You see them in the movies, they seem synonymous with ‘Martial Arts’. So what do the colour belts in martial arts even mean?
Why and how are coloured belts in Martial Arts used
Coloured Belts in Martial Arts that we all know today originally stem from East Asian martial arts styles, particularly Japan. Belts were traditionally a part of the uniform that simulated real clothing. These uniforms were more durable to withstand training for years. In Japan, the uniforms are known as a Gi or Kimono and require a belt to hold them together.
Judo Grandmaster, Jigoro Kano, popularised and standardised the Black Belt use as we know it today. Kano also innovated the ranking system using Belts instead of certificates to signify progress.
At the time, there were only White Belts and Black Belts. Black belts were used as a sign that a student had mastered the basic techniques in the art of Judo. As Judo grew, so did the number of belts to delineate the level of skills. The use of these coloured belts spread across other popular styles in Asia.
After Bruce Lee had made his cultural mark on the world, martial arts such as Judo, Karate and Tae Kwon Do exploded in popularity. Belts became a significant part of the martial arts culture in other cultures.
Today, Coloured Belts in Martial Arts are still used to indicate different skill levels, usually starting with a White Belt and ending with the Black Belt.
Some styles of Martial Arts, don’t use coloured belts at all. For example, Boxing, Muay Thai or Wrestling.
What qualifies each Coloured Belt in Martial Arts?
Depending on the style of MMA you are training in and the goals require in that sport, coloured Belts in Martial Arts will differ from style to style.
Take, for example, Aikido. It has two belts (White and Black), whereas Karate can contain 10+ coloured belts.
Roughly how long it will take to achieve each Coloured Belt?
Karate is a traditional martial art originating in Okinawa, Japan. Partly due to its structured progression system and the belief in using the whole body as a weapon, the connection to Eastern Philosophy is highly regarded.
These values are reflected in the belt grading system. Students perform specific techniques to demonstrate these values. You will be awarded a certain belt rank for the time taken and skills acquired.
In Karate, Kyu (student levels) ranks represent the early stages of practice. The practitioner is then called “Mudansha”. To progress, you will advance numerically downwards through the kyu grades.
For instance, 1st Kyu (or brown belt) is the highest and most advanced “student” rank before becoming a black belt.
Below are a list of belts you can achieve in Karate.
A White belt (6th Kyu) requires you to complete a minimum of 3 months of active training. This belt symbolises the starting point or the beginning of your Karate journey.
Yellow Belt (5th Kyu) requires you to complete a minimum of 6 months of active training. The yellow belt is acquired through an exam. Therefore, this level is the beginning of your understanding basic principles of Karate.
Orange Belt (4th Kyu) is awarded after a minimum of 6 months of active training. As a result, you would be considered to have a better understand Karate’s necessary skills. Secondly, you would have a good understanding and application of the principles of distance management.
Green Belt (3rd Kyu). As a green belt you would have completed 9 months of active training. Here, you would start to refine the skills you have learned so far. This includes an emphasis on protecting yourself including mechanical execution techniques. Therefore, the wearer of this coloured belt is more aware of its opponent’s movements.
Blue Belt (2nd Kyu) is awarded to students who show more significant control over their techniques and mind. It requires a minimum time of 12 months of active training.
During sparring, you must demonstrate considerable authority over your opponent, show more control and confidence. Subsequently, you are more adept at countering.
At the last kyu level, the Brown Belt (1st Kyu) requires a minimum time of 18 months of active training. Here you have reached an undeniable level of maturity in terms of your martial skills and mind.
As a Brown belt, you have a high level of control over Karate techniques’ mechanical execution to apply those techniques with your resisting partner. In terms of self-defence, a student displaying this coloured belt has a better overall perception of physical altercation and combat.
Aikido is a modern, non-aggressive Japanese martial art that. It was developed early in the 20th century. Aikido is based on circular, flowing movements originating from a relaxed body and an entirely centred mind.
