Anyone that has trained in Taekwondo will know that if you get to the red belt standard you are a skilled and determined expert (or at least very close to an expert).
But since training to get to this standard, I’ve become really interested in what the red belt actually means.
In Taekwondo, the red belt represents danger. It warns possible opponents that this is a skilled proponent, and to stay away. Conversely, it also warns the wearer themselves that they now possess dangerous powers.
A red belt is normally just one away from black (in most Taekwondo grading systems), so you can tell that it’s pretty tough to achieve.
In this post, I’ll look at exactly what the red belt means. Its meaning is both practical (in what skills you have), and philosophical (what it represents).
I’ll take a look at all the skills you’ll be likely to see in a red belt practitioner, what level of training is required to get to this standard, and how long that would usually take.
The Meaning Of The Red Belt In Taekwondo
In Taekwondo, the belt levels represent a personal journey through the acquisition of skills.
At either end of the journey are the white belt and the black belt – probably the best-known of the two belts.
As you can probably guess, the white belt symbolizes innocence and a lack of knowledge. You literally receive this belt on entry into Taekwondo, before having tried a single move.
On the other hand, the black belt is the opposite of this. A black belt will signify full proficiency, but it also symbolizes darkness. The owner of the belt now has power over the forces of the dark.
In the grand scheme of things, the red belt is far removed from white, and the closest belt to black. At this point, the student has a wide range of skills and knowledge. They have already reached a high standard, and are a figure to be feared.
Symbolically, then, the red belt represents the danger of this student. Any potential opponents should be fearful of them, and the student should also recognize their own danger and use it respectfully.
Why All Belts have A Meaning In Taekwondo
To put it as simply as possible, belts have a meaning to show how proficient a student is in the art, and also as a symbol of the point in their Taekwondo journey that they have reached.
The belts in Taekwondo tell a story. It is a story of growth.
The main metaphor used is that all students are like trees. They start as a seed, grow into a green shoot, then grow a more solid foundation and trunk, before their branches grow towards the sky.
In fairness, the red belt is a bit of an outlier, as it comes right at the end of the metaphor of growth. At this point, the tree is basically more or less fully grown. However, it is important to know how it all ties into this growth story.
In a more practical sense, a belt shows the levels of skills that a student has acquired. This works well for a range of reasons, including:
- It creates a hierarchy in the training academy
- It motivates students to keep pushing forward to work on their skills
- It makes sense that students of a similar belt can interact together
- It represents the skills that a student is proficient in
- In many training academies, students of a similar belt will train together
- It provides a mechanism for aspiration – students want to aspire to improve because of it
The Level Of Skills Required To Receive A Red Belt
The first thing to note, is that belts are not standardized in every country.
However, that being said, here is a list of skills that you would normally expect to witness in a student of red belt level:
Red Belt Skills
Students will normally be required to perform set forms (series of movements). They will also be proficient in a range of blocks, strikes, and kicks.
Red Belt Forms
The main form at the blue belt level is the Taegeuk Chil Jang
This is a set series of movements, blocks, kicks, and strikes that a student performs in a solo capacity.
Here is what it looks like:
Students at this level will be engaging in 3 rounds of 3 minute-sparring sessions, usually with a 1 minute rest in between rounds.
- Continuous Hook Kick & Round Kick
- Jump Spinning Hook Kick
At the red belt level, students are required to use kicks in combinations. There are two main combination kicks.
Continuous Hook Kick and Round Kick
A hook kick is a sideways kick where the foot ‘hooks around’ as it strikes. A round kick is a kind of sideways kick.
Here is a video that demonstrates how to perform and learn these skills:
Jump Spinning Hook Kick
This is 360 degrees spinning jump. It requires power, flexibility and a high level of springiness. The student jumps off the floor, spins a full a revolution, while aiming a high sideways kick at head height. Here is a fantastic demo and brief description of how to learn the kick:
Red Belt Blocks and Strikes
The key red belt blocks and strikes are:
- Cross Block (X Block)
- Scissors Block
- Inside Palm Block
- Double Outside Block
Simply put, the arms cross over each other to make an X in these blocks. Both hands and arms work together to defend strikes from different angles.
The arms work like scissors, in that one extends as the other bends in an opposite movement. This block is defending the torso. Here is how to do a scissors block:
Inside Palm Block
A block using your palm.
Double Outside Block
Your fists begin by being crossed over your torso. Then they extend outwards, so that your forearms are vertical, aiming up by your body, and your fists are next to your shoulder.
How Are Your Skills Assessed For A Red Belt?
Across the vast majority of countries practicing Taekwondo, skills are assessed in what is known as a ‘grading’.
Gradings are standard practice in many martial arts. It is a structured day when all students receive a practical examination of their skills.
Usually, the skills are performed in a solo manner and are judged by often the leading instructor at your training academy, or a good-quality instructor from the local area.
You are then told if you have passed either:
- At the end of the grading
- Or at your next training session
If successful, you will then be awarded a belt (and sometimes a certificate).
