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International TaeKwon-Do Association
Ranking System

Grand Master James S. Benko

In TaeKwon-Do there are two distinct classifications of rank, Gups and Dans. Those who have not yet attained the rank of Black Belt (Dan or Yudansha), in TaeKwon-Do are referred to as Gups (Grades).

There are 10 Gup levels in before reaching the Black Belt level in TaeKwon-Do.

The different Gup ranks can be distinguished by the different color of the belts and the stripes on the belts, which represent the ranks between the different color belts.

Once an individual has reached the Black Belt level, he is referred to as a Dan (pronounced “Don”), or as a Yudansha (pronounced “u don sha”), “Degree”. There are 9 levels of Black Belt in TaeKwon-Do.

The first 7 Black Belt ranks represent skill and physical application of TaeKwon-Do.

The last 2 Black Belt rank is awarded based on outstanding accomplishments and devotion to the Art of TaeKwon-Do, plus the mastery of the Mental and Spiritual aspects of the Art.

There are (4) distinct classifications within the Black Belt ranks:

  1. First through Third Dans.
  2. Fourth through Sixth Dans.
  3. Seventh and Eighth Dans.
  4. Ninth Dans.
First through Third Dan is considered a Novice. The first three degrees of Black Belt represent the levels at which fundamentals are being perfected and advanced techniques are being learned.

Fourth through Sixth Dans are considered Experts. The second 3 degrees of Black Belt indicate the perfection of advanced techniques and fundamentals and the ability to teach to others. Granted the title of “Master”.

Seventh and Eighth Dans are perfecting all of the physical aspects of TaeKwon-Do and developing a deep understanding of the other aspects of the Art; Mental and Spiritual development, and have not yet reached the level of mastering the Art of Taekwon-Do to its fullest. They are considered to be “Senior Masters”.

Ninth Dans are considered True Masters of TaeKwon-Do. This last degree of Black Belt in TaeKwon-Do represents the Mastery of the Art of TaeKwon-Do. At this level, they are considered Master Instructors, for they are the ones who teach at Master Level and below. The True Master of TaeKwon-Do is one who has mastered the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the Art. He guides students, instructors and lower Black Belt holders on their journey in TaeKwon-Do. He is an innovator, a leader, the person who “Lives” TaeKwon-Do everyday. To him, TaeKwon-Do has gone beyond being just an Art, it has become a “Way of Life”. Ninth Degree Black Belts are to be addressed as “Grand Master”.

Instructors should be addressed as Mr. (Mrs., Miss.) followed by his or her last name, or by his or her last name followed by “Sa Bum Nim” . Example; "Jones Sa Bum Nim". Masters, 4th Dans or above should always, whether in or out of the dojang, be addressed as Master, followed by the "last name". Example; "Master McDowell". High ranking Masters must be addressed by their correct titles such as "Grand Master Benko", more correctly addressed as “Kwang Jung Nim”. Masters should NEVER be addressed by their first names. It is a sign of disrespect.

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