As in most traditional martial arts systems, Tang Soo Do practitioners wear different colored uniform belts while in the studio. The colors signify the rank of the wearer. Students must meet specific time and performance standards to advance from one rank to the next. The standards are propagated by the World Tang Soo Do Association. The impartial standards are the same in all of the more than 600 WTSDA studios. A student can take pride in each belt advancement, secure in the knowledge that every World Tang Soo Do Association student worldwide has passed the very same testing standards.
A new student wears a white belt, and is a 10th gup, or colored belt student. Students progress through a series of regular tests from 10th gup to 1st gup. Each test includes demonstration of basic techniques, one or more required forms, or hyung, and a test of sparring and self-defense drills. A student who achieves 1st gup can then test for Cho Dan Bo, or black belt candidate. Cho Dan Bo students ultimately test for Dan rank, or black belt rank. The test for Dan rank includes an original student essay, a written test, board breaking, forms, basic techniques, weapons and sparring.
Normally, student training can begin at age 8, although some students may reach the requisite level of maturity before or after that age.
To achieve Dan rank is to join the elite of martial artists. Black belt holders have persevered through several years of training and testing, and have been found to meet the very stringent standards of the WTSDA. Black belt students, regardless of style and affiliation, recognize each other as having shared a common crucible. A very typical description of a black belt holder, spread across many different styles and philosophies, is that a black belt holder can react instantly and instinctively to a physical attack, without thinking or delay.
There are 9 degrees of Dan rank. A student who passes his or her 1st Dan test, or Cho Dan, has not graduated from Tang Soo Do, but instead has reached a level of martial arts comparable to a college education. Almost all Tang Soo Do students continue to train and prepare throughout life. Cho Dan is just the beginning of the journey.
It should be interesting to note that a new student can expect, with regular and dedicated training, to progress from white belt to Black Belt Candidate in about two years. Normally, a black belt candidate can test for Dan rank after a minimum of six months, with a total of at least 30 months training. Most students who are Cho Dan, or 1st degree black belt, with regular and dedicated training, test for 2nd degree black belt in about 24 months. In other words, the progression of a black belt 1st degree to black belt 2nd degree takes almost as long as the progression from brand new student to black belt candidate. As a black belt holder progresses, the amount of training and preparation increases for each level of Dan rank. For instance, a 3rd degree black belt is required to have a total of at least nine years of total training, and five years as a 3rd dan, before testing for 4th degree.
The Tang Soo Do belt system colors represent the cycle of the seasons. Each color stands for a specific stage of achievement. The colors describe an essential concept of oriental philosophy, i.e., that which is born must grow, reach maturity, die and leave behind the seeds of a new birth. Appropriately, black belt signifies the final stage of one life cycle and the beginning of the next.