American Taekwondo Association
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American Taekwondo Association
American Taekwondo Association
Industry Martial Arts/ Fitness Organization
Genre Licensor
Founded 1969, Omaha, Nebraska
Founder Haeng Ung Lee
Headquarters 1800 Riverfront Drive, Little Rock, Arkansas 72202, Little Rock, Arkansas, United States
Number of locations
over 2,000
Area served
North America, South America, Europe, Saudi Arabia, India, Nepal, South Africa, South Korea, & Guam
Key people
Grand Master In Ho Lee; Grand Master Emeritus Soon Ho Lee; Mr. Neil Morton
Services Martial Arts instructional

ATA Martial Arts, formerly known as 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 extinted Songahm Taekwondo Federation (STF) and World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU), is one of the largest in the world, claiming a membership of 350,000.[1] ATA Martial Arts is currently headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas and led by Grand Master In Ho Lee[2] and Neil Morton, Chief Executive Officer.

ATA-affiliated schools also host self-defense seminars to teach techniques for emergency escape from an attacker.[3]

Songahm Taekwondo

Songahm Taekwondo is the style of martial arts practiced at ATA affiliated schools. Songahm means "Pine Tree and Rock."[4] According to the organization, the term Songahm itself represents "Evergreen strength the year round, long life and a symbol of unchanging human loyalty"[5] 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. In the ATA, the student is compared to a growing pine tree, from a seed (white belt) to a massive tree (black belt).

According to the ATA, practitioners of Songahm Taekwondo study poome sae (forms, a preset combination of offensive and defensive techniques, designed to simulate self-defense techniques being used upon multiple opponents), gyeo-roo-gi (sparring), one-steps (scripted sparring segments), self-defense, board breaking, weapons, and leadership. The ATA has a legacy program that allows students to work as leaders and instructors in junior classes. This helps the trainee instructors become qualified taekwondo instructors and earn the ATA title of Certified Instructor.[4]

Belt and rank system

ATA Martial Arts 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 Asian culture.[4][dubious ]

According to the ATA 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."[6]
  • 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."[7]
  • Yellow Belt - "The seed is beginning to see the sunlight."[8]
  • Camouflage Belt - "The sapling is hidden amongst the taller pines and must now fight its way upwards."[9]
  • Green Belt - "The pine tree is beginning to develop and grow in strength."[10]
  • Purple Belt - "Coming to the mountain. The tree is in mid-growth and now the path becomes steep."[11]
  • Blue Belt - "The tree reaches for the sky towards new heights."[12]
  • Brown Belt - "The tree is firmly rooted in the earth."[13]
  • Red Belt - "The sun is setting. The first phase of growth has been accomplished."[14]
  • 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. It must now begin to 'plant seeds for the future.'"[15]
  • 2nd Degree Black Belt - "With your noble character, you will develop a new permanence in life." [4]
  • 3rd Degree Black Belt - "Peace of mind and tranquility." [4]
  • 4th Degree Black Belt - "Crest of granite mountain." [4]
  • 5th Degree Black Belt - "Mastered all kinds of knowledge and utilizes this to do many things." [4]
  • 6th Degree Black Belt - "Long Life."[]

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.[6]

Each rank from white 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. At promotional rank testings, students may receive a "Full Pass," "Half Pass," or "No Change."

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, [17] many of whom attended Haeng Ung Lee's funeral. [17][18]


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 July. 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, earning an 8th degree and the Chief Master title, and earning a 9th degree and the Grand Master title. 2015 is the first year in which there has been more than one Grand Master when Chief Master Richard Reed ascended to Ninth Degree. 2016 saw the promotions of Chief Masters Robert Allemier and William Clark to Grand Master.

ATA Tigers

The Taekwondo for ATA Tigers program for preschool students (2-6) uses patches with animals on them instead of black stripes on the belt to denote rank level: Turtle (Ara) for white belt, Tiger (Baeoh) for orange belt; Cheetah (Cheeri) for yellow belt; Lion (Raon) for camo belt; Eagle (Suri) for green belt; Phoenix (Choa) for purple belt; Dragon (Mir) for blue belt; Cobra (Narsha) for brown belt; and Panther (Baron) for red belt.[16][17][19]

Licensed locations often utilize full-length color stripes in belts to signify the various rank. White, Orange, Yellow, Camo, Green, Purple, Blue, Brown, Red and Black stripes run along the center of the belt from one end to the other. These locations may also utilize black wrapped stripes around one end to signify "time-in-grade" or "Degree of Rank" with advancement to the next belt color after obtaining five (5) stripes or 'degrees'.


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 students progress 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. According to the ATA, when the outer points of the Songahm star are connected, they form a circle which exemplifies complete balance. The ATA teaches that forms create a contextual application for new material learned at each belt level.[4]

Colored belts

  • 9th Grade White Belt - Songahm 1 - 18 moves [6]
  • 8th Grade Orange Belt - Songahm 2 - 23 moves[7]
  • 7th Grade Yellow Belt - Songahm 3 - 28 moves[8]
  • 6th Grade Camouflage Belt - Songahm 4 - 31 moves[9]
  • 5th Grade Green Belt - Songahm 5 - 34 moves[10]
  • 4th Grade Purple Belt - In Wha 1 - 44 moves[11]
  • 3rd Grade Blue Belt - In Wha 2 - 42 moves[12]
  • 2nd Grade Brown Belt - Choong Jung 1 - 44 moves[13]
  • 1st Grade Red Belt - Choong Jung 2 - 46 moves [14]

Black belts

  • 1st Degree Black Belt - Shim Jun - 81 moves [15]
  • 2nd Degree Black Belt - Jung Yul - 82 moves [4]
  • 3rd Degree Black Belt - Chung San - 83 moves [4]
  • 4th Degree Black Belt - Sok Bong - 84 moves [4]
  • 5th Degree Black Belt - Chung Hae - 95 moves [4]
  • 6th Degree Black Belt - Jhang Soo - 96 moves [4]
  • 7th Degree Black Belt - Chul Joon - 97 moves
  • 8th Degree Black Belt - Jeong Seung - 98 moves
  • 9th Degree Black Belt - Dong Seung - 99 moves[]

One step sparring

One steps are a short combination of blocks, strikes and kicks that serve as a precursor to free sparring. The ATA aims 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.[6][7][8][9][10]


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 dojang.

