Belt System (Origin)


Although Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo is credited with the creation of the official Grading System used throughout the world today. In the days before Kano created Judo, there was no Kyu - Dan ranking system in the martial arts.

A more traditional method of recognising achievement was the presentation of certificates or scrolls, often with the secrets of the school inscribed. Kano started the modern rank system when he awarded Shodan to two of his senior students (Shiro Saigo and Tsunejiro Tomita) in 1883. Even then, there was no external differentiation between Yudansha (black belt ranks) and Mudansha (those who hadnt yet attained black belt ranking).

Kano apparently began the custom of having his Yudansha wear black obi (belts) in 1886. These obi werent the belts worn today - Kano hadnt invented the Judo-gi (Judo uniform) yet, and his students were still practicing in kimono. They were the wide obi still worn with formal kimono. In 1907, Kano introduced the modern Judo-gi and its modern obi, but he still only used white and black belt ranks. The white uniform represented the values of purity, avoidance of ego, and simplicity. It gave no outward indication of social class so that all students began as equals. Other coloured belts for students who had not yet achieved black belt originated later, when Judo began being practiced outside of Japan. Mikonosuke Kawaishi is generally regarded as the first to introduce various official coloured belts in Europe in 1935 when he started to teach Judo in Paris.

However, the Obi is a belt, which, as the main function, is to close the Karate gi and hold it together. But for someone who is familiar with the martial arts, obi means a lot more. It has a symbolic meaning to the wearer.

Starting at white belt the belt gets a darker colour when the student is learning more. In 
Kyokushin there are five student colour belts and ten student levels, ten Kyus - Kyu grades or ranks are known as Mudansha (those without Dans) they are considered initiates rather than students. After the colour belts we attain black belt and Dans - or Yudansha (those with Dans). At this point the practitioner us a full student of Karate-Do.

The symbolic meaning of the obi is the colour. Originally, there were three obi colours white brown and black. As one started Karate one got a white belt. After a couple of years of hard training, the belt became dirty and gets a brownish colour. After continued practise the belt became black. The longer one has studied the darker and more worn out the obi became. The obi gets white stains and also many red ones, from the blood during the test and combats. These colour bands of white and red come back in some styles. Some high ranked Karate-ka (from 5th Dan) sometimes wear a red-white blocked or a full red belt symbolic of re-birth these being the colours the Karate-ka first trained in.

Further explanation on the meanings behind each colour belt, and how to wear your belt, can be found by clicking here.

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