Senshin: The Enlightened Mind

Martial Arts Blog

normrobitza On November - 13 - 2014

NOTE: I am not claiming this as my own work. It is actually from an organization based in Nevada. I discovered it during a web search and loved the explanation and historical information. It has been slightly adapted to fit the Shotokan Karate ranking structure.


Karate Belts: Colors, Origin, and Meaning

The Karate Belts Ranking System is more than just a report card on our growth.

“I’ve spoken to many people and there is two things in life I’ve never heard anyone say that they regret: Getting their college diploma and achieving their Black Belt Certification”- Master Allen Sarac

There is no greater pride than having the Chief Instructor of your Martial Arts Style present you with your First Dan Black Belt. You have persevered and conquered great personal challenges. You have passed the test for this coveted karate belt. “Black Belt” has a new meaning for you. But how did all this start and more importantly… what’s next?

familyDr. Jigoro Kano originated the martial arts belt ranking system. Dr. Kano, who was Japanese and known as the “Founder of Modern Judo” was first to devise many of the concepts that are the foundation of modern martial arts. Dr. Kano devised the colored belt system as a visible sign of a student’s progress, awarding the first “black belts” in the 1880″s.

Gichin Funakoshi, who was Okinawan and the founder of Shotokan Karate and often referred to as the “Founder of Modern Karate” adopted the belt ranking system and other organizational and philosophical concepts from Dr. Kano, who was both his contemporary and friend.

Byung Jick Ro, who is Korean and the founder of Song Moo Kwan and known as “Founder of Modern Taekwondo” was a student of Gichin Funakoshi, receiving his black belt from him in 1939, and thus, the color belt ranking system has been part of Modern Taekwondo since it was developed in the early 1940’s.

Today, dojos and organizations all over the World use a form of the karate belts ranking system that they introduced as a sign of progress, achievement, confidence building and self awareness.


Dispelling an Urban Legend

One common “legend” concerning the tradition of belts claims that early martial artists began their training with a white belt, which eventually became stained black from years of sweat, dirt, and blood.

However, there is no real evidence for this story, so it should be relegated to the status of myth. In fact, given the standard of cleanliness common in the traditional Judo or Karate dojo, a student arriving with a bloodied or dirty uniform would probably not have been allowed to train.

In some arts and schools there is the opinion that the belt should not be washed; by doing that one would “wash away the knowledge” or “wash one’s ki away.” This is all related to the “dirty belt” myth.


Levels of Advancement

Another common misconception that needs to be clarified is the “black belt as master” stereotype. In reality, a black belt indicates the wearer is competent in a style’s basic technique. Since in Shotokan Karate a black belt takes approximately 4 years of training to achieve, a good intuitive analogy would be a 1st Dan Black Belt is equivalent to a high school diploma. The 1st Dan black belt is thus seen not so much as an end, but rather as a beginning, a doorway to advanced learning.

The 7th Dan is “Shihan” in Shotokan Karate, and can be viewed similar to a college Master’s degree, and 8th through 10th degree black belt can be seen being equivalent to a university Doctoral degree.


Meaning Of The Karate Belt Colors

Originally, the white belt was simply dyed to a new color. This repeated dying process dictated the type of belt color and the order of the colors.

The standard shotokan belt color system is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, and black.

Due to the dying process, it was only practical to increasingly use darker colors. All of this came about shortly after the Second World War, when Korea and Japan were very poor countries. Dying the belts to a new color was a cheap way to have a visible, simple and effective ranking system.

In addition to a cheaper way of having a visible, simple and effective ranking system, the karate belt coloring system also has a reference to nature.

The white belt represents the purity of the innocence of a beginner with out knowledge. The yellow belt represents the emerging sun, the green the growth under the sun, the blue as the sky as we grow towards the sun and the black as the universe, and knower of all things.

Here are the basic karate belts and their meanings. All karate schools do not use the same belt system. Some only use three colors, while others have a few more. There are even newer belt colors emerging all the time like the pink belt or the camo belt.

ikdrankWhite Belt: White signifies a birth, or beginning, of a seed. A white belt student is a beginner searching for knowledge of the Art. The white belt is the beginning of life’s cycle, and represents the seed as it lies beneath the snow in the winter.

Yellow Belt: Yellow signifies the first beams of sunlight which shines upon the seed giving it new strength with the beginning of new life. A yellow belt student is given his first ray of knowledge, opening his mind, from his instructors.

Orange Belt: Orange represents the growing power of the sun as it warms the earth to prepare for new growth in the spring. The orange belt is starting to feel his body and mind open and develop.

Green Belt: Green signifies the growth of the seedling as it grows from the earth, reaching toward the sun and begins to transform into a recognizable plant. A green belt student learns to strengthen and refine his techniques.

Blue Belt: Blue signifies the blue sky as the seed sprouts from the earth and begins to grow up. A blue belt student moves up higher in rank just as the plant grows taller. The light feeds the plant so it can continue to grow. The student is fed additional knowledge of the Art in order for his body and mind continue to grow and develop.

Purple Belt: Purple represents the changing sky of dawn, as once again the student undergoes a new change and prepares for the transition to advanced student. A purple belt begins to understand the meaning of the black belt.

Brown Belt: Brown represents the ripening of the seed, a maturing and harvesting process. A brown belt is an advanced student whose techniques are beginning to mature, and he is beginning to understand the fruits of his hard work as a beginner.

Black Belt: Black signifies the darkness beyond the Sun. A black belt seeks new, more profound knowledge of the Art. As he begins to teach others, he plants new seeds and helps them grow and mature. His students, many whom will form roots deep into the Art, blossom and grow through the ranks in a never-ending process of self-growth, knowledge, and enlightenment.

There you have it. Karate Belt Colors and their significant comparison to nature. How will YOU grow in the Martial Arts?


NOTE: Again, this is not my work. I have taken it from a Nevada based Taekwondo organization and adapted it slightly. I think it is beautifully written and speaks of a truth that many people today do not know or realize. Martial Arts has a significant tie to nature and beauty. However, especially in today’s youth, it is only seen as a means to learn how to fight. We are not teaching others to fight but to grow. To nurture their inner strength and become the best that they can be. The original article can be found at

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