicated by the Korean word geup (also Romanized as gup or kup). The junior ranks are usually identified by belts of various colors, depending on the school, so these ranks are sometimes called "color belts". Geup rank may be indicated by stripes on belts rather than by colored belts. Students begin at tenth geup (often indicated by a white belt) and advance toward first geup (often indicated by a red belt with a black stripe).
The senior section is typically made up of nine ranks. Each rank is called a dan, also referred to as "black belt" or "degree" (as in "third dan" or "third-degree black belt"). Black belts begin at first degree and advance to second, third, and so on. The degree is often indicated on the belt itself with stripes, Roman numerals, or other methods, but sometimes black belts are plain and unadorned regardless of rank.
To advance from one rank to the next, students typically complete promotion tests in which they demonstrate their proficiency in the various aspects of the art before their teacher or a panel of judges. Promotion tests vary from school to school, but may include such elements as the execution of patterns (also known as forms or poomsae), which combine various techniques in specific sequences; the breaking of boards to demonstrate the ability to use techniques with both power and control; sparring and self-defense to demonstrate the practical application and control of techniques; physical fitness usually with push-ups and sit-ups; and answering questions on terminology, concepts, and history to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the art. For higher dan tests, students are sometimes required to take a written test or submit a research paper in addition to taking the practical test.
Promotion from one geup to the next can proceed rapidly in some schools, since schools often allow geup promotions every two, three, or four months. Students of geup rank learn the most basic techniques first, and then move on to more advanced techniques as they approach first dan. Many of the older and more traditional schools often take longer to allow students to test for higher ranks than newer, more contemporary schools, as they may not have the required testing intervals.
In contrast, promotion from one dan to the next can take years. The general rule is that a black belt may advance from one rank to the next only after the number of years equivalent to their current rank. For example, a newly promoted third-degree black belt may not be allowed to advance to fourth-degree until three years have passed. Some organizations also have age requirements related to dan promotions, and may grant younger students poom (junior black belt) ranks rather than dan ranks until they reach a certain age.
Black belt ranks may have titles associated with them, such as "master" and "instructor", but taekwondo organizations vary widely in rules and standards when it comes to ranks and titles. What holds true in one organization may not hold true in another, as is the case in many martial art systems. For example, achieving first dan ranking with three years' training might be typical in one organization, but considered too quick in another organization, and likewise for other ranks. Similarly, the title for a given dan rank in one organization might not be the same as the title for that dan rank in another organization.
In the International Taekwon-Do Federation, instructors holding 1st to 3rd dan are called Boosabum (assistant instructor), those holding 4th to 6th dan are called Sabum (instructor), those holding 7th to 8th dan are called Sahyun (master), and those holding 9th dan are called Saseong (grandmaster). This system does not, however, necessarily apply to other taekwondo organizations.
In the American Taekwondo Association, instructor designations are separate from rank. Black belts may be designated as an instructor trainee (red collar), specialty trainer (red and black collar), certified trainer (black-red-black collar) and certified instructor (black collar). After a one-year waiting period, instructors who hold a sixth dan are eligible for the title of Master. Seventh dan black belts are eligible for the title Senior Master and eighth dan black belts are eligible for the title Chief Master. There is only one active ninth dan in the American Taekwondo Association at any given time. He is given the title Grand Master.
In the World Taekwondo Federation, Students holding 1st-3rd dan are considered an Instructor, but generally have much to learn. Students who hold a 4th - 6th dan are considered Masters and must be at least 18 years old. Masters who hold a 7th - 9th dan are considered a Grand-Master. This rank also holds an age requirement of 40+ (age requirement for this belt is not 100% certain). To find out more go to the next paragraph.” Note about rank and youth as quoted from the USAT governing body’s dan promotion guidelines. “8.6 When 1, 2, 3 Poom holder, 15 years of age or above, wants to be promoted to the next higher Dan, he or she can apply for a Dan promotion test. However, a 3rd Poom holder at least 18 years of age can apply for 4th Dan and less than 18 years of age can only apply for 4th Poom“
TESTING ETIQUETTE & PROCEDURES
1. Wait to be invited to test. Never just assume you’re testing every so many months and never ever ask to be tested. Testing should be your last concern and the first concern should always be perfecting the skills you are learning.
