Philosophical Relationships of Tang Soo Do’s Belt System
White, Green, Red, Black: These are the colors of Tang Soo Do’s belt system. Why these four colors? To a Tang Soo Do practitioner, they are not just random colors. Each is rich with philosophical meaning and tradition. There are three components to the symbolic color of each: a season, an animal, and an element.
The first belt any new student wears is a white belt. White belt includes 10th, 9th, 8th, and 7th Gup members. In recent years yellow and orange belts have been added to the belt system to help build confidence of new students and encourage them to continue their Tang Soo Do training. However, they are still considered white belts, as is reflected by white trim on the uniform. Most students do not question why they wear a white belt; they simply put it on before each class as they have been instructed. The philosophical reasons behind wearing a white belt are deep in tradition.
The white belt is the color of snow. The winter months are cold and unpredictable. Snow covers the ground, hiding the life below. Symbolic of the snow, the white belt has hidden potential in Tang Soo Do. During the winter months the trees are bare and appear lifeless. In reality, the trees are very much alive. The roots continue to bring life into the tree and new buds are beginning to form. Tang Soo Do has strong roots in tradition and loyalty from which the white belt can gather strength.
The Tiger is fast, aggressive, and intelligent animal. They are hunters who attack swiftly and with great force. When white belts begin their training, they are eager to learn and absorb information quickly. Like the tiger, their movements are quick and hard. When sparring, new students often fight offensively, with hard, stiff techniques, similar to the way a tiger hunts. The white belt relies on a few techniques he/she feels comfortable with, attacks in a long linear path, and uses strength and forces to execute moves.
The symbolic element of a white belt is metal. Metal is hard and rigid, like the movements of a white belt. White belts tend to move stiffly. They continue to develop their technique and increase their level of comfort executing punches, kicks, and blocks.
When a student is promoted to green belt, he/she makes the first significant change in rank. For the first time, the uniform lapel is trimmed in color to match the belt. Green belt includes 6th, 5th, and 4th Gup students.
Spring is a time of growth and new life. Like the flowers of spring, a green belt’s spirit, technique, and confidence are beginning to grow. The buds on the tree represent the growth of the green belt’s loyalty to the brotherhood of Tang Soo Do, as well as the continued development of inner spirit and physical technique.
The dragon is believed to have been a ferocious animal. Dragons were bigger and stronger than tigers, yet not as quick or as graceful as birds. Symbolically, green belts are just beginning to learn jumping and flying kicks. They are still most comfortable performing techniques on the ground.
Wood is less rigid and not as hard as metal. Green belts continue to develop good stretching technique and gain greater flexibility of their muscles. As green belts begin to develop their inner spirit and confidence, their technique softens. Green belt’s forms are smoother, their sparring is more relaxed, and their blocks and kicks are becoming more focused. This growth comes as the green belt begins to understand the theory behind each technique, and is able to learn through “feeling” the movements.
Advancing to red belt is the next significant change in rank in the Tang Soo Do belt system It includes 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Gup students. Red belt is a time to prepare for the rank of black belt. Students work on perfecting basic techniques and begin to take on both leadership and teaching roles.
The color of summer is red. It is hot and the entergy level is high. Red belts train intensely, they work hard to improve their technique, and they are eager to share their knowledge with the lower ranking students in their classes. Their loyalty to Tang Soo Do and their instructor is strong as they begin to develop a balance of peace, calm, and confidence in their training.
Young birds must take risk as they prepare to leave their nest and fly on their own, while mature birds soar confidently through the sky. The red belt is a combination of the two. On one level the yare confident, they are training hard, and they are gaining a level of respect among the Gup members. They are comfortable in the air, easily performing flying and jumping techniques. On the other hand, they are preparing to leave the comfort and security of their rank as they progress to black belt. In order to successfully make this transition, the red belt must be willing to take risks and look to their instructor for guidance and support.
Fire is a moving, growing, flexible element. It can burn wood and melt metal. This is symbolic of a red belt’s progression in rank and seniority among Gup students. They have put a lot of time and energy into their Tang Soo Do training, and have developed the knowledge and ability to help teach white and green belts.
Black belt is the last change of color in the Tang Soo Do belt system. It is the most significant rank advancement as is reflected in the full trim of the uniform top. Traditionally, Tang Soo Do black belts wear a navy blue belt and trim. This is because the color black symbolizes death and finality. It is the only color, which does not change when more color is added to it. Black is always black, it cannot be altered. On the other hand, one can add more color to navy blue to make it darker. This is significant because the training of a Tang Soo Do black belt is never final. A true black belt never stops learning, training, or improving their technique.
During the fall months, the trees begin to lose their leaves. They fall slowly to the ground, collecting around the base of the tree. The autumn leaves represent a black belt’s knowledge, loyalty, and support. Each black belt is responsible for passing these things down to lower ranking students. The roots of the tree are symbolic of the heritage and tradition of Tang Soo Do that bind students of all ranks in a supportive and loyal brotherhood.
The turtle is an animal which moves slowly, steadily and most importantly, purposefully. Turtles are strong yet humble. They live longer than any other animal on earth. Turtles retreat when threatened however, they can attack fiercely when necessary. These are all qualities reflected in the life and training of a true Tang Soo Do Black Belt.
Water is the most powerful element there is. Water rusts metal, rots wood, and douses fire. It can take any shape or form. It is powerful, peaceful, flowing, and inviting. Water is essential to all life, just as black belts are essential to the life of Tang Soo Do. Like water, those who hold the rank of black belt must be respected. They are strong and powerful, yet have much they are willing to share with others peacefully.