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Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture
Belt Colours - Why?

I was wondering why do different schools have different coloured belts and in different sequences. I love reading the Ethos behind the colours too. I'm not too sure if they acturally put some real thought process into it or whether it was just hype to "Sell" the grades

My Sequence is:

White - Red - Purple - Blue - Yellow - Orange - Green - Brown - Brown/Black1 (Brown/white1 - kids) - Brown/Black2 (Brown/white2 - kids) - (Black/white1 - kids) - (Black/white2 - kids) - Black - Black/Red

Reasoning

White - comes with the Gi

Red - I'm a Man City Fan so bottom of the Pile

Purple - is a Mix or Red & Blue

Blue - as it was the lowest grade in Ashihara karate

Yellow - next highest grade

Orange - its a nice colour and its close to Yellow

Green - it was the next closest to Brown

Brown - always the highest Karate Kyu Grade

Brown/Black1 - Its a brown belt with a black stripe through its because these days people winge if they dont get anything more that a bit of electrical tape

Brown/Black2 - Its a brown black split belt again its because these days people winge if they dont get anything more that a bit of electrical tape and after 12 months or failing Dan grade the belt is reverse so black on top instead of brown on top. (If Stocks depleated, this would become Black/White1 belt)

Brown/white1, Brown/white2 - kids - Same as above but didn't want to have any black in a junior Grade.

Black/white1, Black/white2 - kids - Didn't want a FULL Black belt for a Junior Grade)

Black - its a Universal colour for Dan grades, No Dan Bars at all to be shown as the user should be able to portray their grade without the need to label their belts with it

Black/Red Block Belt - a Master's Belt - to distinguish between technical grades and Time served Grades. Only compulsary to be worn on Gradings and Seminars, otherwise Black belt may be worn. Choice of Colour(s) - same as the Retro Man City Away Stripe top

As you can see not pretty reasoning for the belt sequence and yes some of the grades "seem" mixed up but hey, its my school lol

What are your thoughts and reasoning behind your belts and what colours would you have if you had a choice?

mike23
mike23's picture

When "karate" was still in Okinawa, there were no belts. Once "karate" came to japan the idea of belts donating rank came from Judo. Kano Jigoro used white and black. Either you were a beginner or a black belt. Karate people took this idea while organizing and systemizing their Okinawan karate.

In Karate the red belt is the highest belt recieved; However I've been told the TKD athourities put their red belt BELOW black as a slap in the face to the Japanese! :-/

Tau
Tau's picture

I seem to have spent more time debating grades in Martial Arts than anything else which is sad really. This said, grade sequence and rationale does fascinate me. I just try to avoid all debates about methods and standards.

I have a file somewhere on the grading sequences of various schools or styles. My favourite is Capoeira (which I've never studied). The school concerned had a grading sequence like most other Martial Arts do BUT the belt is replaced by a cord. They have clear progression and indeed a teaching grade, equivalent to 1st Dan. However the cord colour is green, yellow and blue. Master level is green and white and grand master is white. This means the benefits of the grading system remains but all the ego associated with the Black Belt is gone.

I do find it funny that we have all these coloured belts for kyu grades and then black for dan grades. I do the point of a grading system of multiple levels but I wonder if if should work something like starting with a white belt with (say) 8 stripes and remove a stripe for each grade so that the stripes represent your kyu grade. Then carry on black with dan stripes as we do now. OR reverse black and white so that we start with black and work toward white.

I would add that I do believe in Dan stripes if only for practicality reasons; so that you know where to line up! If you dispense with dan stripes then why not dispense with coloured belts too? Oh hang on, isn't that where we started? 

Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture

mike23 wrote:

In Karate the red belt is the highest belt recieved

I think that depends on the style.  I've never seen/heard anyone in Shotokan Karate wearing a red belt.

