Colored belts have their origin in Judo, as does the training ‘gi’, or more correctly in Japanese, ‘dōgi‘ or ‘Keikogi’. In Kyokushin, the order of the belts varies in some breakaway groups, for example replacing orange with red, but they follow the kyu ranks for the most part.
Contrary to popular belief, using colored belts to denote rank or ability in martial arts hasn’t been around that long, being introduced around the turn of the 20th century.
The modern karate and Judo uniform was introduced by the founder of judo, Kanō Jigorō, who first took up jujutsu in an effort to gain strength. A well-regarded teacher and polymath in his home country of Japan, Jigorō created judo from his study of jujutsu in the late 1800s.
Shortly after creating judo in the 1880s, Jigorō began awarding some of his students the rank of Shodan, literally “beginning degree,” which is the lowest black belt rank, first bestowing this rank on Tomita Tsunejirō and Saigō Shirō.
There are many romanticized ideas of how the belt colors in martial arts came to be. For example, the story states that students of karate would be given a white belt that gradually becomes stained darker from use, eventually going to brown, black, and back to white again. While this makes for a wonderful story, it is nothing more than that, just a story.
In fact, in the early days of judo, the students did not wear the gi we associate with many forms of martial arts today. Rather, judo was practiced wearing a traditional full-length kimono secured with a regular belt (obi).
In 1907, Jigorō introduced the modern uniform and its thinner obi. The colors consisted of white and black. White for the less experienced (mudansha) and black for the more experienced yudansha. White denoted simplicity and purity, and the white belt of the beginner showed that the student began empty, but eventually was filled with knowledge.
This ranking system was inspired by the existing Dan ranking system in the 5,500-year-old board game Go. Prior to this, more experienced students in various forms of martial arts in Japan tended to be given scrolls indicating their abilities and teaching license.
Judo teacher Mikonosuke Kawaishi, who was teaching in Paris, is credited with incorporating other colors into the uniform around 1935, as a way to motivate his students toward even greater achievement. This was also adapted into Karate by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan, in an attempt to increase Okinawan Karate’s appeal to the Japanese people.
BELTS IN KYOKUSHIN KARATE
The belt system in Kyokushin was introduced by its founder, Masutatsu ‘Mas’ Oyama, who was a former student of Shotokan, under Gichin Funakoshi, in which he obtained the rank of 4th dan black. Not to mention also having the ranks of 7th Dan Black Belt in Gōjū-ryū Karate and 4th Dan Black Belt in Judo.
The belt system is divided into 10 Kyu grades (beginner grades) and Dan grades (advanced grades) up to 10.
Each colored belt has two levels, the second being represented by a stripe at the end of the belt. The white (Mukyu) belt, however, does not represent any level and the white belt literally means no grade. As such, the white belt is used by practitioners who are not yet graded. The belt system under Mas Oyama followed this order since the 1960s with the exception of the red belt, which was incorporated only in the last year of his life, replacing the earlier used white belt with one and two red stripes for the same kyu grades.
While some groups also use red belts for high dan grades, Sosai Mas Oyama did not follow this practice in his dojo or organization, always wearing a wholly black belt for himself.
The belt path in Kyokushin is not a short one. One would expect to train twice to three times a week for at least 5 years before achieving the rank of 1st Dan, or Black Belt. 1st Dan is considered the beginning, with Dan’s grades going up to 10th Dan, with the 10th usually reserved for the founder of the system, or the head of an organization. Comparing the ranks to the Western schooling system, think of the colored belts = grade school, 1st Dan through 4th Dan = undergrad, 5thDan = Master, and anything above = a PhD.
Perhaps the most widely read and respected interpretation of the fundamental psychological requirements of each level of belt is found in the book, The Budo Karate of Mas Oyama, written by former student and interpreter to Sosai Masutatsu Oyama, Cameron Quinn.
The entry below is an excerpt from this book:
-Level of purity and potential
Being new, unaware of the requirements of Kyokushin Karate, and lacking in experience of it, the white belt’s heart is said to be full of hope. From this hope sprouts the first enthusiasm to train and learn.
-Level of stability
Progressing from the white belt comes to the orange belt (replaced by red in some organizations). The first color after purity level is associated with earth (soil) color. The major focus at this level is understanding the physical base.
