Tae kwon do is a system of unarmed self-defense that originated in Korea. Like many martial arts, tae kwon do uses a system of colored belts to denote the skill and rank of participants. The black belt signifies the highest rank. While the time it takes to achieve a black belt varies by talent, devotion, courses taken and other factors, the International Tae Kwon Do Association does set minimum time requirements that must be met before one can advance from one color belt to the next.
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According to USA Taekwondo, the martial art is rooted in the need for the Korean people to defend themselves against a variety of invaders. During the 20th century, Japanese occupiers forbade the practice of tae kwon do in Korea, forcing the practice underground. It was revitalized in 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japan. Tae kwon do became an official medal sport at the 2000 Olympics.
Beginners wear white belts, while the most advanced students wear black.The three novice colors are white, orange and yellow. Intermediate students progress through green, blue and purple belts, and advanced students wear brown and then red belts. The most advanced students are granted black belts. There are intermediate belts awarded to students who are halfway to the next belt color, such as a white belt with a yellow stripe for those halfway to a yellow belt.
To progress from a red belt with a black stripe to a first-degree black belt, the International Tae Kwon Do Association has a variety of requirements. Physical requirements include pattern, one-step sparring, two-step sparring, free sparring and multiple free sparring. A student also needs to show competent self-defense against holds, club attacks, knife attacks and multiple unarmed opponents. Black belt candidates must be able to break a 3-inch board with a kick and with their hand. Beyond the physical requirements, students must write an eight-page essay and have knowledge of the history of martial arts.
The International Tae Kwon Do Association sets a minimum amount of time a student must hold one belt color before he can be considered for advancement to the next level. A student must hold the status of red belt with a black strip for nine months, or 162 practice hours, before being considered for advancement to a black belt. Progression from the white belt to the black belt could theoretically take three years and four months, though the actual time is usually much longer.