I have however seen it in some of the American 'Karate' systems that are a step away from the Japanese systems developed 1920-1970ish.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Some good posts, but this I would say is a debate as to what is correct and what isn't. To bring this Thread back in line it is more about the ethos and the thinking behind chosing the belt colours predominately of the Kyu/Gup Grades as opposed to the Dan Grades,

For Example

In Tae Kwon Do they've got these colours, half-belts / stripe belts are in between

White: to signify innocence and no knowledge of the style

Yellow: signifies earth, foundation level, plant your seed of knowledge in it

Green: plant's growth as your skills develop

Blue: heavens to which the plant's growing

Red: signify danger as the skills develop but to also caution the student themselves to exercise care and control

Black: opposite of white, also impervious to darkness and fear (I guess this means being cool headed and still making the right choices )

Use roman numerals or bars for dan grades 1 to 9. Schools in the system that do award junior blackbelts give them a blackbelt with a white stripe through the centre.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Generally I think the colours are chosen simply because they get darker as one progresses toward black belt. I’ve never heard of any specific meaning attached to the colours themselves other than that. The whole thing originates from handicaps in swimming of course where the best swimmers wore a black ribbon. That’s where Kano took the idea of the black belt from. The colours were added over time to mark the intermediate stages.

I think we need to be careful about retrofitting a rationale and symbolism for the belt system which was never there originally. We have what we have because Kano lifted an idea from swimming and colours were added for intermediate ranks later on. No great thought behind it other than that, and although a meaning may be attributed later, it was not there originally.

I did a podcast on this a while ago if it is of interest to anyone:

http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/black-belt-and-grading-system

All the best,

Iain

Rob Wallace
Rob Wallace's picture

I have gone to the white, green, brown, black belt system in my dojo in hopes to keep the focus on training and less on the cotton around their waste. Would anyone do away with a belt system at all if you had the chance? 

Joshua.Harvie
Joshua.Harvie's picture

Rob Wallace wrote:
Would anyone do away with a belt system at all if you had the chance?

I pretty much have for my own training. I haven't worn a gi in about six months or so and honestly doubt I'll wear one again aside from special occasions. I think the point you highlighted is a big mark against the belt system in that it can be a distraction from the acquisition of practical skills.

Terry Watts
Terry Watts's picture

I can't verify the style, but I was in Okinawa a few months ago and visited a local dojo.  The master instructor wore a red belt.  Made me very happy that I didn't go in my uniform, with my red belt!! (Shaolin Kempo Karate - Assistant Instructors wear red)

I also spoke to an American that had been studying at that studio for some 14 years and the topic of belts came up; he said they serve two purposes, to let others know your approximate level, and more importantly, to keep your uniform top closed :)

shoshinkanuk
shoshinkanuk's picture

we use white, green, beown, back and it works well - I give a stripe out now and again to keep them thinking..................................LOL.

Tau
Tau's picture

I would never do without a grade system because there are too many positives to it. But yes, I would gladly do without the Black Belt (or indeed belts generally, grade 1, grade 2 etc work for me)

Dale Elsdon
Dale Elsdon's picture

Hello all,

I am not a Karate man so I am not sure if this information relates to Karate, although I suspect it does.

Credit for the creation of the belt ranking system is usually given to Kawaishi Minosuke who was a student of Kano Jigoro and is largely responsible for the spread of Judo/Jujutsu to Europe. Kawaishi found that teaching Europeans required a different approach to teaching the Japanese and thus began to systematise his Judo/Jujutsu teaching to suit his new students. This systematisation lead to teh Kawaishi system of Judo being essentially 'Judo by numbers' as he used a numbering system to categorise techniques. This system is still used by some Jujutsu schools today, who can trace their origins back to post war Europe.

As part of this systematisation Kawaishi began using coloured belts to denote rank. I believe that in his earlier works he listed the belt order as follows: white, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, black or something similar. i may be wrong about this order as I do not have his book at hand, but regardless it was different to the modern Judo colours. L The belt ordering system commonly attributed to Kawaishi today is; white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, black, however some schools omit orange or use purple interchangeably with brown. This is common throughout Judo and many other arts today.

Why the change in colour order?

Well, I have a theory on this! The belt system was really introduced aroud the time of WWII, which meant that many people were not in the best finncial position. For this reason I suspect that the white belt, which would have been made, along with the gi, by someone's mother or wife who was handy with a needle and thread, was dyed a new colour with the attainment of a new rank. For this reason the colours needed to become progressively darker. Evidence of this can be found in the "Cherry Blossom" school of Jujutsu in the Netherlands, whom I believe maintained the original Kawaishi colours longer than most as they denoted rank by changing the colour of a flower on their badge rather than changing belts. Anyone who was training before about 1960 can attest to the fact that most gi's were made by mothers and/or wives of the practitioners. 

