The amount of time it takes to learn Taekwondo will depend on several factors including the style you learn, the association you study under, and your own dedication and motivation to practice the art. How long will it take for the average student to master the basics and how long to become even more advanced.
Learning Taekwondo and earning a black belt takes 2.5 to 3.5 years. The American Taekwondo Association (ATA) provides the fastest time with many students learning in just over 2 years. However, to become a full instructor in most systems, students traditionally need to spend eight to nine years.
The good news is that it is possible to practice and be able to use some of the techniques earlier. Older students can even participate in some sparring before mastering all of the different techniques. This can be a good motivator for students to see how well they are doing and where they need to practice and improve on their skills more.
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How Many Years To Learn The Different Styles of Taekwondo?
There are three main styles or associations that come with taekwondo, which is why you may see a variation in how long it takes to learn and earn a black belt in each one.
To be clear, we are talking about becoming proficient in the basics to a high level when we speak of a black belt. Most instructors and systems in general all agree that a black belt is a master of the basics.
That being said, using the term ‘basics’ is not to diminish the goal. It is these basics that will make up 90% of all competition and self defense techniques practitioners will likely use.
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Let’s now look at some of the most common styles and associations.
International Taekwondo Federation (ITF)
This is a traditional form of Taekwondo oddly enough started by the founder of the WT (formerly the WTF). It has been a rival of sorts for the WT ever since. Started by General Choi in order to form a traditional alternative to the more sports centered style that the WTF was becoming, the International Taekwondo Federation was born.
During sparring matches, the participants will need to wear padding, though the type of gear may vary. Noticeably many ITF sparring gear setups will not require the chest guard that is mandatory in systems like the WT.
This style will use options like a shin guard, gloves, and head guard to protect the participants. Unlike other styles, the ITF style will allow the participants to employ punches to the head and face.
This style focuses less on the legs and kicking compared to other styles of TKD because hand strikes are valued a bit more. There are regulations in place to keep the participants safe, but there are times when blows may be more severe than with the other forms.
It takes on average between 3.5 to 4 years to learn Taekwondo and earn a black belt in the International Taekwondo Federation.
World Taekwondo (WT – Formerly The WTF)
When practicing Taekwondo, it is likely that you will learn the methods of the World Taekwondo because this is the most common style. This due to its acceptance by the Olympic Committee as the official TKD association of the Olympic games.
This style does not allow for any strikes on the head or face using hand strikes to keep participants safe and honor the traditional kicking focus of the style. A focus on kicks and legwork exists in this style that is not as prevalent in the International Taekwondo Federation option.
This method often takes the longest to learn because it focuses not just on the movements and techniques, but also on some of the tradition that comes with Taekwondo and the Korean culture. It may take a little longer to learn, but it can be really interesting and provides new insights on this martial arts form.
To learn Taekwondo through ITF system a student can expect to spend around 3 years to earn a black belt.
American Taekwondo Association
For those who live in America, it is likely that you will have heard of the American Taekwondo Association style. It is often considered an easier form than the other option. For example, many can learn this style within two years while the other two could take between four and seven years to master.
The focus of this system though it has a competition element is not on sport or fighting in general. It is considered a more family friendly style that focuses on self defense and personal achievement.
One of the main differences with this style is that it will teach slightly different techniques. Weapons are also employed in the method as are hand strikes and kicks. A hybrid form of Escrima martial arts has been incorporated into the style and adds a bit of variety to the kicking based system.
The techniques may not be as technically advanced or difficult when it comes to kicking as the other two options, but there is a wide variety that can be nice to learn. The ATA is more strict with their safety regulations so they do require more protective gear in sparring matches to keep participants safe.
The family focus of the ATA makes it a great choice for a combined family activity. It takes generally around 2.5 years to learn ATA Taekwondo and earn a black belt.
Which Styles Of Taekwondo Take More Years To Learn?
Years To Learn ATA Taekwondo
As mentioned above, each style is going to take a different length of time to learn. If you want to learn Taekwondo quickly and experience it in a more relaxed atmosphere, then the ATA version is often the best.
Depending on how long you have to dedicate to this and how much you practice, it is possible for students to advance to black belt in just two years. This is not always the case, but can be seen as an ambitious goal for some.
Years To Learn WT (Formerly WTF) Taekwondo
The next option for shortest length of time to learn is the World Taekwondo Federation. It is estimated that this style of Taekwondo will take about three years to learn to a black belt level.
This system may take a bit longer if the student is not willing to take a few more classes per month and participates in more sparring opportunities. Though learning Taekwondo has minimum standards and times it takes to learn, dedication is necessary to meet even these goals.
Years To Learn ITF Taekwondo
The International Taekwondo Federation style is the one that takes the longest to learn to an adequate proficiency. This is partly because it focuses not just on the kicks and legwork like the systems of ATA and WT. It also ads some emphasis on hand strikes and arms techniques.
Another factor that makes it take a little bit longer is the emphasis on traditions and history of the Korean people. It is estimated that students who practice this form will take up to four or five years to master the basics and learn to the level of black belt.
Number of Years To Learn Taekwondo Vs Learning It’s Cousin Tang Soo Do
Even though they have similar names and use many forms similar to one another, Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do are different forms of martial arts stemming from the same people and kicking tradition. That being said, learning each style is in many ways very similar and with similar amounts of time.
To start, Tang Soo Do is similar to the Japanese Shotokan Karate form, but has been changed slightly to meet the style of Korea. Taekwondo came from the same pool of influence and technique, but went the more sport oriented route in an effort to put Korea, its people, and Korean culture on the world scene.
Within Tan Soo Do there is a balance between punching and kicking with an emphasis on using the hips to get as much power behind each kick as possible. This is done even more so than the ITF system of TKD.
Taekwondo is also a Korean martial arts form, but the origin and techniques are a little different. This martial art form will focus on kicks as well. However, the force of the kicks are not only from slower powerful hip movements, but also from a combination of the accuracy and the speed of the student.
It is easy to get these two methods mixed up as they use many similar techniques, use sparring in the same way, and have come from the same Kwons or traditional federations as one another.
A good way to separate them is Tang Soo Do focuses more on adding traditions to the forms and techniques like the ITF, while WT Taekwondo is more about the sport of the movements. All in all, the number of years to earn a black belt and learn Tang Soo Do is the same as it takes to learn ITF Taekwondo.
If you would like a much more detailed look at the similarities and differences of Taekwondo vs Tang Soo Do, see my article here.
The How Many Years To Learn Taekwondo Takeaway…
There are many people who decide to learn Taekwondo for a variety of reasons. They jump in and assume that they can learn everything within a few months, and may feel discouraged when things do not move along as smoothly as they like.
Learning Taekwondo does take time and if you truly want to master the skill, it is important to prepare for 2.5 to 4 years of consistent practice to get it down.