Why Kukkiwon Rank Matters As The Ultimate And True Taekwondo Rank

        True rank in the Korean martial art of Taekwondo has always been given by individuals and institutions with set standards that are recognized by other prestigious organizations and people. Currently, for Taekwondo rank to be recognized, it must be given by the Kukkiwon which is the World Taekwondo Academy (the headquarters of Taekwondo worldwide in Seoul, Korea) which is the historic conclusion of the original Korean Taekwondo Association’s unanimous decision to unify Taekwondo as one art with set standards for acknowledgement and affirmation of martial art skill progression in Korea. It is based in tradition, and linked to this body of sanctioning members dating back to the formation of the KTA, whom are perceived as beyond reproach. Since 1955, the set standards that earned an individual a rank in Taekwondo must have been given by a recognizable entity, originally the KTA, but now the Kukkiwon (which was formed by the KTA through unanimous vote of approval in 1772). Kukkiwon Taekwondo rank must conform to existing norms in the Korean martial arts order that are sanctioned by the Korean government. Any group or individual can create their own association, organization or federation and also print up fancy looking certificates on nice paper and issue them out; but they are devoid of any governmental or legal guidelines; these are without true value (even if one has money and can afford to pay for such things to various groups and people, and even if they team up with other individuals who will affirm such bogus ranks). True Taekwondo rank has the recognition and acceptance by existing groups and institutions that give it legitimacy such as the Kukkiwon, sanctioned by the Korean government and the Administration of Sports, supported by the World Taekwondo Federation (for sport), and affirmed by the International Olympic Committee, and is the historic linage of the unified kwans organized by the KTA dating back to 1955. Even so, one must always make sure that it is the skill and knowledge that gains the rank, not the other way around. Having a personal quest for rank certification, affirmation, status, and acceptance by others on its own misses the entire point which only energizes a false sense of mastery in the art of Taekwondo for the insecure-ego driven person who lacks patience.

Kukkiwon is the head of Taekwondo across the entire world. Kukkiwon is true Korean Taekwondo and the true historic linage of Taekwondo. TKD was unified by the KTA and eventually the KTA voted upon the Kukkiwon, and all kwans unanimously agreed to fully support the Kukkiwon and unify Taekwondo as one Korean martial art, the national martial art and sport of Korea. All other groups branched off and went their own ways and started their own organizations which are not the cultural Taekwondo of Korea. Kukkiwon IS Taekwondo. Other groups are simply offshoots and false creations. This is especially true of later groups starting their own “Taekwondo style” which has nothing to do with the Taekwondo of Korea.

Kukkiwon rank is the most prestigious rank you can achieve in Taekwondo and is accepted across the world. No one is going to deny your rank when you travel. Kukkiwon rank is like a passport between Taekwondo dojang. People who would reject your rank and say you are not accepted as real black belt until they pay for ranks in a local school or faulty organization are ignorant and have an agenda (most likely to scam you out of money). So if you go to an ATA gym and they say you cannot be a black belt there, they are actually saying “You are not a real TKD black belt.” Which is ridiculous because it is saying the historic and Korean martial art you are ranked in is not actually true. They just want you to pay money and do their false mcdojang system.

Kukkiwon sets standards for skill and knowledge that are the same for everyone. No one can pass with less knowledge and no one can claim you have to know more things. Kukkiwon sets the standards which are universal, and you can easily know what you need to know. Kukkiwon provides quality control and to make sure you are doing the techniques correctly.

When you get certified by the Kukkiwon you have real accreditation by the board of members. Not just one master who assesses you. Not only the board of members, but the Korean government and administration of sports in Korea accredits you. It is not just one school or corporation saying you are a black belt but the government of Korea as well. You are also affirmed by the International Olympic Committee. It is a worldwide rank that should be recognized by anyone. Your rank is transcendent beyond 1 private group.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art. It is not American or Canadian or anything else. Kukkiwon rank is the ONLY rank accepted in Korea. If you do not have certification through Kukkiwon you are not considered a black belt or practicing real Taekwondo if you are from another group who teaches other forms. It is much like how other martial arts such as Muay Thai only affirm instructor ranks given by Thailand and blessed by their king. Any other rank not given in Thailand is not considered true. Likewise, Taekwondo rank must be given by Korea through the Kukkiwon.

Kukkiwon is the only rank accepted by the IOC and the only black belt that is considered allowed for Olympic sparring competition, the highest achievement in sports for a Taekwondoin. Which means the WTF and Kukkiwon is where true, elite, Olympic level athletes come from in Taekwondo. And both the WTF and Kukkiwon are respected for that reason.

