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ATA Belt Rank System
(excerpts Quoted from the New Student Handbook)

In order to develop the skills, discipline, and self-control necessary for the proper use of Taekwondo techniques, ATA uses a rank system. Such a system serves several purposes, including:

Chain of Command: The ascending order of rank carries an increasing level of authority and responsibility. The student leans to assume responsibility gradually as he moves up the ranks. He also learns to accept and properly use authority that accompanies the higher ranks.

Measurement of Progress: The most obvious advantage of the rank system is that it provides a visible measurement of the student's progress. As he learns the basic techniques of Taekwondo and tests successfully, he is awarded the colored belts that signify the rise in rank.

There are nine ranks, called "grades", in the colored belt series, and nine ranks called "degrees". in the Black Belt Series. Because it is the highest number in a single digit, the number nine in the Oriental culture, represents the highest attainable goal of any measurable endeavor.


Merit System stripes are earned to qualify students for testing. These black stripes are placed on the left tip of the belt. Stripes are re-earned at each belt level. The stripes do not give the student permission to test (this is only received through the Instructor).

All black belt ranks of 1st Degree D and higher wear black, traditional belts in good repair. The student's name, rank bars, and/or approved writing may be embroidered on the belt in English or in Korean.

Belts are to have no brand name labels attached. The rank stripes should be worn on the right side of the tied knot. Belts should be tied in the traditional square knot with both ends the same length.


Promotional Rank testing

The schools of the American Taekwondo Association conduct promotional testings approximately every seven to nine weeks to evaluate the progress of the students. The testing in judged by a minimum of two certified ATA instructors, one of whom is a guest judge from another ATA school. Each instructor in the judging panel scores each students individually according to the standards of the ATA. Judges meet after the testing to tally scores and to discuss the progress of the students. An instructor from another ATA school is invited to participate in the judging as an effective monitor for the local school, supplying a more objective observation of the students' performance.

The testing begins similarly to a class session. The students line up according to rank, and recite the Songahm Spirit of Taekwondo. After opening remarks and introduction of the judging panel, the students are asked to be seated around the perimeter of the workout area. The students are then called to execute their techniques (individually or in very small groups). The lowest ranks are tested first to spare then additional tension and anxiety generated by waiting. Most schools, however, test orange belts before the white belts, giving the newest students and opportunity to witness the procedure before they are called.

Each student is required to perform certain techniques, according to his rank:

White Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense and One-Step Sparring

Orange Belt - Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense and One-Step Sparring

Yellow Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense and One-Step Sparring

Camo Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense, One-Step Sparring and Free Sparring (one match)

Green Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense, One-Step Sparring and Free Sparring( one match)

Purple Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense, Sparring Segments and Free Sparring( one match)

Blue Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense, Sparring Segments and Free Sparring( one match)

Brown Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense, Board Breaks and Free Sparring( one match)

Red Belt - Appropriate Form, Self Defense, Board Breaks and Free Sparring( one match)

Red/Black Belt - Red Belt Form, Old Forms, Pressure Point one-Steps, Board Breaks and Free Sparring( one match)

Black Belt - Appropriate Form, Board Breaks and Free Sparring (two matches)

Note: As programs develop, requirements may be added and will be announced in association publications.


A "Form" is a predetermined series of movements, performed by an individual, which displays a combination of body and mind development. It uses new hand and foot techniques for that rank as well as some techniques previously mastered. The judges look for the proper beginning and ending positions for each technique, the effectiveness of the technique itself, and the flow or rhythm of the form. Correct eye contact ad a mentally alert demeanor are also important to the score.

If a student under Black Belt rank feels he has done less than his best, he may ask the chief judge for permission to repeat his form. He may execute his form three times, if necessary. Judges do not penalize lower ranked students for repeating the form, as they realize that the student may be unusually nervous at testing. The judges will expect the student to make an effort to mentally review the point of difficulty, relax and concentrate as the form is repeated. Maintaining self-control in stressful situations is an important part of self-defense training and as the student progresses in rank, he is expected to have mastered his anxiety; therefore, high-ranked students may be penalized for errors.


"One-Steps" are predetermined actions performed with an opponent; they provide a link between forms and free-sparring. One-steps should be performed with the same mental and physical skills as the form; in addition, the judges will look for effective sparring skills, including control and accurate judgment of distance.

(If a student makes a mistake during the execution of a one-step, he should continue without interruption. If all one-steps have been completed and "time" has not been called, the students should continue, starting again with #1, or with any one-step that was poorly performed the first time.)


"Free-Sparring" is a practical application of self-defense techniques. (For safety and courtesy, students are subject to specific rules of conduct when sparring in ATA events and in the classroom.) The movements are not predetermined. More and more schools are requiring various types of padded equipment for students in this type of sparring.

For safety, full contact is not allowed, and there are specific legal target areas. Hand techniques may be used on the front and side of the body from the belt to the shoulder. No hand techniques may be delivered to the head or face. Foot techniques may be used on the front and sides of the body from the belt to (and including) the head. Kicks to the back of the head are legal, but not hand or foot techniques may be intentionally delivered to the back or to any areas below the belt.


"Board Breaking" - It is difficult to determine the effectiveness of Taekwondo techniques without causing physical damage to an opponent. Therefore, the students are required to break boards to provide evidence of power and accuracy. (Board Breaking is not a goal of Taekwondo; and should not be attempted by students without instructor approval.)

ATA has set board breaking regulations for each rank. Each student must break at one or more stations, depending on the degree of difficulty of the breaking technique and the students rank. The number and size of boards at each station depends on the student's age and sex.

A student may make three attempts to break his boards, but this is reflected in his testing score by the judges. (If a student fails to break the first and/or second time, he may ask permission to use a different technique.)


During the testing, it may be apparent that some students are more physically talented than others. Taekwondo is a martial art that trains people physically and mentally. Although it is easy  to make comparisons in physical ability, the judges will be assessing personal improvement and individual progress, as well as mental strength and growth.

A student's enthusiasm, courtesy, respectful attitude, and personal pride will also be evaluated by the judges. These characteristics are displayed in the student's physical appearance, his posture his manner of responding, and his courtesy to the judges and to other students.

As a result of testing performance, a student may expect one of the following results:

Full Rank promotion ("Decided") for excellent performance; half-rank promotion ("Recommended") for good performance [our school usually reserves half-rank promotions for Tiny Tigers to make their learning process easier]; "no change" if additional time is required to master the rank techniques. ("No change" should not be considered failure. Because testings measure improvement, "no change" simply indicated that the change is not yet great enough to warrant promotion to the next rank).

A fee is assessed for each testing; should the student receive a "no change" in his rank, the fee at the next testing (only) is waived.


Also See:

Testing Courtesy

ATA Taekwondo Center
204 Sunset Drive
Butler, PA 16001

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ATA Black Belt Academy
4247 Portage Street
North Canton, OH 44720

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Butler ATA Taekwondo Center 2010

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