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Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture
Belt Colours - Why?
I was wondering why do different schools have different coloured belts and in different sequences. I love reading the Ethos behind the colours too. I'm not too sure if they acturally put some real thought process into it or whether it was just hype to "Sell" the grades My Sequence is: White - Red - Purple - Blue - Yellow - Orange - Green - Brown - Brown/Black1 (Brown/white1 - kids) - Brown/Black2 (Brown/white2 - kids) - (Black/white1 - kids) - (Black/white2 - kids) - Black - Black/Red reasoning White - comes with the Gi Red - I'm a Man City Fan so bottom of the Pile Purple - is a Mix or Red & Blue Blue - as it was the lowest grade in Ashihara karate Yellow - next highest grade Orange - its a nice colour and its close to Yellow Green - it was the next closest to Brown Brown - always the highest Karate Kyu Grade Brown/Black1 - Its a brown belt with a black stripe through its because these days people winge if they dont get anything more that a bit of electrical tape Brown/Black2 - Its a brown black split belt again its because these days people winge if they dont get anything more that a bit of electrical tape and after 12 months or failing Dan grade the belt is reverse so black on top instead of brown on top. (If Stocks depleated, this would become Black/White1 belt) Brown/white1, Brown/white2 - kids - Same as above but didn't want to have any black in a junior Grade. Black/white1, Black/white2 - kids - Didn't want a FULL Black belt for a Junior Grade) Black - its a Universal colour for Dan grades, No Dan Bars at all to be shown as the user should be able to portray their grade without the need to label their belts with it Black/Red Block Belt - a Master's Belt - to distinguish between technical grades and Time served Grades. Only compulsary to be worn on Gradings and Seminars, otherwise Black belt may be worn. Choice of Colour(s) - same as the Retro Man City Away Stripe top As you can see not pretty reasoning for the belt sequence and yes some of the grades "seem" mixed up but hey, its my school lol What are your thoughts and reasoning behind your belts and what colours would you have if you had a choice?
mike23's picture

When "karate" was still in Okinawa, there were no belts. Once "karate" came to japan the idea of belts donating rank came from Judo. Kano Jigoro used white and black. Either you were a beginner or a black belt. Karate people took this idea while organizing and systemizing their Okinawan karate.

In Karate the red belt is the highest belt recieved; However I've been told the TKD athourities put their red belt BELOW black as a slap in the face to the Japanese! :-/

Tau's picture

I seem to have spent more time debating grades in Martial Arts than anything else which is sad really. This said, grade sequence and rationale does fascinate me. I just try to avoid all debates about methods and standards.

I have a file somewhere on the grading sequences of various schools or styles. My favourite is Capoeira (which I've never studied). The school concerned had a grading sequence like most other Martial Arts do BUT the belt is replaced by a cord. They have clear progression and indeed a teaching grade, equivalent to 1st Dan. However the cord colour is green, yellow and blue. Master level is green and white and grand master is white. This means the benefits of the grading system remains but all the ego associated with the Black Belt is gone.

I do find it funny that we have all these coloured belts for kyu grades and then black for dan grades. I do the point of a grading system of multiple levels but I wonder if if should work something like starting with a white belt with (say) 8 stripes and remove a stripe for each grade so that the stripes represent your kyu grade. Then carry on black with dan stripes as we do now. OR reverse black and white so that we start with black and work toward white.

I would add that I do believe in Dan stripes if only for practicality reasons; so that you know where to line up! If you dispense with dan stripes then why not dispense with coloured belts too? Oh hang on, isn't that where we started? 

Paul Anderson
Paul Anderson's picture

mike23 wrote:

In Karate the red belt is the highest belt recieved

I think that depends on the style.  I've never seen/heard anyone in Shotokan Karate wearing a red belt.

I have however seen it in some of the American 'Karate' systems that are a step away from the Japanese systems developed 1920-1970ish.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Some good posts, but this I would say is a debate as to what is correct and what isn't. To bring this Thread back in line it is more about the ethos and the thinking behind chosing the belt colours predominately of the Kyu/Gup Grades as opposed to the Dan Grades,

For Example

In Tae Kwon Do they've got these colours, half-belts / stripe belts are in between

White: to signify innocence and no knowledge of the style Yellow: signifies earth, foundation level, plant your seed of knowledge in it Green: plant's growth as your skills develop Blue: heavens to which the plant's growing Red: signify danger as the skills develop but to also caution the student themselves to exercise care and control Black: opposite of white, also impervious to darkness and fear (I guess this means being cool headed and still making the right choices ) Use roman numerals or bars for dan grades 1 to 9. Schools in the system that do award junior blackbelts give them a blackbelt with a white stripe through the centre.  
Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Generally I think the colours are chosen simply because they get darker as one progresses toward black belt. I’ve never heard of any specific meaning attached to the colours themselves other than that. The whole thing originates from handicaps in swimming of course where the best swimmers wore a black ribbon. That’s where Kano took the idea of the black belt from. The colours were added over time to mark the intermediate stages.

