As Taekwondo has grown in popularity and global recognition over the years, the quality of instruction has not always followed suit. In fact, there is an increasing need to clamp down on illegitimate masters and Taekwondo schools from our communities—a feat that can only be achieved if we work together through education and awareness. As members of the community, we believe the questions below are essential to ask for determining legitimate Taekwondo instruction.
Is the master a registered through Kukkiwon?
Kukkiwon is the World Taekwondo Headquarters located in Seoul, South Korea. They maintain a uniform curriculum for all registered Taekwondo schools and a global registry of all Taekwondo black belts and their respective ranks. To be a master through Kukkiwon, you must 1) obtain at least a fourth degree black belt (which takes roughly fifteen years of training), and 2) have received separate certification to evaluate students for the rank of black belt. All World Championship and Olympics competitors must be registered black belts through Kukkiwon.
Caution: Many so-called Taekwondo masters receive their black belts from other credential bodies that have no affiliation with Kukkiwon. They are usually regional bodies that grant black belts based on payment. Still, many others so-called masters do not have the rank of fourth degree and/or are not certified to evaluate black belts and yet they continue to open their own schools, test students for belt promotion, and grant illegitimate black belt certification. These black belts cannot be transferred to Kukkiwon black belts. You can verify if your masters are legitimate Kukkiwon-registered masters by asking them to show their Kukkiwon ID card and certification to test black belts. You can also verify if the black belt you received is legitimate by confirming your Kukkiwon ID number at www.kukkiwon.or.kr/front/eng/main.action.
Is the Taekwondo school affiliated with World Taekwondo (“WT”)?
WT, formerly known as the World Taekwondo Federation, is a member of the Association of Summer Olympics International Federations (ASOIF). As the largest federation of Taekwondo associations, WT permits only Kukkiwon-registered black belts to compete in their tournaments.
Caution: There is similar federation and credential body called the International Taekwondo Federation (“ITF”) that is associated with the North Korean government. Many Taekwondo students who train at ITF schools usually have no idea that they and their masters have ties to the totalitarian regime of North Korea. Because ITF is a completely different version of Taekwondo, a student cannot transfer his/her ITF credentials to Kukkiwon credentials. We highly recommend staying clear of ITF-affiliated schools by confirming the master’s certification first.
Is the Taekwondo school registered under USA Taekwondo (“USAT”)?
USAT is Taekwondo’s national governing body in the USA, which in turn is governed by WT (see #2). To be a registered program, school, or club, the head master must have verified credentials through Kukkiwon. All competitors for USAT nationals and Olympics or World Championship affiliated tournaments must have affiliation with a school registered under USAT and have the proper black belt credentials through Kukkiwon (see #1).
Caution: Look out for any schools that have never competed in USAT, WT, or Kukkiwon affiliated tournaments. Other than a lack of preparation, it may be because the school cannot register with USAT because their head master is not a legitimate master. You can verify a school’s registration with WT here: www.teamusa.org/usa-taekwondo/v2-getting-started-in-taekwondo/club-locator-app. For example, within five miles of the zip code 21042, there are seven schools claiming to teach Taekwondo. However, only two of them are listed under USAT's directory.
Does the master claim to hold any titles?
Any athlete or martial artist that holds a genuine national or international level title is worthy of tremendous respect. But these days most Taekwondo masters seem to be a national or international level champion of some kind. The likelihood of that being true, however, is very low given the number of schools and so-called title-holders out there. Unless the title was awarded through a Kukkiwon or WT sponsored event, they always hold little to no weight by the international Taekwondo community.
Caution: Over the years, many so-called masters have claimed to hold national or international level titles without providing any means of verification. With the help of the Internet, you can now confirm official tournament rankings through websites such as www.taekwondodata.com/.
We hope this list has provided some insight into what to look for when searching for Taekwondo training. Together, we can revive the quality and professionalism of the sport we all love.