December 17

The History of Martial Arts Belts

It’s said that white belts who train long enough would eventually become black belts due to a collection of sweat, blood and other grime that affixed itself to their belts. As a result, these dirty white belts would eventually darken and become recognized as black belts.

That sounds like an excellent story, but it’s just that – a story. Many sources state outright that it’s a myth. Others don’t mention it at all in their history of martial arts, suggesting to me that this story is not the case.

Jigoro Kano

Jigoro Kano, founder of judo

So, what’s the real story?

Using a belt – obi in Japanese – is a relatively modern way of displaying one’s rank.

Dr. Jigoro Kano, who developed judo in 1882, introduced the concept within his new art as early as 1883, according to Neil Ohlenkamp, a world-renowned judoka. Kano used only white belts and black belts to begin with. Ohlenkamp says colored belts were not used until judo spread outside of Japan, when Mikonosuke Kawaishi introduced them while teaching to Western students in Paris in 1935.

“(Kawaishi) felt that Western students would show greater progress if they had a visible system of many colored belts recognizing achievement and providing regular incentives. This system included white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple belts before the traditional brown and black belts.”

Prior to the introduction of belts and the kyu/dan system in general, Ohlenkamp says students were presented with certificates or scrolls, “often with the secrets of the school inscribed.”

However, in Secrets of the Samurai, authors Ratti and Westbrook say that using colors to define ranks goes back as many as almost 1,300 years:

“There are indications that some of the feudal ryu of bujutsu also divided their students into ‘as many as nine grades of achievement,’ and that the device of using colors to identify ranks, after all, traces its roots as far back as the bureaucratic system of the Heian culture…”

Each school uses a different ranking system, likely set forth from the organization with which they are associated.

Be sure to read about how to say your rank in Japanese, and watch how to tie your belt.

December 10

How to Know What Belt You Are

You probably think it’s pretty easy to tell what belt or rank you are. And you’re right.

martial arts beltsBut there’s a little more to it than just the color that’s tied around your waist (see: How To Tie Your Belt).

In many martial arts systems, students wear either belts or sashes. Metamora Martial Arts uses belts, so that’s what we’ll stick with here.

Belts are divided simply as colored belts – kyu ranks – and black belts – dan ranks.

Within each of those, you can break down the ranks even further. For example, colored belts have multiple colors, and black belts have multiple degrees.

In our system, we use six colored belts at each stage. I will list them out here followed by how you would say it in Japanese.

  1. White (hachikyu)
  2. Yellow (shichikyu)
  3. Blue (rokukyu)
  4. Green (gokyu)
  5. Purple (yonkyu)
  6. Purple (sankyu)
  7. Purple (nikyu)
  8. Brown (ikkyu)

The Japanese numbering system for kyu ranks counts backwards from black belt. A brown belt, for example, is one step away from a black belt (ichi is one, so ikkyu is one rank), while a green belt is five steps away (go is five in Japanese).

Within each of the colored belts, we typically break it down even further. For example, white through green belts will earn three stripes on their belts before being promoted to the next one. In other words, white belts must earn three stripes before attaining a yellow belt.

Students earn these stripes by being taught and then practicing the requirements for each rank. Tests will be announced well in advance so that a student has a chance to earn a promotion.

Note that martial arts schools across the world have different belt systems in place, and ours is just one example.

Unlike colored belt ranks, the numbers go in sequential order starting at the dan ranks, starting from first-degree all the way through 10th-degree. I’m a nidan – a second-degree black belt – and ni is Japanese for two.

As a sign of respect, black belts should be addressed at least by using Mr., Mrs., Miss and then that person’s last name, unless they say otherwise. Many teachers prefer to be called by their teaching title. Frequently, you’ll hear this as “Sensei (first or last name here).” You may also hear such titles as joshu, deshi, kyoshi, hanshi, o’sensei, master, grandmaster, and more.

Tip: In Japan, this formal title is actually placed after the person’s last name. For example, one of our alumni is teaching in Japan, and is referred to as “Katch-sensei.”

Bonus tip: Some view referring to yourself as a sensei as being amateurish.

I will post a future blog that talks a little bit more about the history of the belts. This was meant as an introduction to belts and ranks, and I hope I’ve provided that for you.

Now that you’ve read a little bit more about our belts, do you have any questions? Leave a comment, as others may be wondering the same thing.

November 2

How To Tie Your Belt

Even if you’re new to Metamora Martial Arts, chances are you know that karate practitioners wear belts. Many other arts – judo, tae kwon do and more – do, too, although some wear sashes and others don’t wear any kind of material to show their rank at all.

Metamora Martial Arts students need to learn how to tie their belts before they reach yellow belt.

Students are promoted by stripes. At each belt level, you start with 0 stripes. When you learn the techniques and correctly perform them at a testing, you’ll earn an additional stripe. After three stripes, you earn a new belt.

A future post will discuss belts more in depth, but for now, let’s just walk through each step as explained in the video.

  1. Fold your belt in half. Hold it with the folded portion in your left hand.
  2. Swing your belt around your back along your waist while maintaining a hold of the folded portion in your left hand and the two loose ends in your right hand.
  3. One of the loose ends will be closer to your body than the other. Pin that to the area just below your belly button with the folded portion. These parts should not move.
  4. Take the other loose end of your belt around your body twice.
  5. Push that loose end underneath the portions of your belt touching your body so that it slides along your stomach. Pull your belt tight here so that it looks nice when you finish.
  6. With the ends of your belt in each hand, cross your left hand underneath your right hand.
  7. Bring the portion that was in your left hand through the hole.
  8. Grab each end and pull to tighten your belt for class. This way, it won’t fall down in the middle of working out.


As always, remember to never wash your belt and to never let it touch the ground. Both are signs of disrespect.

Note: I acknowledge martial artists tie their belt in different ways, and that my way is just one acceptable way to tie it.

October 13

Garage Sale: A Bunch of Sparring Gear, Uniforms and Apparel For You

When Metamora Martial Arts reopens this January, I have a bunch of gear I want you to have.

I’ve cleaned out and sorted everything we had left from MTHS, including head gear, sparring boots and gloves, uniforms, and old T-shirts. As we get closer to relaunching, I will post a complete list of what we have available for sale so that I can bring it to class at your request.

The sparring gear is used, though I’ve taken a look at every piece to make sure it is still safe for use in class. I actually wound up throwing away a 30-gallon container full of gear that had been ripped, torn, or otherwise unsafe for use in competition.

The T-shirts appear to be new and run the gamut all the way back to the shirts we received during our 2005-2006 school year. It was fun looking through them and saying, “Oh yeah, I remember that shirt…that one, too…I forgot we did that.”

I also have a handful of full student uniforms and separate pants and tops. The ones that aren’t in their original bags appear to be in like-new condition.

If you’re interested in purchasing any equipment in January, please leave a comment here with your size requests and I’ll see if I have anything that matches.

Since most of the gear is Century gear, please refer to this link for sparring gear and this link for uniforms.