In Aikido, there are only two belts. The White Belt is given to students when they start with the Black Belt given to you after completing a formal exam. An exam of the art’s basic techniques generally takes up to 4-6 years of training.
Judo originated in Imperial Japan as a system for Samurai to fight unarmed and in close combat. Judo specialises in throws and has a uniformly designed international system of progression.
It has an incredibly formalised system of progression with belts determined by the number of throws you know, not to mention, your amount of competition experience.
In Judo, the number of coloured belts varies in different parts of the world, generally, there are between 5-7 belts before Black Belt is awarded in most Western countries.
Kyu grades are for beginners learning the art of Judo, which consists of 6 ranks starting with brown belt (Ikkyu). Followed by the blue belt (Nikyu), green belt (Sankyu), orange belt (Yonkyu), yellow belt (Gokyu). Lastly a white belt (Rokyu).
Tae Kwon Do
Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art that focuses on kicking and coloured belts are given out after an exam where you as a student would perform a set number of techniques. These include, wooden board breaks and a set pattern of techniques (Poomsae). A black belt is generally awarded after 3-4 years with up to 11 belts in between. Here are the main coloured belts:
Chon-ji is a white belt with a yellow tip and signifies you as a beginner student whose innocence has no previous knowledge of Taekwondo. The white uniform also symbolises purity.
A yellow belt, Dan-gun, signifies the earth from which a plant sprouts and takes root as the Taekwondo foundation is laid. The colour yellow represents the sun which instigates the birth of the seed.
Won-hyo is a green belt, marks the new plants’ growth, gaining strength as the Taekwondo skills begin to develop.
Joon-gu, a blue belt, indicates the beginning of a true understanding of technique. It denotes the sky towards which the plant matures into a towering tree as training in Taekwondo progresses.
Hwa-rang signifies the tree taking stable root in the earth as the technique becomes increasingly proficient and, is a brown belt.
A student wearing a brown belt with a black tip is considered a Choong-moo.
The BLACK Belt
As the opposite of white, the Black belt signals your maturity and proficiency. Black indicates the endless universe and a realisation of the limitless techniques available. Black also shows the wearer’s imperviousness to darkness and fear.
Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu Coloured Belts
Brazillian Jiu Jitsu’s basics revolve around the concept of “Maximising Leverage”. In other words, initially designed to keep you safe throughout the entire spectrum of situations that occur when defending yourself.
Jiu-Jitsu famously takes the longest time for a Black Belt, approximately 7-12 years of consistent training. Each belt is awarded via competency compared to other students of a similar experience level.
There are five primary coloured belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: white, blue, purple, brown and black. Likewise, there are also usually four “degrees” or stripes for each belt below the black belt and six degrees in the black belt.
A White Belt is held by any practitioner new to the art and has no prerequisite.
The second adult rank is a Blue belt at schools that do not use yellow, orange or green belts for adults. A blue belt indicates students have gained a wide breadth of technical knowledge. This may undertake hundreds of mat time to learn how to implement these moves efficiently.
An intermediate adult ranking in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the Purple belt. It means the practitioner has gained a large amount of knowledge. Purple belts are generally considered qualified to help instruct lower-ranked students. After that, the Brown belt is the highest-ranking colour belt below the black belt.
Denoting an expert level of technical and practical skill, Black belts are often addressed within the art as “professor”. Although some schools and organisations reserve this title for more senior black belts. You must be at least 19 years old and spent a minimum of a year as a brown belt first.
In no way is this list is exhaustive. It is, however, an excellent introductory guide to understanding coloured belts in martial arts.
These are all approximate guesses on average times for a student to reach each belt, and of course, some students will progress faster or slower. In short, the key is not to get your black belt as soon as possible but rather enjoy the journey along the way, one Coloured Belt at a time!
from the VT1mma team
VT1mma Academy, Sydney