The American Taekwondo Association (ATA)
was founded in 1969
in Omaha, Nebraska
by Haeng Ung Lee
of South Korea
. It is one of the largest Taekwondo
organizations in the United States
, and in association with the Songahm Taekwondo Federation
(STF) and World Traditional Taekwondo Union
(WTTU), is one of the largest in the world, claiming a membership of 350,000. The ATA is currently headquartered in Little Rock
and led by Soon Ho Lee.
ATA forms are protected under US and global copyright laws, and are the traditional basis of rank promotion in Taekwondo. The belts of Songahm ("Pine Tree and Rock") Taekwondo symbolize the steps of growth from a tiny seed to a mighty pine tree.
ATA-affiliated schools also host self defense seminars periodically which are open to the public. The programs focus on teaching children and adults techniques to give them the best chance to escape an attacker and the confidence to do so.
Songahm Taekwondo is a style of martial arts
originating in Korean tradition. Songahm means "Pine Tree and Rock." The term Songahm itself represents "evergreen strength the year round, long life and a symbol of unchanging human loyalty" as represented by the pine tree and the rock. Soon Ho Lee gave the name, Songahm, and its meaning to his brother, Haeng Ung Lee
years before H.U. Lee founded the ATA. Throughout a student's training, the student is compared to a growing pine tree, from a seed (white belt) to a massive tree (black belt).
Practitioners of Songahm Taekwondo study poome sae (forms, a preset combination of offensive and defensive techniques, designed to simulate sparring an imaginary opponent), gyeo-roo-gi (sparring), one-steps (scripted sparring segments), self defense, board breaking, weapons and leadership. Songahm Taekwondo has a leadership program that allows students to work as junior leaders/instructors in junior classes. This helps the trainee instructors become qualified taekwondo instructors and earn the ATA title of Certified Instructor.
Each belt has a symbolic meaning that compares the student's growth in Taekwondo to the growth of a pine tree:
- White belt - "Pure and without the knowledge of Songahm Taekwondo. As with the Pine Tree, the seed must now be planted and nourished to develop strong roots."
- Orange belt - "The sun is beginning to rise. As with the morning's dawn, only the beauty of the sunrise is seen rather than the immense power."
- Yellow belt - "The seed is beginning to see the sunlight."
- Camouflage belt - "The sapling is hidden amongst the taller pines and must now fight its way upwards."
- Green belt - "The pine tree is beginning to develop and grow in strength."
- Purple belt - "Coming to the mountain. The tree is in mid-growth and now the path becomes steep."
- Blue belt - "The tree reaches for the sky towards new heights."
- Brown belt - "The tree is firmly rooted in the earth"
- Red belt - "The sun is setting. The first phase of growth has been accomplished."
- 1st Degree Black Belt Recommended (half red and half black in appearance) - "The dawn of a new day. The sun breaks through the darkness."
- 1st Degree Black Belt - "The tree has reached maturity and has overcome the darkness. Now plant seeds for the future."
- 2nd Degree Black Belt - "With your noble character, you will develop a new permanence in life."
- 3rd degree Black Belt - "Peace of mind and tranquility."
- 4th Degree Black Belt - "You will live comfortably and in peace."
Belt and rank system
The American Taekwondo Association uses a rank system divided into two series: the colored belt series, and the black belt series. The purposes of a rank system include establishing a chain of command, and measurement of student progress. Each series has nine ranks within it due to the significance of the number nine as the highest attainable goal of a measurable endeavor in oriental culture.
The use of nine levels in the colored belt and black belt systems, is rooted in Korean numerology and has been explained by General Choi (nine is an important number in Korean culture). The increased number of smaller goals provided by nine levels of colored belt rank was designed "for added motivation by giving many short term goals to achieve and eliminating having to remain in a single color for several months at a time" and likely satisfies the need of many American students for immediate gratification.
Each rank from orange belt to second degree black belt may be held either as a Recommended (R) or Decided (D) rank. The "decided" rank is a half step above the "recommended" rank. Some schools denote this rank with a piece of black tape around the end of the belt hanging on the student's right side. Other schools show the recommended rank with dual colored belts. The higher rank would be worn as the top half of the belt and the lesser rank as the bottom half of the belt. Decided ranks wear the full color belt. At promotional rank testings, students may receive a "Full Pass," "Half Pass," or "No Change." In rare cases where students have prior martial arts experience, they may be promoted by 1 1/2 ranks or "double test" and get a full two rank promotion. For example, a decided Camo Belt (6D) could go half a rank to recommended Green Belt (Half Green/Half Camo - 5R), a full rank to decided Green Belt (Solid Green - 5D), or stay the same. And in extreme cases, if they go 1 1/2 ranks, they would become recommended Purple Belt (Half Purple/Half Green - 4R) or "double Test" and achieve decided Purple Belt (Solid Purple - 4D).
