On Saturday, during the Black Belt exam, I tied a student's belt because it was not tied correctly. He looked at me with an expression of "what are you doing?". Years ago, I was invited to train with Grandmaster Jung of Korea. Grandmaster Jung was one of the first Black Belts awarded when Taekwondo was unified as the official martial art of Korea. The first thing Grandmaster did when he walk onto the mat was re-tie everyone's belt! The funny thing is that we felt it was an honor that he tied our belts, and we all were glad to have this humble Grandmaster tie our belts so that it would be done correctly. So, yes there is a correct way to tie the belt.
Historically the student received one belt, and it was white. And through the years of training, it would get darker because of the sweat, blood and dirt that the belt accumulated. This was how a student knew who was the higher rank, the dirtier the belt, the higher the rank. Historically, it might take years to go from one rank to the next.
Grandmaster Jung told a story of how his master showed him high block, and he was told to practice only this! For six months this is all he did! When his master thought he was ready to progress, he learned a new technique. Imagine if that way of teaching was done today!
Today people are impatient, and students want to know what they need to learn so that they can advance. This is why the colored belts were developed, so that a student would know where they are in their own learning. Traditionally, when a student became a Black Belt, that was their only Black Belt. The idea was that through the years the Black Belt would wear down, turn grey and then back to white, completing the "spiritual Taekwondo circle". The founder of Aikido, O Sensei, had a belt that had turned to grey from being used so much. This is why I took the bars off my belt after I became a Master in Taekwondo, I wanted this belt to be my last belt, so that I would continue that tradition.
The belt is wrapped around twice to make one belt loop around the student. This symbolizes the unity of the mind and body as one. There is a top and a bottom to the belt. The bottom is the edge of the belt that is stitched together (though some striped belts have two edges that are sewn together). The knot of the belt looks sort of like an abstract heart, with the folds going together into one. When the belt is tied correctly, it looks like this:
It may take a long time to practice tying your belt, but please practice.
Master James Thamm