Belt Ranking System in the Martial Arts Means

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Belt Ranking System in the Martial Arts Means
« on: June 29, 2010, 07:40:15 pm »
 What the Belt Ranking System in the Martial Arts Means
By Al Case

The first belt ranking system was created by Jigoro Kano. He apparently lifted the idea from a ranking system used in swimming, and applied it to judo.

In the beginning there were but two designations, white and black, and truth, they didn't even use belts. Students wore either white uniforms or black uniforms.

Eventually judo got its act together and started using actual belts, creating a higher elite of judo black belt ranks, and the practice spread to Karate.

The original concept behind belt rankings is found in the words kyu, which means 'boy,' and which was used to describe white belts, and dan, which means 'man,' and which was used to describe a shodan black belt.

Possibly because of the zen personality of Japan, the kyu and dan ranking a system came to indicate a 'statement of maturity,' which was manifest as a calmness of mind in the practitioner.

In the Karate belt order, possibly to better match the number of forms taught, and to make the teaching easier by separating the classes by rank, the brown belt rank was introduced. The Pinan forms could be taught up to Brown Belt, intermediate kata were taught to brown belts, and expert forms (black belt kata) were taught to Black Belts.

As the size of classes increased, more ranks were needed.

A white belt is a beginner, a green belt is intermediate, a brown belt is advanced, a black belt is expert, and a fourth degree black belt is a master.

This expansion of ranks made teaching easier, and with viral expansion of karate across the globe, other martial arts started using ranks, and more belts came into vogue. The colors were originally based on white, green, brown and black, and further defined by tips on the ends of belts, or stripes running the length of the belts. Eventually, Ed Parker, of Chinese Kenpo fame, introduced the spectrum of color scheme, which was used to goal motivate and as a selling gimmick.

Here is a breakdown of how the karate belt colors were arranged some forty years ago:

brown (three degrees)
black (eight degrees)

The kenpo ranking system ultimately became the standard for ranking systems, and though there have been more changes, this standard is fairly well adhered to.

Further changes include extra ranks for children (yellow belts), red belts for masters (though a red belt in some systems is sometimes used in place of or to augment brown belt ranking), different degrees of black belt, and so on.

That belt ranking is important is obvious, but there is an abuse built into the system.

Instead of goal motivation, some people become 'symbol collectors,' and a black belt is just a symbol, and thus the spiritual maturity aimed at in the original systems is put aside.

And, in the interests of selling martial arts, some systems have too many belts, and have become too 'material heavy.'

These problems aside, ranking systems do encourage students, they do make teaching easier and more efficient, and even if some people are only graded on technical skill, the matrix is in place for ranking students in a more spiritual realm, which would be described as increased depth of personality.

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