ATA uses a progressive symbology of a pine tree growing on a mountain, and each belt represents a stage of growth. The camouflage belt, as an example, has the meaning behind it of "The sapling is hidden among the taller pines and must now begin to fight its way upward". This is further reinforced by the fact that camouflage belt is the first level where the student begins to free spar, as opposed to previously formalized one step (scripted) sparring segments.
Colored belt series
- 9th Grade White Belt
- 8th Grade Orange Belt Recommended (8R)
- 8th Grade Orange Belt Decided (8D)
- 7th Grade Yellow Belt Recommended (7R)
- 7th Grade Yellow Belt Decided (7D)
- 6th Grade Camouflage Belt Recommended (6R)
- 6th Grade Camouflage Belt Decided (6D)
- 5th Grade Green Belt Recommended (5R)
- 5th Grade Green Belt Decided (5D)
- 4th Grade Purple Belt Recommended (4R)
- 4th Grade Purple Belt Decided (4D)
- 3rd Grade Blue Belt Recommended (3R)
- 3rd Grade Blue Belt Decided (3D)
- 2nd Grade Brown Belt Recommended (2R)
- 2nd Grade Brown Belt Decided (2D)
- 1st Grade Red Belt Recommended (1R)
- 1st Grade Red Belt Decided (1D)
Black belt series
- 1st Degree Black Belt Recommended (1BR, Red/Black Belt)
- 1st Degree Black Belt Decided (1BD)
- 2nd Degree Black Belt Recommended (2BR)
- 2nd Degree Black Belt Decided (2BD)
- 3rd Degree Black Belt (3BD, 3rd-9th degree are "Decided" ranks - there are no "Recommendeds")
- 4th Degree Black Belt (4BD)
- 5th Degree Black Belt (5BD)
- 6th Degree Black Belt (6BD) Eligible for the title Master
- 7th Degree Black Belt (7BD) Eligible for the title Senior Master
- 8th Degree Black Belt (8BD) Eligible for the title Chief Master
- 9th Degree Black Belt (9BD) Grand Master
For recommended Black Belt ranks, the student is required to successfully pass testing for their next decided rank within 6 months of achieving their current recommended rank. Failure to do so would result in the student being returned to their next lowest decided rank (i.e. a 2nd Degree recommended would be returned to 1st Degree decided).
The honorary rank of 10th Degree Black Belt, styled "Eternal Grand Master", was bestowed upon Haeng Ung Lee following his death in 2000. The rank was sponsored and awarded by Grand Masters of other major martial arts, many of whom attended Haeng Ung Lee's funeral.
Upon attaining the rank of 6th Degree black belt, the next step is earning the mantle of "Master Instructor"; this is not automatic. A 5th Degree may only test for 6th Degree at the Songahm Taekwondo World Championships, held in Little Rock, Arkansas
each June. The new 6th Degree will have new criteria which must be met in order to apply for Mastership, and cannot be awarded until Worlds the following year. Similarly, there is a minimum period of a year between earning a 7th Degree and the Senior Master title, as well as 8th Degree and the Chief Master title. Mastership is only earned after many years of dedication to the ATA, which is why Masters are styled "Instructors of Instructors."
The Taekwondo for Tiny Tigers program for preschool students (2-6) uses patches with animals on them instead of black stripes on the belt to denote the half step graduations:
Tiger for orange belt;
Cheetah for yellow;
Lion for camo;
Eagle for green;
Phoenix for purple;
Dragon for blue;
Cobra for brown; and
Panther for red.
A form (poome sae) is a series of kicks, blocks and other techniques put together in a set pattern. The pattern becomes more complex as the student progresses through the ranks. For example, the 9th grade white belt form contains eighteen moves. The 5th grade green belt form has 34 moves, the 1st degree black belt form has 81 moves, and the 9th degree black belt form has 99 moves. If all of the forms (eighteen in all) are done in sequence, they form the pattern of a nine pointed star (eight outer points plus a center point) referred to as the Songahm Star. When the outer points of the Songahm star are connected, they form a circle which exemplifies complete balance. In general, forms create a contextual application for new material learned at each belt level.