There are other organizations such as the Amateur Athletic Union, that are ecumenical and recognize rank from a wide variety of associations or organizations simply to allow competitors for their sport competitions. This is fine simply for that sport competition such as AAU sparring and forms competitions. But a rank in the AAU is simply only a rank for their sport and not Taekwondo as a whole. AAU rank is not good enough or proof of proper Taekwondo knowledge or understanding. It is not affiliated with Korea or the Kukkiwon. It may recognize Kukkiwon rank, but it also accepts ITF, ATA, and other groups which are faulty Taekwondo and not true. The standards are not good enough. Paying a group like the AAU to simply to obtain a high dan rank, to jump up a few notches and claim mastery is fallacious. It is fine for solely AAU sport competitions, but not as a true martial art rank in Taekwondo. Also, sport competitions are limited to the AAU and not acknowledged by the WTF or IOC. One must transfer to Kukkiwon rank to be allowed for Olympic competition.

With all of this, it is also wonderful to know that the Kukkiwon allows for dojang independence. There is no rigid curriculum or order of programs a gym has to conform to. The Kukkiwon does not dictate to an instructor what he has to teach every month. The Kukkiwon only sets the qualifications for specific technique, applications, grades, and skill. An instructor is free to teach any combination of techniques, self defense, and other martial arts at his gym he sees fit. Groups like the ATA or Tiger Rock and other groups dictate exactly what has to be taught. Even the ITF, depending on which ITF an instructor is a member if is dictated to what exactly he has to focus on. The Kukkiwon only gives standards for individual techniques and motions and what forms and sparring ability one must have to rank as a black belt. Individual instructors can add specific self defense, concepts and other knowledge he sees fit. Kukkiwon provides freedom while legitimizing Taekwondo rank and giving accreditation.

Depending on an instructor and who he associates with there are often times local and regional federations and associations run by master instructors who are affiliated and ranked within the Kukkiwon. These groups also issue personal ranks, school ranks, and regional organization ranks. This is fine, but these ranks on their own are no substitute for Kukkiwon certification. The Kukkiwon provides liberty for instructors to affiliate with and run other organizations while still maintaining Kukkiwon rank. This means one could affiliate with groups such as AAU, and various regional and local affiliations. Personal ranks, school ranks, and other association ranks can be a good indicator of training history and who you are personally trained by and affirmed. It builds a good resume, but you still should seek out Kukkiwon rank certification. Taekwondo as a unified world martial art system will keep Taekwondo as one and the martial art pure. The reason it is important your instructor would follow Kukkiwon standards is to make sure nonsense and garbage is kept out by unqualified people who claim to know a “better way” and are self proclaimed masters who make stuff up and lower the quality of Taekwondo.

There are of course Taekwondo practitioners who belong to a local gym that practices the same forms as approved by the WTF an Kukkiwon and in theory practices the same Taekwondo, but they simply are not accredited by the Kukkiwon yet. Such people should make every effort to eventually get certified by the Kukkiwon and with some effort will find a way to do it. This is ideal, but still there is some merit of course to their training since it conforms to the same standards and it does not mean that your gym or instructor is bad quality in theory. It is not everyone’s fault if they are not Kukkiwon ranked. Also, Kukkiwon rank is very affordable, it is simply individual instructors who price gouge and make testing fees very expensive. This is unfortunate. Hopefully one can find an instructor who is not greedy. Even so, I have found that even with increased prices for promotion testing for Kukkiwon rank are by far cheaper than the average mcdojang systems ranks by the time you paid all of their fees for every little thing. So it would still be worth it.

Kukkiwon rank matters. Without it you are simply not true Taekwondo. If you are a member of an offshoot organization that does not teach the same Taekwondo as Korea, you are not doing the cultural martial art of Korea. Ranking up high in another organization has no true value for Taekwondo. Taking such short cuts to obtain quick paced master rank does not legitimize you and only exposes you as an “embellisher” of credentials for personal gain. If your fighting skill is not up to par or your technique, eventually you will get exposed.

  1. The world of politics encroaches upon every field of interest. Tkd is a popular martial sport and therefore many various practitioners have thought to do it better or different. This is not a new phenomena though. Even in Korea there have always been many competing factions. Given that tkd is so young of an art and itself is an adaption of Japanese arts it is fairly ridiculous to assert that kukikwon is the one legitimate representation of true tkd. The wtf has badtardized tkd to such an extent that its hardly a martial art any longer rather a shallow sport of playing tag with ones foot. Tkd is increasingly coming under fire for being a faux martial art of pseudo warriors who in real life would be committing suicide if they tried to use their dojo skills on the street. Now we get to argue over whose the legitimate putz in the market. This is why tkd will die.

