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"Martial Art" is a broad term encompassing the many styles of physical discipline (fighting) arts that have been developed over the centuries. To say that the style of Songahm Taekwondo is just another "martial art" would be an oversimplified explanation of the world's largest centrally administered martial art.

Songahm Taekwondo is the style of martial arts practiced at ATA affiliated schools. Songahm means "Pine Tree and Rock." According to the organization, the term Songahm itself represents "Evergreen strength the year round, long life and a symbol of unchanging human loyalty" as represented by the pine tree and the rock. Soon Ho Lee gave the name, Songahm, and its meaning to his brother, Haeng Ung Lee years before H.U. Lee founded the ATA. In the ATA, the student is compared to a growing pine tree, from a seed (white belt) to a massive tree (black belt).

This system of teaching and training is unique in the martial arts community. During its early years, the ATA used the Chahng-hun style of forms (also used by the International Taekwondo Federation). But although this style was widely accepted in the Taekwondo community, Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee felt that its forms did not accurately reflect Taekwondo -- particularly the strength and beauty of Taekwondo kicking techniques.

As a result, he believed the forms contributed little to the Taekwondo curriculum. For example, white belts were expected to know front kicks and side kicks, but no front kick appeared until the third (yellow belt) form, and there was no side kick until the form after that! From 1983 to 1990, Eternal Grand Master introduced the eighteen Songahm forms.

These forms are part of a fully-integrated curriculum, in which everything a student learns reinforces everything else. The forms contain all or nearly all of the techniques that students are expected to know at each rank, the one-step sparring segments complement the forms, and all of these patterns lead logically to the movements required for each succeeding rank.

The Songahm curriculum facilitates a smooth progression from one rank to the next, so that students who begin Taekwondo feeling they'll never be able to do a simple block (for example) suddenly find themselves a few years later doing 360-degree jumping kicks with ease. Songahm Taekwondo also focuses on personal development of the mind and body. To say it is just self-defense would be to lose most of the valuable ideas and philosophy behind this ancient art. The heightened capacity for self-defense resulting from our Taekwondo is really a fringe benefit that is gained by dedicating one's self to the values, philosophy and training of Songahm Taekwondo.

When learning, a student is in a true, traditional Taekwondo class, focusing not just on the physical but also on discipline, honor, self-control, respect, courtesy and perseverance. A beginner does not focus on being a skilled martial artist within a month or two, as a strong foundation in Taekwondo must be built first.

Trying to advance beyond your level without proper guidance is like building a house on concrete that has not dried. Though the house may still stand, the foundation would not be as strong and the appearance of the house may not be as presentable. The ATA curriculum helps build a strong foundation of Songahm Taekwondo in each person, a foundation from which advancement in both the martial art (mind and body) and in self defense can be built and added on to in perpetuity.

According to the ATA, practitioners of Songahm Taekwondo study poome sae (forms, a preset combination of offensive and defensive techniques, designed to simulate self-defense techniques being used upon multiple opponents), gyeo-roo-gi (sparring), one-steps (scripted sparring segments), self-defense, board breaking, weapons, and Leadership. The ATA has a Legacy Program that allows students to work as leaders and instructors in junior classes. This helps the trainee instructors become qualified taekwondo instructors and earn the ATA title of Certified Instructor.


The Korean word "poom-sae" means a "form" or "pattern of movements." It is actually a planned series of movements that combines the physical skills (such as blocks, strikes, kicks, stances and more) with the mental skills (such as balance, coordination, discipline, strategy, focus and more). The target of these movements is an imaginary opponent of the practitioner's own size.

The copyrighted Songahm forms have been arranged as a system to gradually increase the student's skill, develop technical balance equally on the left and right side of the body, train muscles, and to develop students from the beginner level through the rank of Grand Master. This is why each Songahm form does not repeat most techniques more than twice and also why every technique which is done with a right arm/leg is also repeated with the left arm/leg.