- 9th Grade White Belt - Songahm 1 - 18 moves
- 8th Grade Orange Belt - Songahm 2 - 23 moves
- 7th Grade Yellow Belt - Songahm 3 - 28 moves
- 6th Grade Camouflage Belt - Songahm 4 - 31 moves
- 5th Grade Green Belt - Songahm 5 - 34 moves
- 4th Grade Purple Belt - In Wha 1 - 44 moves
- 3rd Grade Blue Belt - In Wha 2 - 42 moves
- 2nd Grade Brown Belt - Choong Jung 1 - 44 moves
- 1st Grade Red Belt - Choong Jung 2 - 46 moves
- 1st Degree Black Belt - Shim Jun - 81 moves
- 2nd Degree Black Belt - Jung Yul - 82 moves
- 3rd Degree Black Belt - Chung San - 83 moves
- 4th Degree Black Belt - Sok Bong - 84 moves
- 5th Degree Black Belt - Chung Hae - 95 moves
- 6th Degree Black Belt - Jhang Soo - 96 moves
- 7th Degree Black Belt - Bee Ho - 97 moves
- 8th Degree Black Belt - Sah Boo - 98 moves
- 9th Degree Black Belt - Dong Seung - 99 moves
One steps are a short combination of blocks, strikes and kicks that serve as a precursor to free sparring. the aim of this is to teach students to put moves into combinations, focus their techniques at a specific target, learn distancing and gain self control. There are three specific one steps for each belt level starting at white belt and ending with green. As with the forms, the one steps become more complex as a student progresses in rank.
Students and instructors alike each wear a traditional white dobok
with the appropriate belt to all classes, promotional rank testings, and tournaments. Each dobok
has on the right breast an ATA shield patch with a school or club-specific patch on the left. On the back of the uniform, instructors and trainee instructors are required to have the word \"TAEKWONDO\" arching over a red and blue ATA patch. Underneath the patch is the instructor's name, either as \"JOHN DOE\" or \"J. DOE.\" Non-instructor students may wear a uniform with \"TAEKWONDO\" and an ATA patch on the back, however, these students do not wear their names on their backs. Instead of a name, the student will have the location of the dojahng (dojo
) he or she attends, e.g., \"Lincoln, NE.\"
The ATA patch is worn on the right breast and is in the shape of a shield with three points at the top and one at the bottom. At the top-left of the patch is the American Flag. The flag of South Korea is next to it in the top-right corner. The lower two-thirds of the patch is a white field with a large \"ATA,\" the consonant in blue and the vowels in red, tapering away from the center. The stitching around the flags and the whole of the patch is blue.
The ATA patch worn on the back of the uniform is made up of large block letters with the same color pattern as on the breast patch. The rear patch has a white silhouette of a jump side kick superimposed on it.
Black Belt Club patch or Master Club patch
The Black Belt Club (BBC) or Master Club (MC) patch is worn on the top of the left sleeve. The BBC patch is in the shape of an inverted triangle over top of a circle. The MC patch is in the shape of a circle with the Songahm star stitched into the center. These patches are worn by all members of the respective club. The BBC and MC are where students may learn additional material as communicated by their instructor.
Leadership Program patch
The Leadership Program Club patch is worn on the top of both sleeves. This patch is worn by all members of the Leadership Program. The Leadership Program is where students learn advanced training material and leadership/instructing skills.
Black Belt students not certified as instructors nor enrolled in a trainee instructor program may wear a one inch black ribbon along the edge of the uniform jacket from the bottom of the jacket to the level of the belt. Instructors wear a ribbon on the entire length of the collar with one half inch of white showing on the top/inside of the collar.
- 1 inch red/white/blue stripe: Worn by children in the Junior Trainee Instructor Program (JTIP)
- 1 inch red stripe: Worn by students enrolled in the Instructor Trainee Program (ITP)
- 1 inch half red & half black stripe: Worn by Level 1 Certified Trainers
- 1 inch black/red/black stripe: Worn by Level 2 Certified Specialty Trainers
- 1 inch black stripe: Worn by Level 3 Certified Instructors
- 1 1/2 inch black stripe: Worn by Level 3 Certified Instructors who own or operate their own school or who are the head instructor of the school they teach/manage. All certified instructors 4th Degree and above also wear this collar.
