Martial Arts Knowledge - How Black Belts Got to be Black: The Origin of Belt Colors

The Black Belt is the ultimate symbol of Martial Arts excellence.  It and each of the belt colors that comes before it represents a level of skill gained throuh committed, disciplined study of the Martial Arts.  But why those colors? Why does black signify the highest rank?  Where did the idea come from?  

Before the 20th century, most belts were white.  At that time, students were prohibited from washing their belts, possibly because there was a need for a tangible measure of the student's progress.  With accumulated sweat and soil, you can imagine how dark the belts became!  This built-up dirt provided a visible and effective way of measuring the students' effort and experience in the dojo, and thus, determined his rank.

As the Martial Arts became rooted in the modern world the need for a way to measure rank remained important.  The no-wash policy was no longer practical, both masters and students wanted an easily seen and interpreted mark of rank.  The use of colored belts or colored tips at the ends of belts was a logical next step.  Replacing the narrow strip of cloth was easy and inexpensive.  The colors, ranging from white to black, are typically arranged in this order:  white, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green, brown or red and black.  This sequence effectively represents the "darkening" process the ancient belts underwent.

In the true spirit of the Martial Arts, even a Black Belt Martial Artist can aim higher; there are ten degrees of Black Belt Excellence; the latter five are honorary recognition of a masters' continued achievement.  The master who has achieved the tenth degree may choose to wear a red belt, depending on the Martial Arts style.

One last piece of information:  Martial Arts etiquette applies to your belt, too!  If your belt becomes loose or undone during practice, you should turn away from your partner, kneel on one knee, retie your belt, then turn back to your partner.

The quest for Black Belt excellence goes back many years; you are in the finest company.  Whatever color you currently wear, BE PROUD - all belts lead to black!

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