I think we need to be careful about retrofitting a rationale and symbolism for the belt system which was never there originally. We have what we have because Kano lifted an idea from swimming and colours were added for intermediate ranks later on. No great thought behind it other than that, and although a meaning may be attributed later, it was not there originally.

I did a podcast on this a while ago if it is of interest to anyone:


All the best,


Rob Wallace
Rob Wallace's picture

I have gone to the white, green, brown, black belt system in my dojo in hopes to keep the focus on training and less on the cotton around their waste. Would anyone do away with a belt system at all if you had the chance? 

Joshua.Harvie's picture

Rob Wallace wrote:
Would anyone do away with a belt system at all if you had the chance?

I pretty much have for my own training. I haven't worn a gi in about six months or so and honestly doubt I'll wear one again aside from special occasions. I think the point you highlighted is a big mark against the belt system in that it can be a distraction from the acquisition of practical skills.

Terry Watts
Terry Watts's picture

I can't verify the style, but I was in Okinawa a few months ago and visited a local dojo.  The master instructor wore a red belt.  Made me very happy that I didn't go in my uniform, with my red belt!! (Shaolin Kempo Karate - Assistant Instructors wear red)

I also spoke to an American that had been studying at that studio for some 14 years and the topic of belts came up; he said they serve two purposes, to let others know your approximate level, and more importantly, to keep your uniform top closed :)

shoshinkanuk's picture

we use white, green, beown, back and it works well - I give a stripe out now and again to keep them thinking..................................LOL.

Tau's picture

I would never do without a grade system because there are too many positives to it. But yes, I would gladly do without the Black Belt (or indeed belts generally, grade 1, grade 2 etc work for me)

Dale Elsdon
Dale Elsdon's picture

Hello all,

I am not a Karate man so I am not sure if this information relates to Karate, although I suspect it does.

Credit for the creation of the belt ranking system is usually given to Kawaishi Minosuke who was a student of Kano Jigoro and is largely responsible for the spread of Judo/Jujutsu to Europe. Kawaishi found that teaching Europeans required a different approach to teaching the Japanese and thus began to systematise his Judo/Jujutsu teaching to suit his new students. This systematisation lead to teh Kawaishi system of Judo being essentially 'Judo by numbers' as he used a numbering system to categorise techniques. This system is still used by some Jujutsu schools today, who can trace their origins back to post war Europe.

As part of this systematisation Kawaishi began using coloured belts to denote rank. I believe that in his earlier works he listed the belt order as follows: white, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, black or something similar. i may be wrong about this order as I do not have his book at hand, but regardless it was different to the modern Judo colours. L The belt ordering system commonly attributed to Kawaishi today is; white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, black, however some schools omit orange or use purple interchangeably with brown. This is common throughout Judo and many other arts today.

Why the change in colour order?

Well, I have a theory on this! The belt system was really introduced aroud the time of WWII, which meant that many people were not in the best finncial position. For this reason I suspect that the white belt, which would have been made, along with the gi, by someone's mother or wife who was handy with a needle and thread, was dyed a new colour with the attainment of a new rank. For this reason the colours needed to become progressively darker. Evidence of this can be found in the "Cherry Blossom" school of Jujutsu in the Netherlands, whom I believe maintained the original Kawaishi colours longer than most as they denoted rank by changing the colour of a flower on their badge rather than changing belts. Anyone who was training before about 1960 can attest to the fact that most gi's were made by mothers and/or wives of the practitioners. 

I contacted the head of the 'Cherry Blossom" school before Christmas, regarding this and other issues, and am hoping to hear from him sometime soon. I will let you know how I progress.


Dale Elsdon

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

White, blue, yellow, green, brown & black for me.

Nothing mystical, nothing complex.  Just used to provide incentive and short, medium, long-term goals.

I tend to further divide the grades into 'Preparation' - learning the skills, 'Training' - making the skills stronger and reliable, then 'Execution' - application under pressure.

As I style what I teach as a combat sport, not Budo or SP, 'pressure' means being effective against stronger or more experienced opponents within the rules, not SP scenario's in armour etc.