Also, there is a black and red dobok used specifically for the leadership program, with red lettering and no patches.

Masters wear traditional silk uniforms for special events such as the Masters Ceremony at World Championships.

  • Master - 6th degree black belt - White
  • Senior Master - 7th degree black belt - Blue
  • Chief Master - 8th degree black belt - Red
  • Grand Master - 9th degree black belt - Black/Gold
Original ATA Patch. Retired in 2015.

At promotional testings and ATA tournaments, Level 3 Certified Instructors have the option to wear navy blue suits in lieu of their doboks. 5th degree black belts and up wear matching blue pants, while 1st through 4th degree black belts wear grey pants. A special ATA patch is worn on the instructor's left breast.

International branches

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.[18]

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.[18]


Songahm Grand Masters

Within the Songahm system of taekwondo, there has been traditionally 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. Currently, several individuals hold the rank of 9th Degree Black Belt with the senior most individual carrying the title of Presiding Grand Master. Past and present Grand Masters include:

In June, 2010, Soon Ho Lee announced that he would retire at World Championships in June, 2011. In Ho Lee was chosen as the new Grand Master Nominee. He spent the next year training with Soon Ho Lee and the Founder's Council and in June, 2011, tested for 9th degree and became the third Grand Master of Songahm Taekwondo. Soon Ho Lee stepped down and became the organization's first Grand Master Emeritus.[21] On July 8, 2015, Richard Reed was advanced to the level of 9th Degree Black Belt and Grand Master, a title he held until his death in 2016.[22]

Founder's Council

Upon being diagnosed with cancer in 2000, H.U. Lee decided the creation of a council for the governorship of his organization was necessary. In September 2000, Lee formally created the Songahm Master's Council (now known as the "Founder's Council") composed of some of his advisers. The first members of the Master's Council included:

  • Soon Ho Lee (8th Degree Chief Master then, now 9th Degree Grand Master Emeritus)
  • Robert Allemier (8th Degree Chief Master then, now 9th Degree Grand Master)
  • In Ho Lee (7th Degree Senior Master then, now 9th Degree Presiding Grand Master)
  • William Clark (7th Degree Senior Master then, now 9th Degree Grand Master)
  • G.K. Lee (7th Degree Senior Master then, now 9th Degree Grand Master)
  • M.K. Lee (7th Degree Senior Master then, now 8th Degree Chief Master)

Master's Council

The current governing body in the ATA is the "Master's Council". This council is composed of several members of the ATA's Founder's Council and other High Ranking Masters in the ATA. The members of the Master's Council include:

  • In Ho Lee (9th Degree and Presiding Grand Master)[23]
  • William Clark (9th Degree Grand Master and Chairman)
  • G.K. Lee (9th Degree Grand Master)
  • M.K. Lee (8th Degree Chief Master)
  • Robert Jager (8th Degree Chief Master)
  • Michael Caruso (8th Degree Chief Master)
  • Cesar Ozuna (8th Degree Chief Master)


  1. ^ "American Taekwondo Association Fast Facts". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved . 
  2. ^ Gabbett Snow, Patricia (08-NOV-03). "Tiny Tigers show their claws, find self-esteem, at Rio Rancho's ATA Black Belt Academy". Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved .  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ "Program trains kids to fight attackers". KVAL. 2008-06-11. Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. Retrieved . 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume A: Philosophy and Traditions. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  5. ^ Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume A: Philosophy and Traditions. ATA Publications, Inc.
  6. ^ a b c d Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 1, White Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  7. ^ a b c Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 2, Orange Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  8. ^ a b c Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 3, Yellow Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  9. ^ a b c Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 4, Camo Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  10. ^ a b c Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 5, Green Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  11. ^ a b Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 6, Purple Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  12. ^ a b Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 7, Blue Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  13. ^ a b Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 8, Brown Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  14. ^ a b Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 9, Red Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  15. ^ a b Lee, H. U. (1993). The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. Volume 10, First Degree Black Belt. ATA Publications, Inc. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b "ATA History". Archived from the original on February 28, 2014. Retrieved 2014. In 1984, the Songahm Taekwondo Federation (STF) was founded by Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee and Master Cezar Ozuna to help spread Songahm Taekwondo outside of the United States. In the fall of 1990, the World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU) was formed. While the ATA encompasses licensed locations in the United States and Canada, the STF includes licensed locations in South America and the WTTU covers the remaining portion of the world. 
  19. ^ "Grand Master Soon Ho Lee Inauguration". American Taekwondo Association. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved . 
  20. ^ "ATA Announces the Inauguration of the Next Grand Master". American Taekwondo Association. Archived from the original on 2011-09-14. Retrieved . 
  21. ^ "American Taekwondo Association". Archived from the original on 2013-01-17. 
  22. ^ "Richard Robert Reed Memorial". 
  23. ^ Hayes, David (September 2017). "Rising Star of the ATA". Taekwondo Life Magazine. 1 (5): 15. 

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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