Colors may also be added to the collar to denote the number of students actively testing each testing cycle:
1 1/2 inch gold stripe: Worn only by the Grand Master
- Black/blue/black: 200 - 499
- Black/silver/black: 500 - 999
- Black/gold/black: 1000 or more
In addition, a 1/2 inch black stripe is added down the sides of the pant legs after a student or instructor has reached 4th degree Black Belt. Any individual attaining 4th degree Black Belt wears this pant leg stripe regardless of instructor level or school ownership.
Instructor dress uniform
At promotional testings and ATA tournaments, Level 3 Certified Instructors have the option to wear navy blue suits in lieu of their doboks
. Fifth Degree Black Belts and up wear matching blue pants, while 1st through 4th degrees wear grey pants. A special ATA patch is worn on the instructor's left breast. The patch is navy blue with all stitching being done in silver for 1st-4th Degrees or gold for 5th and up. Underneath the shield on the patch is a silver or gold banner (as appropriate) with the instructor's title and name stitched in navy blue, e.g., "Mr. J. Spitsen," "Master P. Saberzadeh," "Sr. Master R. Terrell," "Chief Master Clark," "Grand Master Lee." On the right breast, the instructor wears any medals or ribbons he or she has been awarded.
On each collar just above the lapel, the instructor wears rank insignia. First through 4th Degrees wear navy patches with stitched silver borders. Silver bars are stitched on the patches relative to the instructor's rank. These patches are the same as the patches on their black belts, only the belt patches are gold on black rather than silver on blue. Fifth through 9th degrees wear metallic gold pentagonal stars which pin to the lapels.
- 1BD, 2BR: 1 silver bar (I)
- 2BD: 2 silver bars (II)
- 3BD: 3 silver bars (III)
- 4BD: 4 silver bars (IIII)
- 5BD: 1 gold star
- 6BD: 2 gold stars
- 7BD: 3 gold stars in a straight line parallel to the collar
- 8BD: 4 gold stars in a straight line parallel to the collar
- 9BD: 5 gold stars arranged in a pentagon
Songahm Taekwondo Federation
The Songahm Taekwondo Federation is a branch of ATA established for South America. It was founded in 1984 by H.U. Lee and Cesar Ozuna. This was the first international chapter for the Songham style of Taekwondo outside of the US and Canada and is rapidly gaining popularity.
World Traditional Taekwondo Union
Founded during the fall of 1990, The World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU) is a division of Songahm Taekwondo. While the ATA consists of Taekwondo schools in the United States and the STF consists of schools in South America, the WTTU covers the remainder of the world.
At this time, the WTTU has licensed schools in Canada, England, Portugal, Germany, South Africa, Guam, Japan, Sweden, and South Korea. Growth in the WTTU has been consistent and rapid since its inception.
ATA-Xtreme (Xtreme Martial Arts)
ATA-Xtreme is a hybrid of traditional taekwondo open-hand and weapons forms and may contain acrobatics, and gymnastics, however it is based on the traditional moves of taekwondo. The goal of its participants is to impress both the audience and the judges with their skill and choreography. Common moves include the butterfly roundkick
, 540 Crescent kick
, double jump front kick
, and Kip-up
Korean Taekwondo Council
The Korean branch of the ATA.
Songahm Grand Masters
Within the Songahm system of Taekwondo, there is at most one 9th Degree Black Belt within the organization at a time. This individual holds the title of Grand Master and is considered to be the leader of Songahm Taekwondo. Past and present Grand Masters include:
Upon being diagnosed with cancer in 2000, H.U. Lee realized the importance of ensuring that his vision for Songahm Taekwondo be kept alive after his death. In September 2000, Lee formally created the Songahm Master's Council comprised of his most trusted advisers. Inaugural members of the Master's Council included:
- Soon Ho Lee (then 8th Degree/Chief Master, now 9th Degree Black Belt)
- Robert Allemier (8th Degree Black Belt)
- In Ho Lee (8th Degree Black Belt)
- William Clark (8th Degree Black Belt)
- G.K. Lee (8th Degree Black Belt)
- M.K. Lee (8th Degree Black Belt)
After being unanimously confirmed by the Master's Council as the next Grand Master Candidate, Soon Ho Lee removed himself from the Master's Council to focus on his training to become Songahm's second Grand Master. H.U. Lee holds an honorary position in the Master's Council.