by kevin dooley
Real Information Concerning Black Belt Rankings In The Various Martial Arts
Black Belt rankings were instituted by Judo Founder Jigoro Kano. Master Kano is supposed to have borrowed his system on rankings used by swimming clubs. Karate clubs in Japan borrowed his ranking system.
The original karate system is supposed to have had only two belts, white belt and black belt. As enrollment grew two more belts were added, green belt and brown belt. Eventually Chinese American Kenpo was founded by Ed Parker, and the number of colored belts grew greatly.
Colored belts were arranged in the following order: white, orange, purple, blue, green, three stages of brown, multiple stages of black. As the belt ranking systems grew, myths concerning the importance of the colors grew. Each system seemed to put forth a different meaning for the colors of belts.
White and black, in the beginning, didn’t have much significance, as there were so few students and the promotions were pretty easily understood. White meant beginner, and black belt meant the student had the status of an assistant instructor. As the belt systems grew ever larger this concept quickly gave way to instructor rankings.
White, green, brown and black were rumored to relate to the spring, summer, fall and winter of a student’s martial arts life. This also correlated to beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert status. This concept, while valid, gave way when more colors were introduced.
The full range of colors utilized by Chinese Kenpo Systems was related to a full spectrum of knowledge. Rightly or wrongly, a Kenpo student was assumed, when he was promoted to black belt, to know everything in the spectrum. This concept began to fail when red belts were utilized.
At first, red belts were introduced to honor high ranking masters, these were sometimes politically offered belts, though there were some legitimate rankings. Then, because people tend to promote themselves, the red belt replaced the black belt in many peoples eyes, and the spectral system broke apart. This was aided by the fact that some systems, especially taekwondo systems, began using a red belt in place of a brown belt.
In current times, while colored belts are said to be motivational in student lessons, the fact of the matter is that there has been some abuse. Many commercial martial arts schools have lengthened training time to align with the increased rankings to keep people at their schools for longer periods of time, and this has extended the length of time it takes to learn the martial arts. It is hoped that understanding the basic facts of Black Belt rankings, as described in this article, will help potential students when they analyze possible arts to study.