How Long Does It Take To Get A Black Belt In TaeKwonDo?

TaeKwonDo is an Olympic sport, a self defense art, and a cultural representation of the Korean people. There are over 70 million people studying the art in the world. An interesting fact is that over 4 million of these students hold a 1st dan/poome (degree) black belt. What kind of time are they spending to earn that level?

It takes anywhere from 2.5 years to 3.5 years to get a black belt in TaeKwonDo. This depends on factors like student dedication, the TaeKwonDo association they belong to, and the instructor of the school or class.

If you are wanting to know more about why there is such a difference in the time it takes, we will look at that next. TaeKwonDo teaches many benefits and would be a great addition at black belt level to anyone’s self defense or fitness arsenal.

The TaeKwonDo Association Matters In How Long To Black Belt.

For a breakdown of the differences in the various TaeKwonDo Associations and their requirements around black belt, this chart should make it easy to compare them at a glance. There are many reasons for these longer and shorter times and I will discuss them next.

Here it is helpful to notice that the average time for achieving black belt is longer for those associations promoting self defense and tradition without a demonstrative sport focus.

The explanations for why will be taken up next as well. It suffices here to note that for traditional focused styles of TKD, the average time to black belt is 3 and 1/3 years. For federations that focus more heavily on sport, the times to black belt average out to 3 years.

TKD AssociationType of AssociationTime To
1st Dan Black Belt
World TaeKwonDo – WTSport / Traditional3 Years
International TaeKwonDo Federation – ITFSport / Traditional3.5 Years
American TaeKwonDo Association – ATASport / Traditional2.5 Years
American TaeKwonDo Foundation – ATFTraditional3 Years
Jhoon Rhee InstituteTraditional3.5 Years
Traditional Tae Kwon Do Chung Do Association (TTCA)Traditional3.5 Years

Now let’s look at what the reasons are behind these disparaging times. Black belt is a goal of many studying the martial arts. So, it stands to reason that some thought should be put into the amount of effort and the requirements needed to attain it.

World TaeKwonDo – WT (Formerly World TaeKwonDo Federation – WTF)

The WT is the largest TaeKwonDo association in the world and is the official organization connected with the Olympic Games. With this designation and the sheer numbers of students under its banner, it is not hard to see why they have followed a model of frameworks and regulations to reach black belt.

Where some other organizations give much leeway to instructors when it comes to belt ranks, the WT looks for as much uniformity as can be had in an organization that large. This also makes times to black belt usually uniformly applied throughout the world.

The strong emphasis on sport also takes up much of a student’s time and is considered part of the training as a whole in the art. Though there are generally no requirements to compete, it is usually encouraged. Though competing will not shorten the time to black belt, a student is missing out on a key component of the style if they don’t at least in some way.

International TaeKwonDo Federation – ITF

The ITF was formed by TaeKwonDo’s original founder, General Choi. He broke off from the organization forming that would become the WT to establish his own system that focused more on what he considered self defense and its iteration into sport. To those who have trained in both WTF and ITF TaeKwonDo, there are noticeable differences.

These differences show up in times to black belt as well. It takes a bit longer in the ITF to attain a black belt. This is not something that should turn off students that may want a style that focuses a bit more on hands and spars with less padding. The times are not that varied.

American TaeKwonDo Association – ATA

The American TaeKwonDo Association can be explained as more of a family type of training experience. Though there is sport, it is not nearly as promoted as with the previous two. This also shows up in a much more approachable experience on the way to black belt.

This is not to say in any way that it is an easy road to attain an ATA black belt. All styles have merit if they are used for what they were designed for. An ATA black belt designates someone that has mastered the basics of Korean striking self defense. This translates to a personal journey more than others maybe, and it also results in some of the shortest times to black belt.

American TaeKwonDo Foundation – ATF

Smaller associations like the ATF tend to center their testing around either requirements set up by one or two founders of the system or leave much of the time requirement to the discretion of the instructor. This means that the time to black belt becomes much less rigid in these federations.

This association in particular does this with its times between all belts. There are general ideas of what a student could be looking at in terms of a waiting or training period, but that can be overridden by the instructor for reasons that he or she deems appropriate.

Jhoon Rhee Institute

This system was the organization founded by the late Jhoon Rhee. He was an instructor to senators, actors, and competitors alike. This system and the schools that follow it fit into the small federation category. Though there is a much more rigid system developed around the regulations set by Master Rhree.

In a case such as this, you will get the formal progression of an organization like the WT or ITF, but will have instructors who have a more direct access to those in charge. This translates to the possibility in slight changes in the timeline. Though, one should expect that these are exceptions and rarely happen.

Traditional Tae Kwon Do Chung Do Association (TTCA)

With the TTCA we have an example of a very traditional system, designed by and around one master instructor who attempts to express Korean heritage and identity through a smaller run association. These can feel like family operations at times, which is both a plus and a minus, depending on the goals of the student.

For the most part you should expect a more personalized road map to black belt, even though there are definite structured requirements. Many organizations like this will experience an ‘everyone knows everyone’ feel. This makes testing requirements for time sometimes more fluid.