    • White Dragon says:

      So what are the standards then of someone who “though to do it better of different?” And if it is done different how is it still Taekwondo?

      Just because there were competing factions in something does not mean that it is not a true thing or that there is a true way that is correct and the others were not the same. Also in Korea the original kwans all voted upon the art of Taekwondo as one unified system. That is why Kukkiwon is correct for rank and the martial art of Taekwondo.

      When you say it is an adaptation of Japanese Karate what is your point? So what? That is irrelevant. How in the world does Karate make it ridiculous to assert that Kukkiwon is the unified Taekwondo system? That argument makes 0 sense.

      the WTF has not bastardized Taekwondo, the WTF only provides a sport using Taekwondo techniques. The WTF itself is not Taekwondo. The Kukkiwon is Taekwondo though.

      Taekwondo is actually increasingly getting more and more respect as a true fighting art through avenues such as Kickboxing and MMA. Many fighters are using Taekwondo techniques with success and knocking people out. Gone are the days of total traditional martial arts bashing, and respect is being given. Just because many mcdojangs exist and are the one gyms using bastardized Taekwondo, much of these gyms making up their own associations and organizations (exactly what this article is talking about and the fact this blog is against mcdojangism) who also used your logic of assuming they could “thought to do it better or different.” Basically you are coming off as a mcdojang supporter and not someone who truly understands what Taekwondo is.

      Taekwondo will not die as long as people like me and others keep it real and respect the tradition and train realistically and use Taekwondo for its intended fight purpose which come from the Kukkiwon.

  2. Ron says:

    So, to be clear, rank and who bestows it is what’s ultimately important? 🙂

  3. neon cat says:

    What’s the status of ITF taekwondo in Korea do you know? Of course it’s not going to be as prestigious as Kukkiwon as it doesn’t get to participate in Olympic taekwondo, but is it popular and respected? Any insights?

    • White Dragon says:

      It is pretty much ignored and not talked about. It is not respected, yet many Kukkiwon masters will say “YEs we respected the good things Choi did, but he did shameful things.” They are too polite to bash him hard like a westerner would. But it is obvious they do not like him or the ITF and just pretty much never talk about it. When questioned they are nice about it but in no way believe it is true Korea taekwondo. ITF is not popular at all. I have yet to see anyone doing it. I researched online before I came here and there is a gym claiming ITF yet they also have Kukkiwon rank to be allowed to teach Taekwondo. I dont know if they are still around. But Taekwondo is the oNLY preserved and protected martial art in Korea. It is against the law to open a dojang without 4th dan and master teaching certificate. If you dont have it you will be shut down by the government. No ITF people are going to be opening gyms here.

      My instructor understands Choi did bad things and the ITF is a problem, but he will not straight up bash him and insult him. He keeps saying “Well I respect the good things he did and promoting Taekwondo back in the day, but he did some bad things.” ALso my instructor’s father and family were O Do Kwan so he comes from that. But still all of them are not ITF, do not believe in ITF, and 100% fully embrace Kukkiwon as the only legitimate Taekwondo.

      • neon cat says:

        The amount of political bullshit that surrounds this art is just ridiculous. You have to admit it. And I have to say, you sound like a WTF onlyist. Since WTF, formed under military dictatorship, coerced all the South Korean kwans to join it under a single faction with the help of the KCIA (the South Korean intelligence service) and is now an Olympic sport that justifies its honour by the political officialism it possesses, there is more substance to the claim that WTF onlyists are the cultural threat, if there can be said to be one at all. To say that ITF taekwondo holds absolutely no worth is simply ignorant, whether you’re speaking for the WTF organisation, or not. If Shotokan karate passes, then so does ITF taekwondo. In case you wish to call me an ITF cultist because I think WTF comes from an equally as politically malign background as ITF, don’t. Try to get all the facts together before choosing a side.

        The sad thing is that this first generation of Korean taekwondo grandmasters will probably never cough up the whole truth about the political scape of taekwondo and if they did, I don’t think it would form a pretty picture anyway. For now I think it is safe to say that taekwondo is taekwondo, whether its Kukkiwon, ATA, ITF, trad, whatever. If we wish to learn taekwondo as an art of philosophy as opposed to a style of combat belonging to military dictators and communist oppressors, we have to look passed this terrible conflict. Western philosophy counts too.

      • White Dragon says:

        Did i hurt your feelings? I disagree with.

      • neon cat says:

        Also, there are loads of ITF clubs around the world.

      • White Dragon says:

        So? There are way more ATA gyms than ITF gyms. Dies that make them legit?

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