Why are there Coloured Belts in Martial Arts?

The term ‘black belt’ is widely known, and it’s often associated with high ranking martial artists. However, the belt is only part of a longstanding ranking system covering different martial art styles. 

One of the stories surrounding the origin of the belt system comes from an old tradition of students never washing their belts. Consequently, their white belts turned colour as they accumulated stains from soil, sweat, dirt and blood through their practice. After years of fighting and practising, all that was left was a dirty black belt. Despite how captivating the tale is, it’s only a myth. 

The belt system took shape in the 1880s after it was introduced by Dr Jigoro Kano (the founder of Modern Judo). The concept took roots in Japan before spreading across the world. The system is used by most forms of martial arts to track students’ progress and achievements. 

There are no universal standards that stipulate the meaning of each belt colour. Each martial arts style has its own individual rules and explanations with numerous cultural variations. Nonetheless, white is the first belt, while black represents a master in most styles. Here is a quick look at the different coloured belts in martial arts.

White

The white belt is the very first belt you will receive. The colour represents an empty canvas ready to welcome the martial arts. 

Among the Japanese, white is the colour of death, and it’s used in martial arts to represent the death of your old self as a sacrifice and devotion to the new practice. On the other hand, the Koreans associate white with the start of a new life cycle and meaning in the martial arts world. 

Yellow

This is the second level in the ranking system. At this stage, the student receives the knowledge to form the foundation of their entire practice. 

Orange

The orange belt is the third level for a martial arts student. The expectations at this level are quite high as the students are pushed to develop their strengths and explore their new potential.

Green

This belt represents a significant transition for students as they begin to hone their skills and refine techniques. It usually takes just over a year before you are awarded this belt.

Blue

At this level, students are required to refine their learnt skills in order to build confidence. A blue belt is a well-established intermediate level martial arts student.

Purple 

A student at the purple belt level is making a transition into advanced level martial arts. Their skills are refined, and their motivation for progress is innate. The student’s maturity in the martial arts practice is also quite palpable. 

Brown 

The brown belt is an advanced level martial artist. Although their skills appear unrefined compared to a master, their understanding of the art is thorough.

Black

The famous black belt is the most advanced level in most martial arts styles. At this stage, the martial artist has refined skills and enough knowledge to teach and mentor others. The belt is a culmination of years of hard work and perseverance.

Red

The meaning of the red belt varies across styles. In most forms of martial arts, it’s part of the pre-black level of advanced training. However, the belt is worn by grandmasters in other styles. Some belts combine black and red in varied patterns to represent the different levels of martial arts masters. 

The belt system is helpful for identification. Moreover, it harmonises students’ progression across the world and ensures the different styles maintain their integrity. Although the journey from white to black is long, it’s still colourful.