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ALL POSTSWhat You Need To Know About Martial Arts Belts

28 June 2022by Grant Mundy0

Are keen on martial arts? Are you eager to learn about the different levels and belts across different martial arts disciplines, what they mean and how to attain them? If so, please keep reading as we take a look at some different martial arts and the various belts and rankings.

Most people are familiar with black belts. A black belt indicates the highest rank in most martial art styles. However, the various colours did not just evolve simultaneously with different techniques. 

The first “belts” were used in Japan by Dr. Kano, who used black and white belts in his Judo classes. Later, other martial arts styles adopted the use of belts. From there, belt grading systems were then used for various martial art styles such as aikido, karate, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, among others. We will start with a brief history of martial arts belts.

What Is A Martial Arts Belt?

Martial arts belts, also known as obi in Japanese, are necessary for representing the development of the students while grading them by ranks. The ranks start from a low 10th kyu to a high 10th dan in most martial arts techniques. Typically, you will receive a black belt after achieving a high kyu level, termed the 1st dan. From here, you can begin your ascension across the various dan ranks up to the 10th dan. 

The kyu dan belt grading system was introduced to martial arts by a Japanese jujutsu practitioner called Dr. Jigoro Kano. When teaching jujutsu, Kano would use white or black belts to differentiate between novices and experts.

Shortly after opening his Kodokan Judo Institute, other martial arts disciplines like taekwondo and karate adopted the ranking system. Over time, the colours of the belts have evolved from white and black to many colours that include blue, yellow, green, and orange, to mention a few. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is another martial art discipline to rake the belts out of Japan.

Martial art belts have also evolved into armbands worn in some Muay Thai schools and colour-coded sashes used in Kung Fu schools. Belts, sashes, and armbands are significant in indicating the practitioner’s level, but the ranking is not always consistent across the various martial art techniques.

Belt Colors: Karate

Karate was the first martial art discipline to adopt the belt grading system. The rule of thumb says that the belt indicates more development as the colour gets darker. However, the colour sequence may vary across modern karate schools and styles. The standard belt order for Karate and Shotokan is as follows:

  • White belt means that the wearer is at 10th kyu 
  • Orange belt means that the wearer is at 9th kyu 
  • Red belt means that the wearer is at 8th kyu  
  • Yellow belt means that the wearer is at 7th kyu 
  • Green belt means that the wearer is at 6th kyu  
  • Purple belt means that the wearer is at 5th kyu 
  • Purple belt with a white stripe means that the wearer is at 4th kyu
  • Brown belt means that the wearer is at 3rd kyu
  • A two-white-strip brown belt means that the wearer is at 2nd kyu 
  • Black belt means that the wearer is at 1st dan  

Other popular Karate styles such as Wado-Ryu, Kyokushin, and Shito-Ryu use the above belt system.

Belt Colors: Judo

Judo was the first martial art practice to use the belt grading system since its founder was teaching Judo. Many traditional Judo schools in Japan still use white and black belts only as Kano did, but some have evolved to use the modern multicolour belts. The standard Judo belt grading system is as follows:

  • 6th kyu martial artists wear a red belt
  • 5th kyu martial artists wear a yellow belt
  • 4th kyu martial artists wear an orange belt
  • 3rd kyu martial artists wear a green belt
  • 2nd kyu martial artists wear a blue belt
  • 1st kyu martial artists wear a brown belt
  • 1st dan martial artists wear a black belt

You get to wear your Judo black belt from the 1st dan rank to the 5th, after which you get a red and white striped one up to your 8th dan. You get an all-red belt in your 9th dan and 10th dan.

What You Need To Know About Martial Arts Belts

Belt Colors: Taekwondo

Taekwondo originated in Korea and did not gain popularity until the 40s and 50s. It even has a variant that owes its ancestry to the belt-graded martial art techniques. Below is the standard grading for Taekwondo belts:

  • 10th kup martial artists wear a white belt
  • 9th kup martial artists wear a yellow striped white belt
  • 8th kup martial artists wear a yellow belt
  • 7th kup martial artists wear a green-striped yellow belt
  • 6th kup martial artists wear a green belt
  • 5th kup martial artists wear a blue striped green belt
  • 4th kup martial artists wear a blue belt
  • 3rd kup martial artists wear a red striped blue belt
  • 2nd kup martial artists wear a red belt
  • 1st kup martial artists wear a black striped red belt

In Taekwondo, the term kyu is usually replaced by kup or geup, but their roles are the same. In each grade, you will be required to demonstrate your prowess in stances, strikes, pumsae, and kyorugi until you reach the highest rank.

Belt Colors: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu belt grading system and Judo are closely related. The technique was introduced in Brazil by Mitsuyo Maeda, a student of Dr. Jigoro Kano. Usually, Maeda would beat fighters for prizes who would become his disciples. In 1921, he opened Clube Remo to start the famous Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The standard belt grading for the technique is outlined below.

  • 1st degree – white belt
  • 2nd degree – blue belt
  • 3rd degree – purple belt
  • 4th degree – brown belt
  • 5th to 6th degree – black belt
  • 7th degree – red and black belt
  • 8th degree – red and white belt
  • 9th to 10th degree – red belt

One notable thing with the Brazilian jiu-jitsu technique is that it does not use the kyu dan system. However, the black belt signifies the highest rank, like in most styles. 

Belt Ranks For Other Martial Arts

Above are the most popular martial art styles that use standard belt grading systems. Below, we will cover less popular styles and how they implement the grading system.

Aikido

Aikido only uses black and white belts to differentiate between a kyu and a dan. However, most Western schools are starting to adopt multicolour belts. The number of belts and colour sequence vary from school to the other, but the white belt always represents an amateur, with the black belt conveying the highest rank.

Krav Maga

Krav Maga is more of combative self-defence rather than a martial art style. It borrows its practices from various practical lethal combat martial art styles and utilises Kano’s grading system. Its pattern is almost identical to that of modern Judo, and it is as follows; white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown, and black.

You must attend certain classes in each rank and comply with the training session. If you are a quick learner, you should take less than five years to attain a Krav Maga black belt.

Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu uses the kyu dan system though its belt colours are different from other styles. Typically, you will wear a white belt if you are unranked. If you are a kyu grade male, you will wear a green belt or red one if you are a woman.

All dan grade and above men and women in Ninjutsu wear black belts. Your rank is typically represented by an emblem known as wappen, displayed on your belt.

Final Thoughts

Martial arts involve rigorous training sessions to achieve power, control, and technique. The belt colour martial arts grading system is essential in recognising the dedication of qualified practitioners.

Do you want to pursue a martial arts style but do not know where to start? Consider seeking training from a reputable martial arts school. 

Learn Martial Arts at Wu Xing Dao

At Wu Xing Dao Kung Fu, we offer high-quality martial art training sessions for various styles, such as Kung Fu and MMA. Our training sessions are ideal for all ages, from youngsters to seniors. If you invest your time in the training, you will start seeing some serious changes during the first six months. ENROL NOW!

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