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  • Writer's pictureSensei Stacy Pursell Jr.

Belts Are For More Then Holding Up Your Pants

Updated: Jan 5, 2019

Belts Are For More Then Holding Up Your Pants

A belt represents the students rank and ability. It’s the indicator a Sensei

looks at to determine their progress through the ranks. Sensei Funakoshi

adapted the using of belts to show rank from the Japanese art of Judo. A

white belt is given out to a new student. It is wrapped carefully around

the waist. It’s the beginning of a life long journey. It is worn with pride

and shows the efforts of your hard work. White, Yellow, Orange. What

do these colors mean? There are a few theories on this.

Some say the white belt is dyed to a new color after a promotion. After

dying the belt multiple times as the student progresses through the ranks

the belt gets darker. Eventually turning black. Dying the belt was very

practical after WWII because most of Japan was poor. Dying a belt was

the cheapest way to show rank.

Another theory is that a white belt is handed out at your first class. As

you trained for many years the belt would start to show up darker.

Eventually the belt would start to appear black. The darker the belt the

more years you have trained.

Others believe that the white belt would turn yellow from sweat. After a

class the student would roll up their Gi with the belt in the center. The

weather was very hot and humid. Over time mold would grow on the

belt turning it green. A few years later the skill of the student would get

better. They would be good enough to accept the Sensei’s techniques.

The result would be the student falling to the ground many times. The

belt would start to turn brown and later black.

No one is really sure which one of these are 100% correct. In the

modern area of martial arts organizations have devised a “rainbow “ of

colored belts to represent rank. There are variations in colors used, but

for the most part white is the first color. After months of training a kyu

test is given to show the results of your work. A new color is rewarded if

the knowledge is correctly shown. The progression of belts are darker

then the one before. Eventually ending in a black belt.

In Shotokan Karate there are 10 Kyu levels. A Kyu is a rank that is given

before you achieve black belt. You would be counting down starting with

10 (white belt) 9, 8, 7 and so on. In most shotokan schools when you get

to a 1 Kyu (brown belt) you have to wait 1 year before your Black belt

test. Once you have earned your Black belt your still not done. You have

actually just begun. There are now 10 more levels of Black belt. These

levels are no longer called Kyu but are now called Dan. There are 10

Dans. So the scale would look like this.

Kyu White 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1-- Dan Black 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Here is the common Dan rankings.

(1st Dan) = Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan, Rokudan, Sichidan,

Hachidan, Kyudan, Judan = (10th Dan).

Most Schools allow students to test for a Kyu rank after about 4 months

(32 classes) of training. After earning the rank of 1 kyu you must train for

an additional year before your 1st Dan test. Once your a 1st Dan you wait

1 year for your 2nd Dan Test. Then 2 more years from that point for your

3rd and 3 years for your 4th and so on. As you can see it takes a life time

to achieve a 10th Dan status. It typically takes about 5 years to earn a

Black belt. It would take over 50 years to Reach the highest rank of 10th

Dan. That would be if you tested on time and passed every test taken.

Not many have obtained the highly elite rank of 10 Dan. You must be a

minimum of 70 years old to be eligible for this rank. If you ever get a

chance to train with one of these Masters do so. Two well known 10th

Dans are Sensei Okazaki (ISKF) and Sensei Kanazawa (SKIF). Sensei

Safar 9th Dan is the highest in the AJKA-I. I asked him why he isn’t a

10th dan. He said that he is still a student of karate and not until he goes

to the grave will he be a 10th Dan. They are typically very old and their

knowledge of karate is phenomenal. (Side note) I had the privilege to be

tested by Sensei Okazaki from my white belt test all the way to my 1st

Dan and Sensei Safar for my 3rd Dan.

If you see a karateka wearing a solid black belt is usually means they are

a 1st Dan. Once they achieve their 2nd Dan a new black belt is given. This

one will have the name of the Sensei you trained under in kanji. I was

very fortunate when Sensei Safar gave me his own personal belt. . This is

the last belt you will ever get. For the most part you will never know the

rank of the student past this point. The only inclination would be the

distress on the belt. After many many years of training the blackness of

the belt starts to wear out and fray. It actually starts to show white again.

This completes the full circle of starting with white and ending with


Never wash your belt. The dirtiness is earned. Never drag it on the

floor. Just like the Gi it is to be respected.

Start with White end with White. Just like the Yin Yang. (notice in the

pic above Sensei Wonitai and Sensei Ochi’s belts are turning white) After

all your years of hard training you end where you started.

It’s Simple, Humble and Pure. Osu

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