In most Hapkido systems, level of skill (rank) is designated by a colored belt worn around the waist. Color-belt ranks below black belt are called grades (kup in Korean). The ten black-belt ranks are referred to as degrees or dans. Fourth-degree black belt or higher usually refers to a master-level practitioner. White Belt is the rank a novice receives when they begin training (no test). Be aware that color-coding systems in use for kup ranks vary widely, as do the number of grades. Originally, many Hapkido schools only used white and brown belts to designate ranks below black belt. Over time, the number of kup ranks increased, although the number of skills has remained much the same. Today, some schools have adopted as many as 12 grades. In our opinion, the precise number of kup ranks is not particularly important, since they are primarily used to subdivide the skills required for 1st Degree Black Belt, which is the first rank of consequence. In this respect, kup ranks exist mostly for educational and motivational purposes. In our experience, subdividing 1st Degree Black Belt skills into more than five kup ranks, tends to hinder one's perception of the art as a whole, and overly emphasizes "training for testing," rather than training for comprehension and self development. Excessive testing also encourages students to covet rank and status, contend with one another, and define their self-worth based on the subjective standards of others—all of which is counter to the way of the martial arts.
Five-Kup Rank System
Ultimately, the number of kup ranks a school adopts is a matter of choice. Whatever the system, it should motivate students, facilitate learning, encourage positive values, and lead to a deeper understanding of Hapkido as a whole. In a five-kup system, Hapkido’s belt ranks, from lowest to highest, would be as follows (this is the system Hapkido West has adopted):

Kup RanksBelt ColorMinimum Training*
5th KupWhitenone
4th KupYellow4 mo / 240 hr
3rd KupGreen8 mo / 480 hr
2nd KupBlue12 mo / 720 hr
1st KupRed18 mo / 1080 hr
Dan Ranks  
1st DanBlack2 yr / 1440 hr
2nd DanBlack3 yr / 2160 hr
3rd DanBlack5 yr / 3600 hr
4th DanBlack8 yr / 5760 hr
5th DanBlack12 yr / 8640 hr
6th DanBlack17 yr / 12,240 hr
7th DanBlack23 yr / 16,560 hr
8th DanBlack30 yr / 21,600 hr
9th DanBlack38 yr / 27,360 hr
10th DanBlackFounder / Inheritor
Ten-Kup Rank System
For those schools already using a ten-kup system for ranks below black belt, the material in our rank manuals 1 is easily adapted. This is accomplished by simply splitting each color-belt rank (shown on page 7 of any manual 2 ) into two grades. Thus, there would be two grades of yellow, two grades of green, and so forth (note that the 1st Kup material arises by splitting the "Black" column on page 7). This would lead to the following kup-rank system:

Kup RanksBelt ColorMinimum Training*
10th KupWhitenone
9th KupYellow2 mo / 120 hr
8th KupYellow4 mo / 240 hr
7th KupGreen6 mo / 360 hr
6th KupGreen8 mo / 480 hr
5th KupBlue10 mo / 600 hr
4th KupBlue12 mo / 720 hr
3rd KupRed14 mo / 840 hr
2nd KupRed18 mo / 1080 hr
1st KupRed or Brown20 mo / 1320 hr

(*) In the previous charts, "Minimum Training" is the minimum total training-time required, before promotion to the next higher rank. All time values given are based on historical models and assume 60 hours of training time per month. Thus, training for an hour per week for 2 years, is not the same as 15 hours per week for 2 years. In the United States, the average training time to attain 1st Degree Black Belt is about 4 years.

Rank Evaluation
Ranks in Hapkido are awarded based on skills and the amount of time spent in training at one’s current rank. Promotion from one rank to another usually occurs through formal testing or other procedures that assess a candidate’s skills according to specific rank requirements. Whether rank promotion occurs through formal testing or informal recognition of obvious expertise is largely a matter of choice. The method is less important than the reality it represents. Whatever the method, it should ensure that candidates embody the skills associated with their rank. Note that all rank requirements below 1st Degree Black Belt include all techniques learned at previous kup ranks. For example, Blue Belt requirements include techniques learned at Blue Belt level, as well as all Yellow Belt and Green Belt techniques. This ensures that skills are progressively refined (and not forgotten), and helps students comprehend the inherent relationship between various techniques.
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