2. Once invited to test, note the date and make sure to show up at least 20-25 minutes early so you will have plenty of time to change into your uniform and prepare for testing.
3. Testing is always a formal event and therefore etiquette is at an extreme. Having students display their skills to be assessed by instructors and possibly a master is of the utmost importance and all who participate should be shown proper respect. Upon entering the dojang make sure you stop at the door and bow before taking more than 2 steps.
4. Remain silent throughout the entire process except to answer questions and to Kiup. Talking during a test is considered extremely disrespectful to everyone attending.
5. After changing into your uniform and removing your shoes and socks, find a spot at the back of the dojang, sit silently, legs crossed, and wait for the testing instructor to provide direction. Never lie down.
6. When it is time to test, all students will be called to line up. You will hear the command “chung neol.” Do so in a quick and expedient manner as you would for any class. Once in position remain in your relaxed stance silently.
7. Depending on circumstances there may be several black belts sitting at or standing by a table in the front of the dojang or it may only be your instructor. This is the testing board. The testing board is there to watch your skills and determine if they are at a level appropriate for promotion. This determination is based on the system and the standards put in place by those testing you.
8. The black belt in charge of running the test, usually your main instructor, will then if warranted introduce the board members including any master instructor, make announcements, give extra direction on how to act or behave during the test and may give advice to those testing before beginning.
9. The opening ceremony comes next and is very similar to the opening ceremony before and after a typical class. It will begin at the call for attention by the black belt who is running the test. “charyeot” will be spoken loudly. The black belt will then call for the students and testing board to face the flags by saying “kukki e tae hae.” Then the command to bow is called out, “kyung nae.” Next the command to face the testing board, and finally the command to bow “kyung nae.”
10. If made up of more than one black belt, the testing board may sit at this point while the instructor running the test assigns students who are testing their warm-up exercises. You will be given a list of exercises, matched to your belt level, with a preset number of pushups, sit-ups, plyometrics, bag kicks, shadow boxing, etc. Do not complain or sigh as if it is too much. The idea of the warm-up is to not only warm you up, but wear you down a little in order to see how determined you are to succeed and to find out if your techniques are second nature enough to do while tired.
11. Do not ask questions during a test. You either know your stuff or you do not. The test is not a class and should not be treated as such.
12. If you are asked to approach the board members, such as to answer questions about terminology, when excused you will take at least two steps backward before turning to walk away. Turning your back to an instructor or master while very close is considered disrespectful.
13. If your belt comes loose during testing place it aside until you’re excused and can retie it.
14. Anytime you must adjust your uniform, typically because the top half lifts above the belt during movement, causing the uniform to become out of place, leave it as it is until you are excused or given permission to fix it. If told to fix the uniform while demonstrating techniques, turn away from the board, adjust the uniform and then turn back. When told, this is a time when it’s okay to turn away from the higher ranks.
15. Put 100% effort in to everything you are asked to demonstrate during testing, perseverance and spirit weigh heavily on your outcome. I dare say more than perfect technique.
16. When multiple belt levels or ranks are testing its very common for the instructor to call students with similar ranks to the front, as a group, to demonstrate certain skills or techniques such as one steps, self-defense, forms, or basic strikes and kicks., while the remaining students testing continue their warm-up exercises, sit silently in the back, or if given permission, stretch.
17. Most tests are broken down into sections starting with basic stances, blocks, strikes, footwork, and kicks. Then one steps, self-defense, and poomsae or forms. Sparring next and breaking last. After the breaking is complete you will again be called to line up. You must stand in line patiently while the board completes their assessments and have all exam papers completed. When they finish, announcements will follow, and those who did well enough to pass will be promoted while those who did not are advised to re-test at a later date. Never become emotional if you do not pass, this is an opportunity to work hard and try again. If everything was easy there would be no reward in life at all.
18. The closing ceremony will follow exactly as the opening ceremony.