The thing about the grading is that there are no surprises! You know exactly what you will be doing going into the day, and should be able to prepare for it to the best of your ability.
It will usually comprise a range of the skills that I set out above.
How Long Will You Need To Train To Receive A Red Belt In Taekwondo
There is no exact timeframe as to how long it will take you to achieve a red belt.
However, I would say the average timeframe is around three years.
This is impacted by a range of factors. These include:
- To a lesser extent, the quality of teaching that you are receiving in your Taekwondo training center
- The number of times per week you are able to train
- The speed at which you progress through learning skills, something that will be personal to everyone
- The minimum time that must pass between gradings and belt acquisitions. This is dictated by many Taekwondo associations (and this is the most important factor)
Let’s take a look at some of these issues in greater detail:
The Statutory Timeframe
Let’s look at the biggest factor first. In many countries, including the United States, there will be a defined period of time that must be allotted in between gradings.
The main Taekwondo organisation, the International Taekwondo Association, sets out the minimum time that is required to advance from each belt from white to red as the following:
|Tae Kwon Do Rank||Time Required To Advance In Rank|
|10th Gup White Belt||2 Months (36 Hours)|
|9th Gup White Belt With Yellow Stripe||2 Months (36 Hours)|
|8th Gup Yellow Belt||2 Months (36 Hours)|
|7th Gup Yellow Belt With Green Stripe||2 Months (36 Hours)|
|6th Gup Green Belt||2 Months (36 Hours)|
|5th Gup Green Belt With Blue Stripe||3 Months (54 Hours)|
|4th Gup Blue Belt||6 Months (108 Hours)|
|3rd Gup Blue Belt With Red Stripe||6 Months (108 Hours)|
|2nd Gup Red Belt||6 Months (108 Hours)|
So, if we do a bit of (relatively) simple math, it looks like the minimum time to progress from white belt to red belt is 29 months. The Association suggests that this would equal
The minimum timeframe, then, to progress from white belt to blue belt using this timeframe is nineteen months. The Association suggests that this would equal 458 hours of training.
You should note that it, therefore, takes a similar amount of training to get from white to blue belt as it does from blue to red. The belts get exponentially harder as you work through them.
How Often You Are Able To Train
Of course, if you can only train one hour per week, then that 458 hours of training would take closer to ten than three.
The International Taekwondo Association states that a standard month of training is around 18 hours. This is roughly 4 hours per week.
So, if you break this down it could look like:
- Four 1-hour sessions per week
- Two 2-hour sessions
Anyone who is able to train at this intensity would be well placed to move through the belts in the timeframe suggested by the International Taekwondo Association.
However, if you are moving at a lower training frequency (which I imagine a large number of students are), then you will move more slowly through the belts.
The Speed Of Learning
Of course, the quantity of the training is only one factor (admittedly probably the most important). Also important is the general rate at which the student is able to learn. This is influenced by many things, such as:
- Your flexibility
- Your age (like anything, younger students are generally able to learn at a quicker rate)
- Your commitment to practice
- Your general health
The Meanings Of Other Taekwondo Belts
As I talked about before, each student’s journey is represented through the belt system as the story of growth.
The student begins in a state of innocence and lack of knowledge, and progresses and grows like a tree, toward a state of knowledge and skill.
Here are what the main belts all represent in Taekwondo:
You basically receive a white belt on entry to Taekwondo, and there is nothing to prove at this stage. The white represents innocence.
The yellow belt is the first colored pure belt to receive after white. At this point, the student will have acquired a handful of basic skills.
Yellow represents the earth. The seed is planted on this earth and begins to grow.
The green belt is also about growth. This color represents the green shoots of the plant as it begins to grow.
The blue belt is a kind of mid-range belt, somewhere in the middle of white and black.
The blue symbolizes the blue of the sky. The plant is now strong and is growing upwards towards the blueness of the sky.
As I have dealt with in this post, the red belt is all about danger – both warning opponents, and representative of the danger to the student that they themselves should understand.
A black belt has reached expert status. It represents two things:
- Firstly, the student has reached a state of high mastery
- Also, the student now has power over darkness
How To Train For Taekwondo
When you speak to anyone in the taekwondo world, they seem to agree on one thing – you can’t really learn taekwondo online.
They all say that you have to find a dedicated taekwondo training center in your local area. But how do you find one?
Well, I suppose it’s kind of the same way you’d find any local business or service. Some top tips would be:
- Word of mouth! This is number one by a mile. If you know anyone that trains in Taekwondo then they should be your first port of call. Get stuck into them for a full lowdown
- Read reviews on social media. Check out Facebook, Google My Business, Trust Pilot, and wherever else you can find feedback
- After you’ve narrowed the search down to one or a handful of different Taekwondo training schools, then go and visit. They may be happy for you to watch a session, or chat with an instructor. Many places have a pay-as-you-go strategy also, so there is no need to invest money upfront. This takes the risk out of selecting a Taekwondo school.