I contacted the head of the 'Cherry Blossom" school before Christmas, regarding this and other issues, and am hoping to hear from him sometime soon. I will let you know how I progress.

Regards,

Dale Elsdon

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

White, blue, yellow, green, brown & black for me.

Nothing mystical, nothing complex.  Just used to provide incentive and short, medium, long-term goals.

I tend to further divide the grades into 'Preparation' - learning the skills, 'Training' - making the skills stronger and reliable, then 'Execution' - application under pressure.

As I style what I teach as a combat sport, not Budo or SP, 'pressure' means being effective against stronger or more experienced opponents within the rules, not SP scenario's in armour etc.

Gary

Marc
Marc's picture

Dale Elsdon wrote:

Why the change in colour order?

Well, I have a theory on this! The belt system was really introduced aroud the time of WWII, which meant that many people were not in the best finncial position. For this reason I suspect that the white belt, which would have been made, along with the gi, by someone's mother or wife who was handy with a needle and thread, was dyed a new colour with the attainment of a new rank. For this reason the colours needed to become progressively darker. [...] Anyone who was training before about 1960 can attest to the fact that most gi's were made by mothers and/or wives of the practitioners.

Hi, just read through this old thread.

The idea that people dyed their belts a new colour with new rank, so they would not have to buy a new belt, sounds interesting.

Any more findings on that theory?

Marc
Marc's picture

By the way, I recently wrote down some thoughts on the use of belt colours in karate (or judo or ...). It is specifically about belt colours and not about ranks.

If you like, you can read it at: http://www.kata-karate.de/index.php/karate-guertelfarben/en

Take care everybody

Marc  

Steve Gombosi
Steve Gombosi's picture

Adoption of the kyu/dan ranking system and a standardized practice uniform were 2 of the 4 conditions imposed by the Butokukai for the recognition of karate as a "real" budo in 1937. Funakishi had adopted the system somewhat earlier, awarding the first karate shodan ranks to Tokuda, Otsuka, Akiba, Shimizu, Hirose, Gima, and Kasuya on April 10, 1924.

Some Okinawan instructors had apparently taken to wearing black sashes or obis in the '20s and '30s (there's a photo of Choki Motobu wearing a black sash that was more like the obi worn with a formal kimono than a modern karate/judo obi dating from the mid-1920s), but in general there was no standard uniform, and dan rankings weren't widey used on Okinawa until the '30s.

As others have noted, the rank system was introduced in Judo by Kano in 1883 when he awarded the first two shodan ranks to Saito and Tomita. He adopted the ranking system from the Japanese game of go, which had used it since the early 17th Century. The dan ranks were based on the <i>Pin Zhi</i> ranks used for the game in China since the 2nd Century, and is thought to have been originally patterned after the ranking system for Imperial Chinese civil servants. There is some dispute over whether there was originally an external indication of ranks in Judo, since the modern judogi had not been introduced at that point and students trained in formal kimono. Some sources claim that black and white sashes were used then, some disagree. Kano introduced the modern keikogi in 1907, and definitely chose at that point to differentiate kyu and dan-level ranks with white and black belts.

Other colors have been added over the years by various arts/style and have no meaning outside of a particular system. Okinawan karate styles tend to use the red belt to signify either 10th Dan or head of a given style (where that person holds a rank lower than 10th Dan), but the practice isn't universal. Other systems (mainly Korean) may use it to signify a kyu/gup rank. I doubt if any insult is intended. Modern Judo optionally  uses red or  red and white to signify high Dan ranks (red and white = 6th-8th Dan, solid red = 9th-10th Dan) but many high ranking practitioners just wear black.

Any symbolic meanings attached to various colors is purely a modern invention. That doesn't mean the symbolism isn't valid, it just means that it isn't some ancient mystical tradition. Stories that claim that the color scheme derives from progressive darkening of the obi over time are pure fiction (and not very good fiction at that).  

Quick2Kick
Quick2Kick's picture

Then there is the white belt getting dirtier as your training progressed story. 

 

Steve Gombosi
Steve Gombosi's picture

Quick2Kick wrote:

Then there is the white belt getting dirtier as your training progressed story. 

 

Like I said: fiction, and bad fiction at that.