These forms, designed by Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee, were the first that truly emphasized the tradition of the art of Taekwondo, unlike older forms (hyung) which were based on Japanese and Okinawan Karate forms. Not only do the Songahm forms train you in each rank, but they are also excellent for using as a warm-up prior to a work out.

The "system" that encompasses the 18 Songahm forms is based on traditional philosophy, as well as being designed for for easy memorization.


The pattern becomes more complex as students progress through the ranks. For example, the 9th grade white belt form contains eighteen moves. The number 9 is a very important number in Korean culture and is reflected in many of the Songahm Forms. There are 9 Grades of Color Belts followed by 9 Degrees of Black Belt. The White Belt Form has 18 moves (2 x 9), the 1st degree black belt form has 81 moves (9 x 9), and the 9th degree black belt form has 99 moves. If all of the forms (eighteen in all) are done in sequence, they form the pattern of a nine pointed star (eight outer points plus a center point) referred to as the Songahm Star. When the outer points of the Songahm Star are connected, they form a circle which exemplifies complete balance. 

Color Belt Forms

  • 9th Grade White Belt - Songahm 1 - 18 moves 

  • 8th Grade Orange Belt - Songahm 2 - 23 moves

  • 7th Grade Yellow Belt - Songahm 3 - 28 moves

  • 6th Grade Camouflage Belt - Songahm 4 - 31 moves

  • 5th Grade Green Belt - Songahm 5 - 34 moves

  • 4th Grade Purple Belt - In Wha 1 - 44 moves

  • 3rd Grade Blue Belt - In Wha 2 - 42 moves

  • 2nd Grade Brown Belt - Choong Jung 1 - 44 moves

  • 1st Grade Red Belt - Choong Jung 2 - 46 moves


Black Belts

  • 1st Degree Black Belt - Shim Jun - 81 moves 

  • 2nd Degree Black Belt - Jung Yul - 82 moves

  • 3rd Degree Black Belt - Chung San - 83 moves

  • 4th Degree Black Belt - Sok Bong - 84 moves 

  • 5th Degree Black Belt - Chung Hae - 95 moves 

  • 6th Degree Black Belt - Jhang Soo - 96 moves 

  • 7th Degree Black Belt - Chul Joon - 97 moves

  • 8th Degree Black Belt - Jeong Seung - 98 moves

  • 9th Degree Black Belt - Dong Seung - 99 moves

Read more about ATA Forms and the Songahm Star

One-step Sparring

In Songahm Taekwondo, a student first learns a form of preparatory moves known as One-step sparring. This exchange of techniques is under strict control, and by memorizing these moves the student needs only practice distance and timing without the fear of responding to spontaneous techniques from an opponent. In this way, the basics of sparring can be safely developed before the student's reflexes are challenged. 1-steps also help a student acquire the confidence they need for sparring with a real opponent. There are specific one steps for each belt level starting at white belt and ending with green. Karate Kids perform 2 one-steps, while Teens & Adults perform 3 one-steps. As with the forms, the one steps become more complex as a student progresses in rank.



Later in their training, a Songahm Taekwondo practitioner begins applying the basics they have learned from One-steps into true sparring, which can be thought of as reflexive responses against an unplanned attack. Essentially, they learn to move beyond the predetermined series of movements they have relied upon in favor of spontaneous movements designed for true self defense.

Although we learn sparring as a form of self defense, it is also very important in Songahm Taekwondo for other reasons. It helps display proficiency in techniques, and for this reason at the Camo Belt level and beyond sparring is evaluated for purposes of advancing to the next rank. It is also an important part of tournaments, where students can display their abilities in a safe, controlled competitive environment while still showing respect to their opponent.


Students are required to wear ATA approved sparring gear. 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. We predominately use re-breakable boards that ensure consistency in difficulty and are more economical and eco friendly than wooden boards. The plastic re-breakable boards come in a variety of difficulty levels.


ATA has set board breaking regulations for each rank. Each student must break one or more stations depending on the students rank. The number and difficulty level 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. 

Excerpts from:
ATA Worldwide Wikipedia Page

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