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Karate Kid, Teen & Adult Ranks

ATA color belt ranks are also referred to by their grade numbers. Students begin at a 9th Grade White Belt. Grades count down to 1st Grade Red Belt as a student progresses through the ranks until they reach Black Belt. Black Belt Ranks are referred to as Degrees and count up from 1 to 9.

Students of all ages and ability levels can participate in Taekwondo. Because every student is different in their ability levels when beginning, ATA has system in place where students can gain confidence while progressing through the ranks at their own speed.

There are actually two levels of every Belt Color, a Recommended and Decided Rank. Many students follow a Full Rank Testing Schedule when starting Taekwondo, which means they are expected to memorize and be able to independently demonstrate the full form, or pattern of moves, and all other required material in an eight week period in order to progress to the next Decided Rank or Belt Color. Students following a Full Rank Testing Schedule skip the first level, or the Recommended Rank of each Belt until reaching Brown Belt.*

Some students do better progressing at a Half Rank Testing Schedule, where they are only required to memorize and be able to independently demonstrate half of their form and required material in an eight week period. Students who only perform half of the required material at a Testing will advance by half ranks, where a student must earn a Recommended & Decided Rank of each color before advancing to the next color. A Recommended Rank (shown above as plain color belts with an R following their grade number) will have no stripes initially when it is earned at a Testing ceremony, while a Decided Rank (shown above as color belts with a black stripe and a D following their grade number) will come with a black rank stripe on the right side, approximately 6 inches from the bottom. Students must still earn three knowledge stripes on the left side of their belts before Testing. Students who follow this schedule will Test for more belts, achieving both levels of each color belt before advancing to the next color.

Why test students on a Half Rank Schedule instead of just having them wait an additional 8 weeks to learn the rest of the material? Some students may not yet have the ability to memorize the amount of material required to follow a Full Rank schedule, regardless of how much extra time is given. Students who struggle with memorization may find it too overwhelming of a task to try to remember that much at once. It can be especially discouraging to young students to wait many months to Test for new rank. Breaking down the required material into more manageable and achievable chunks allows students to gain confidence while seeing progress towards their goals, just at a different pace. If a student following the Half Rank Schedule becomes able to memorize all of the required material for the next rank, they will be switched to a Full Rank Schedule.


* All Students recieve a Recommend Brown / Decided Brown and Recommended Red / Decided Red regardless of which Testing Schedule they follow. Board Breaking is introduced at these ranks and the forms become more difficult. Students are required to spend more time refining their technique and building mucle and endurance to prepare for Black Belt Ranks. The only way to skip a Recommended Brown or Red Belt is to achieve a perfect score at Testing, which is very rare!


Click Here to View the Stripe / Testing Requirements for Each Belt





Excerpts Quoted from the ATA 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 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.


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 of all required material for that rank; half-rank promotion ("Recommended") for a good performance of half the required material for that rank, or "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.