Power and progress are built upon a solid foundation. Fundamentals such as your stances (eg. Sanchin dachi) are very much reinforced and expected to be perfected.
At this stage, a lifestyle and vision of ambition, gratitude, persistence, and vitality should be adopted. Every student must establish a commitment to attending classes. There can be an internal battle for each individual in overcoming self-defeating stubbornness that resists the desire to attend lessons. It is your battle to win. Orange belts should be enthusiastic in training, and treasure dreams of greater things to come.
-Level of fluidity, adaptability
Blue, is the symbol of the water.
Blue belt at this level develops a basic ability to adapt and react to fluidity. Just as water adapts to the shape of whichever object is holding it. Adaptability grows through kumite (sparring).
Independence begins to establish itself, the student learns to adapt karate to best suit his physical strengths and weaknesses. Development for a strong body, especially in the torso and arms takes place. Special attention is paid to training push-ups using the forefists and fingertips.
In terms of flexibility (physical and mental), students at this level should do relatively well in stretching (which can be achieved through regular stretching).
Enthusiasm wanes sometimes to the point of despair, with a desire to give up. Remember these are part and parcel of training; being able to recognize stumbling blocks in your journey of learning and appropriately dealing with them successfully is essential.
Stay calm in the midst of a raging battle (be it during kumite or your internal battle), the spirit and mind of a true Kyokushin Karate student shall remain unshaken.
-Level of assertion
Apart from concentrating purely on physical skills (such as balance, stability, eye/hand coordination, and general technical ability) as compared to previous belts, the Yellow belt also requires serious consideration of the psychological aspects of training- perception, awareness, assertion, and other manifestations of willpower. Students are expected to apply his/her intellect and awareness in co-ordinating the basic physical concepts of karate with his/her own mind’s immense potential.
Be confident in your growing abilities and be decisive in your every action. Do your best to refine your karate knowledge and learn to perform all the movements in a pure and correct way.
Fears are overcome by confronting them confidently.
Green is the first level of the senior colors.
The green belt is now more aware of his unique discriminating intelligence and the importance of benevolence and compassion. He would realize that power without wisdom and compassion is destructive, dangerous, and callous. Just as Sosai states: strength without justice is violence; justice without strength is impotence.
The green belt would, by now have excellence in all his basic techniques and basic movement patterns, and be able to deliver all required kata.
He learns to combine his technique with speed and strength that has been developed through hard training.
At this level, all green belts should work on the power aspect of karate. Kyokushin is power karate. The green belt should be able to demonstrate this power.
Sensitivity and timing- one must learn to feel the opponent’s intentions and balance, and how to time the use of techniques for maximum effect. You should also look into advanced technical concepts and methods; finds personal likes which you will begin to adapt to your own karate.
Remember, actions are reflexes, not premeditated moves. A technique happens naturally, without thought.
The green belt should have glimpses of the state of mind known as zanshin, where the body acts perfectly without conscious effort.
Every green belt should strive to develop a mature and fearless attitude in kumite while mastering a deceptively calm and unassuming approach to self-defense and daily life.
This is a very important level in training, which should be undertaken in a serious, responsible, and mature frame of mind.
By now, the brown belt should be very strong and very comfortable in the execution of all techniques, whilst continuing to strive to achieve ever-higher levels of skill.
In sparring, the ability to control a junior opponent through timing, distance control, and sensitivity, should be highly developed.
Junior students tend to feel that they can trust the brown belt and the brown belt should respect that trust through honesty, integrity, and loyalty.
You must constantly take a step back and look at yourself, make sure you are in control of your personality and the contents and prejudices of the mind; & not vice versa.
Every brown belt must brace himself with a brave heart and a will of iron, and have faith in the beauty of the unknown that lies ahead.
Improvements in their own technique are gained through participation in tournaments. Through that, one can then truly see if one’s training has been effective.
All too often, the brown belt becomes complacent at brown belt, satisfied with being at the top of the junior grades.
Be aware of this and learn to overcome it through continuous hard training and moving on to the next belt level.
Do not stop your Kyokushin Karate training path here.
“Bathed in sweat, devoted entirely to what I am doing, in training sessions I transcend both life and death.” – Mas Oyama.
The Martial Way