It’s helpful to be able to see how far a student has come. It also gives Karate students a sense of pride and accomplishment as they move up through the ranks and get new colours.
Karate has nine belt colours: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black. Most people only know about the two most common belt colours, but in some karate belt ranking systems, there may be more than one level of the same belt colour.
Everyone starts with the white belt, which is the lowest belt in Karate. This belt has been worn by the most students, and many people never get past this point.
The highest belt in Karate is the black belt, which is also the most sought after. Only about 3-5 percent of people who start Karate training will finish it and get a black belt.
Getting a black belt in karate is a very important accomplishment. To get a black belt takes years. Most people don’t know that this prize is earned through hours of sweat, tears, and even a little blood.
But you’ll know when you get your black belt. And it sends a strong message of pride and accomplishment.
You’ll also know that you’re just getting started. In Karate, getting a black belt isn’t the end of the road; it’s just the start of a long journey.
You might be surprised to learn that using different colours of belts to show a student’s rank isn’t an old idea. The belt ranking system is used in many types of martial arts, but it is only a little bit older than Karate.
(If you are now curious about how old Karate is, read this post to find out more about where Karate came from. Karate is less than 100 years old, so this is a spoiler!)
There is a story about how the Karate belt came to be. You may have heard it before.
People say that when they first started training, students were given a white belt. Over time, sweat, dirt, and blood would get on the belt and make it dirty and stained. The teachers told the students to never wash their belts. People thought that if they did this, it would “wash away” their experiences.
Once the belt turned black, the student was considered a real martial artist.
The story about the belts makes them sound both awesome and scary. The real story is, of course, a bit more useful.
In Okinawa, which is where Karate came from, martial artists trained in secret for hundreds of years. It was a bad idea for them to wear a coloured belt or anything else that showed how good they were at martial arts or how much they did it.
The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, came up with the idea of coloured belts in the late 1880s. Before that, students were only given certificates as they moved up in school.
Jigoro Kano got the idea from Japanese swimmers who wore a black ribbon around their waists to show that they were more skilled. At his Judo school, he began giving out belts. White was for new students, and black was for teachers and more experienced ones.
The system spread from Judo to Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and other forms of martial arts.
At the beginning of the 1900s, a few more colours were added. And the full-color Karate belt system didn’t come out until the 1930s or 1940s.
There is no one way to rank the different belt colours in karate. Different belt systems are used by different styles of Karate and sometimes by different schools of the same style. The belt’s colours are usually the same, but the order of the colours can be different, and some systems leave out one or two colours.
Stripes are sometimes added to show progress within a rank before moving up to the next. For example, when you first start training, you might stay a white belt for a few months. But as your skills improve, you’ll get one, two, or even three stripes on your belt before you can move on to the next colour.
In Shotokan Karate, the belt colours go from white to yellow to orange to green to purple to brown to black. In this system, there are two levels of purple belt and three levels of brown belt.
- White, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, red, brown, and black.
- Black, brown, red, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, and orange.
- Colors: white, yellow, green, orange, red, blue, purple, brown, and black
The idea that a student’s progress is shown by the same white belt turning black is a myth. But the idea of the colours getting darker from lighter was done for a practical reason.
During and after World War II, more people started to use the different coloured belt levels in Karate. At that time, money was hard to come by and life was tough. Instead of giving each student a new belt as they moved up in rank, the same belt was dyed darker to save money.
So, how did they choose the colours for the Karate belts? What do the different colours mean?
Did a bunch of Karate masters get together one day and put their favourite colours in a hat, then draw them out until they had enough?
Like everything else in Karate, the colours are chosen with thought and purpose. They show how a plant grows from a small seed to what looks like its death.
Here’s what happens.
In Karate, the white belt is the first belt. It stands for the start. The bright, white light of day greets the little plant as it breaks through the soil.
As the plant gets used to the light, its colour changes to match the sun’s golden colour. In order to reach their goals, the student is being warmed up and pushed.
As the sun heats up, it gets harder for the little plant to live. In the same way, training gets harder for the student as time goes on.
The little plant has made it through the hot sun and is now growing new leaves. The plant is putting out green leaves and shoots. The student is getting better at the basics as he or she learns more.
The plant keeps growing and reaching up toward the clear blue sky. The student is learning more and more every day.
As the sun goes down, the sky turns from blue to purple. The student’s understanding is getting deeper and more in-depth.
On the flowering plant, the last rays of the sun are red and hot. Even though training is hard, the student has come a long way.
Danger is also shown by the colour red. The student is getting good enough that their enemies should be afraid of them.
The night is getting darker, and the plant bows its head back toward the soil, where it came from. As harvest time gets closer, the seed grows and gets ready. The student’s hard work and training are starting to pay off.
As night comes, the plant dies. But a new beginning has taken its place. The student has learned a lot, including how much more there is to learn. Their first step in learning martial arts is done, but their journey has only just begun.
When you get a black belt, the journey doesn’t end. There are 10 levels of black belt, and to get each one takes years of hard training.
In 2011, Keiko Fukuda, who was 98 years old at the time, was the first woman to get a 10th-degree black belt in Judo. Only a small number of people in the world have this honour. To get to this level, you have to train and teach martial arts every day for the rest of your life.
After you get your black belt, you can still move up to the Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan, Rokudan, Nanadan, Hachidan, and Kyudan grades.