The American Taekwondo Association (ATA) was founded in 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska by Haeng Ung Lee, a former Traditional Taekwondo instructor in the South Korean military. Lee's motivation was to develop a combat-oriented style of taekwondo albeit one with a strong emphasis on kicking.
ATA is one of the largest taekwondo organizations in the United States, and in the world, claiming a membership of over 350,000. The ATA is currently headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas and led by In Ho Lee.
Whereas other taekwondo organizations (such as ITF and WTF) tend to be loose federations of independent schools, ATA-affiliated schools are independently-owned and operated, but licensed by the parent company, ATA International (in other words, individual schools are franchises licensed by the ATA). For this reason, there tends to be more uniformity of curriculum from one ATA-school to the next, as compared to ITF- and WTF-associated schools. ATA-affiliated schools also host self-defense seminars and tend to incorporate weapons-training into their programs.
ATA affiliated schools practice a style of taekwondo called Songahm Taekwondo. Songahm means "Pine Tree and Rock." According to the ATA, the term Songahm itself represents "Evergreen strength the year round, long life and a symbol of unchanging human loyalty" 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).
ATA forms are unique in that they are copyrighted by ATA, so they are rarely documented outside officially-sanctioned ATA training materials. PDF versions of these forms, however, are easily found on the Internet. The forms are all performed along lines called the Songahm Star.
The genesis of ATA forms was founder H.U. Lee's belief that the ITF forms practiced at the time did not incorporate kicking early enough in the training. Lee wanted to focus on combat-style taekwondo (like ITF) but with greater emphasis on kicking. (Like ATA taekwondo, WTF-style taekwondo emphasizes kicking as well.)
Generally speaking in taekwondo, belt colors vary from school to school. Because the ATA curriculum is entirely standardized however, the belt colors are likewise standardized.
Colored belts forms:
- Songahm 1 - 18 moves, learned while a white belt
- Songahm 2 - 23 moves, orange belt
- Songahm 3 - 28 moves, yellow belt
- Songahm 4 - 31 moves, camo belt
- Songahm 5 - 34 moves, green belt
- In Wha 1 - 44 moves, purple belt
- In Wha 2 - 42 moves, blue belt
- Choong Jung 1 - 44 moves, brown belt
- Choong Jung 2 - 46 moves, red belt
Black Belts forms:
- Shim Jun - 1st Dan, 81 moves
- Jung Yul - 2nd Dan, 82 moves
- Chung San - 3rd Dan, 83 moves
- Sok Bong - 4th Dan, 84 moves
- Chung Hae - 5th Dan, 95 moves
- Jhang Soo - 6th Dan, 96 moves
- Chul Joon - 7th Dan, 97 moves
- Jeong Seung - 8th Dan, 98 moves
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