History of Martial Arts Rank Belts

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

The martial arts are old.  There are many myths and ledgends about their origin.  Every culture has a fighting system.  However, the ranking system most commonly use today only dates back to the early 20th century.  

Befor there were rank belts, a martial arts master would issue a teaching certificate to his most senior student. The certificate, called a "menkyo" was a license to teach.  As time went on, Jigoro Kano (1860-1938) the founder of Judo, developed the color belt system the we all know today.  The number of belts and colors vary from school to school depending of the art studied and preference of the system.  Kano, a professor at university, decided that a grading or ranking system would encourage and help students measure their progress.  Of course there was the white belt and the black belt, but in between Kano only had a few other colors.  Following Kano's example, the founder of Shotokan Karate, Gichin Funakoshi (1886-1957), began using a belt ranking system as well.  Funakoshi, originally from Okinawa, brought his katate to the Japanese mainland with the purpose to provide exercise and character building in training.  The origin of the arts began from battlefield arts such as jujitsu and aikijutsu, but with Kano and Funakoshi a "sport" aspect was added.  The belt ranking system helped to match students up who were equal in skill.  

The color of the belt has meaning for most.  For some systems, belts are given less attention to.  However, the most common colors seen todday are as follows: White, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Purple, Brown, Red and Black.  As I have said earlier, these may vary from school to schoool and art to art.  There are also some grades within the color belts as well as 9 grades of black belt as well.  It is often said that the martial artist is always a stuent.  Always learning; always polishing the stone.

In my system, Tactical Hapkido, we have white, yellow, 2nd yellow, green, 2nd green, blue, 2nd blue, red, 2nd red and then 1st Degree Black Belt.  The black belts have what is called Dan rankings. For example 1st Dan is a 1st degree black belt, 2nd Dan is a second degree black belt and so on.  There are prescriptive time requirements that the student must meet within each level.  

The colors usuall have meanings: White is beginner-pure, yellow is first ray of light, green is for growth, blue is for the student who is reaching for the sky, red is for danger  and black is for darknesss beyond the sun.  This is where the learning and teaching becomes a part of the individual.  The degrees of black is likened to one having the basic knowledge and now going off to college and then grad school.

Remember, each system may vary and this is only an overview.  Students should ask instructors to explain their system to enlighten them so that personal goals may be set.

Happy Training!