If you would like to read more about belt rankings and associations, read my article here on belt ranking orders for color and black belts in TaeKwonDo.

How Instructors Speed Up Or Slow Down TKD Black Belt Progression?

As was discussed in the previous section, an instructor can change the time requirements and pace of testing for students in some organizations. This could potentially lengthen the time to black belt significantly if the instructor feels that the student is not putting forth enough effort to meet his or her potential.

This could definitely be a difference from a more formalized system, where time plus technique demonstration equals new belt rank. Some instructors with the ability to judge students and base testing times on their opinion could decide that though a student can meet the minimums set down by the organization, there is much more that could be achieved with greater effort.

This can be a good thing. This could seem unfair, but it could push a student to be a better black belt in the end.

There is also the ability of instructors to teach and inspire that can come into play. In the next section we will go over student obstacles to achieving a black belt in a timely manner. One obstacle can also be the ineptitude of an instructor.

If the TKD teacher is proficient at the techniques of the style, that is only half of the equation. Teaching is a whole other skill that should be mastered. There is definitely a difference in instructors and sometimes it shows up in times to black belt.

What Can Students Do To Speed Up Times To Black Belt In TaeKwonDo?

There really isn’t much a student can do, no matter the effort and dedication to make the minimum times to black belt in TKD shorter.

What can definitely be done is prevent the things in life like work, school, distractions, and health from getting in the way of progression and slowing it down.

You would be surprised at how few people actually reach a black belt in any style in the minimum amount of time. Is it done? Sure. But, it is common for life to change a students focus for either legitimate reasons or frivolous ones. Let’s look at some of the obstacles to watch out for so that you or your child can reach the coveted rank of black belt without undue delays.

Work Duties Can Slow Down TKD Black Belt Progress.

A job and a family understandably take up much of our focus day to day. For someone to reach a black belt in TaeKwonDo is the fastest time possible, it will take daily practice. This is easy to say, but hard to consistently do.

With the stresses of work and money always in the back of our mind, this also leads to a need for relaxation and leisure. The main way someone with the daily stresses of life can reach a long term goal is to conciously make it a priority.

The activity, in this case TaeKwonDo, has to become this relaxation and leisure activity. If it takes a fourth or fifth place in someones daily routine, many times it will be skipped altogether. Once practice is skipped, class times will start to be abandoned as well.

To guard against this, stress relief needs to be found in training as well as other options. It should not take the place of other things, but it should also not have its place erased by others either.

Study And School Can Take Precedence Over Training Towards Black Belt.

In the same way that work can cause stress and lead to missing training and class time, so to can school and education. Much of the time, school assignments don’t have a set amount of time that they can take. This leads to some of them taking up most of an evening.

With time and stresses of performance in school competing with training time, it is no wonder that most martial arts business associations warn instructors about the 6 month drop off.

This is especially true for children. At around the 6 month point in martial arts training, most children that will quit taking lessons will stop coming to class. It is due to many factors, but one is the time demanded by school vs free time problem.

Lack Of Focus And Other Distractions Slow Black Belt Achievement.

Video games. Enough said. No, really there are a lot of entertainment options that everyone has today. Video games are just one of them. Some spend hours surfing videos or sites on a multitude of different devices.

All of this adds up to distraction when someone has a long term goal that takes daily participation. Make no mistake, going to TaeKwonDo class is not all it takes to earn a black belt. You only have a few years if you are wanting to stay on track to learn and become proficient at what the style has to offer.

Giving in to the ease of getting endorphin rushes from video games, escaping into a new novel, or watching a 9 hour Lord of the Rings trilogy will not help you toward your goal. None of these things are bad in themselves. Actually, I quite like all of them.

But if you are on a path to a long term goal like a TaeKwonDo black belt, there needs to be time carved out in your day for practice. This means sometimes these other things will have to give way, at least a little bit.

Health Issues Can Lengthen The Time To Black Belt.

We cannot do much about health problems that are beyond our control. Things such as diseases and malfunctions of the body are unfortunate parts of life. Though there are definitely other health related issues that can be prevented.

In order to reach a TKD black belt in a reasonable amount of time, there are some things that need to be avoided…

  • Injuries due to dangerous activities
  • Injuries due to lack of stretching
  • Injuries due to being out of shape
  • Injuries due to not wearing proper protective gear

Are you seeing a pattern here? Injuries play a big role in lengthening times to black belt in any style of martial arts. With the acrobatic nature of some of TaeKwonDo’s techniques, it isn’t hard to see how this could be the case.

The Time To A TaeKwonDo Black Belt Takeaway…

So, there you have it. The average time to black belt in TaeKwonDo is around 3 years. This can take longer for several reasons that we discussed.

For those contemplating studying TKD, I would give a resounding ‘do it’. You may not make it your only style of martial arts since it limits itself in some ways, but you will definitely benefit from it and have a blast in the process.

I will leave you with a saying that most martial arts instructors use regularly…

A black belt is just a white belt that didn’t quit.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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