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Master Angela McDowell

How can you determine what rank a Black Belt is? Although many people believe that all Black Belts represent essentially the same rank, there is a clearly defined ranking system for black belts. While colored belt levels of training are expressed as grades or gups, black belt proficiency is expressed in degrees or dans. Unlike the ranking system for yugupcha, or colored belts, in which the largest number represents the lowest level of experience, the opposite is true of black belt ranks. The larger black belt number, the higher the black belt's rank is. Grand Master James S. Benko, the highest ranking black belt in the International TaeKwon-Do Association, is a ninth dan. Master John E. McDowell and Master Gregory Westphal are both fifth dans.

Getting to the black belt level is a major milestone to many people. This level of advancement normally takes from three to five years to reach. Upon reaching this point, the individual knows the basics.

In most cases the rank of ITA black belts can be determined upon examination of their uniform. A first dan wears black trim around the bottom of his/her uniform jacket and a black belt. The pant leg of a first dan has no black stripe on it. It is easy to recognize a person of second dan rank (the next step after first dan). A second dan has one quarter inch wide stripe of black ribbon down the outside of each pant leg. A third dan has two quarter inch stripes spaced one half inch apart on his/her pant legs. A fourth dan, or Master, has a one inch wide black stripe down the pant legs. The ITA by-laws allow the embroidering of transverse stripes, or Roman Numerals, on the left hand side of one's belt, signifying ranks of second dan and above. Apart from the belt there are no distinguishing characteristics of a black belt's uniform above the rank of fourth dan. An interested person would need to ask someone the rank of anyone referred to as Master to find out his/her specific rank, since that individual could be any rank from fourth dan to ninth dan.

The belts worn by Yu Dan Cha , are embroidered on both ends. White or silver thread is used on one end and gold is used on the other. The gold thread is the name of the black belt's Master Instructor printed in Han Gul (characters of the Korean Alphabet), while the white thread spells out the individual's name in Korean.

Trim all the way around the black belt's lapel signifies certified instructorship. Not every black belt is a certified instructor. In order to become certified by the ITA, one has to meet specific requirements and receive additional training and instruction. Ultimately, the President and Founder of the ITA determines if the individual possesses the skills necessary to be certified.

The appropriate title for an ITA Black Belt who is not a certified instructor is Mr./Miss/Mrs. (followed by their name). An ITA instructor should be formally addressed as (their name) followed by Sa Bum Nim . Master Instructors are not supposed to be addressed by their first name, except under certain circumstances where there may be more than one Master with the same last name in the dojang at one time. The head of an organization or style is appropriately referred to as Kwan Jung Nim . This includes our own Grand Master James S. Benko. Kuk Sa Nim , which is Korean for "National Teacher", is another acceptable title.

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