You’d be hard pressed to find anybody who doesn’t understand what a black belt is. Even for those who have never touched martial arts in their life, it is well-known that a black belt is a symbol of mastery in the ways of self-defense. Black belts are common across several forms of martial arts, made famous by karate and taekwondo in particular. The journey to earning the iconic black belt is one that takes discipline, conditioning, practice, and mental fortitude.
But, did you know that for many students, black belt is just the beginning?
Indeed, while the rank of black belt is common knowledge for the majority of people, what is far less well-known is the fact that there are several degrees of black belt that you can continue to earn — nine, in fact. Let’s take a look at what it means to advance past being a first-degree black belt.
The 44 Year Journey to 9th Degree Black Belt
Reaching the rank of black belt is no joke, and it’s an endeavor that will take multiple years. For ATA (American Taekwondo Association) students, you can expect to reach black belt in two to four years with consistent training and practice. That sure seems like a long time, but in reality, it pales in comparison to what it takes to increase your black belt rank.
There are nine degrees of black belt, each one requiring more time and investment than the last. As a general rule of thumb, the number of years you have to train to advance in rank is equivalent to the rank itself. So, full black belt advancement usually looks something like this:
- 2nd Degree Black Belt: 2 Years
- 3rd Degree Black Belt: 3 Years
- 4th Degree Black Belt: 4 years
- 5th Degree Black Belt: 5 years
- 6th Degree Black Belt: 6 years
- 7th Degree Black Belt: 7 Years
- 8th Degree Black Belt: 8 Years
- 9th Degree Black Belt: 9 years
That means, if you’re looking to become a 9th degree black belt, you’re looking at 44 years of training at a minimum! We say at a minimum because truly reaching the higher degrees of ranking takes a lot more than meeting a simple time requirement. Sixth degree onwards also puts you into “mastership,” and increasing further in rank requires rigorous training, and the testing process can last an entire year.
It’s also important to note that the black belt ranking system differs between Taekwondo systems. At Thrive Martial Arts, we are affiliated with ATA, the American Taekwondo Association. In this system, there is generally only one or two 9th degree black belt in the organization at any time. These individuals hold the prestigious title of “grandmaster” and they preside over the ATA organization.
In other taekwondo systems, there is a 10th degree black belt that is reserved for this position, but 9th degrees are still few and far between. Due to the tremendous amount of Taekwondo organizations worldwide, it’s hard to estimate the exact number of 9th degree grandmasters in the world, but the number is likely under 1000.
1st Degree Black Belt is Only the Beginning
At our taekwondo dojo, we stay true to the black belt ranking system, and many of our students have passed into second and third degree black belt. Naturally, the number of students who wish to advance to higher levels becomes more and more sparse the higher up they climb in rank, but persisting to multiple degrees of black belt can be a tremendous achievement and an incredible feat for both your body and mind.
One reason why we advocate students to continue past first degree black belt (the “normal” black belt) is that this is really where their education in self-defense becomes comprehensive. To reach black belt, students must master various forms (memorized sequences of taekwondo moves performed with precision and technique), show proficiency in sparring, and perform exercises such as board breaking. However, continuing past this can elevate this training to new levels, where students truly can begin to learn how to implement this knowledge in real-life situations.
The training, for lack of better words, becomes complex. While black belt is a tremendous achievement, those who have advanced to further ranks might argue that it is simply a sign that you have mastered the basics. More advanced hand-to-hand combat techniques, weapons training, and more will be taught at higher degrees, as well as an absolute mastery of your body. An 8th degree black belt master may very well perform many of the same moves that a first degree black belt would, but the years of training and honing their body will make their moves devastatingly more effective.
At Thrive Martial Arts, we are happy to continue your instruction past first degree black belt. We have a handful of advanced students who are passionate about the art of self-defense, and it has been immensely rewarding for both teacher and student to witness their transformation. Black belts who take their training to the next level will see an increase in strength, self-discipline, and mental fortitude. And, of course, they are exceptionally well-trained in martial arts, making them a force to be reckoned with in the event that they need to defend themselves.
We want to help you get there. Whether you’re a fledgling white belt who wants to take your first steps towards mastery, or a black belt who wants to take things to the next level, we are happy to train you at our Fort Collins and Windsor taekwondo dojos. The best part? We offer a free trial, so you can attend a few classes first to see if it’s right for you. What are you waiting for? Contact us today, or sign up for our free trial!