Belts, ranking and other thoughts on organizing martial arts

6 Dec

As I have announced, one of my biggest projects has just launched! The Lion’s Roar martial arts curriculum is now being presented online at It is a combination of new footage with re-edits of previous archival material. It will present new material each week and will eventually be an entire system online.

Probably one of the first thing you will notice when you visit the page is how I have organized the material into “belts”, AKA “ranks.” Let me be perfectly clear; this is a completely arbitrary arrangement, not to be taken as Truth in any way! All you have to do is read one of my most famous blogs, “Capturing truth in a bottle?”, to know I do not think you can really “organize” Truth. Yet, just as the blog describes, this is a form of expedient means. And, frankly, it will also make it easier for those already in that frame of mind to absorb the material.

There are some “interesting” stories in the martial arts world regarding rank. One stated that in the “beginning” there was only white belts and black belts. I strongly believe this is metaphorical. But it does serve that purpose. Making us consider what ranking really means? What is a beginner? What is advanced?

In the late 1970’s, before I even met the Shuai Jiao people, I read an article in Black Belt magazine that claimed that belt ranking came from Shuai Jiao. It IS a form of jacket wrestling and belts ARE worn. A white belt is clean, the student hasn’t really practiced much yet. Yellow comes from wear and sweat. Green is from grass stains. Brown is from the dirt, when the grass is worn away from the practice area after years of drilling. Black is the accumulation of all the blood, sweat and dirt…

There is probably some reliable evidence that Judo’s Kano invented the first real belt ranking scheme. He also apparently used the method the Brazilians are still using; white, blue, purple, brown and black. Was there a significance to these colors? I don’t know. Anyone out there?

In the Korean martial arts, they were really big on applying concept to the colors. I was originally ranked and taught the belt colors as

– White representing purity
– Yellow, representing a seed responding to the light of the sun
– Green, that seed actually growing
– Red, that plant reaching for the brightness of the sun
– Brown we were taught meant danger, ie you have technique but not necessarily good control

I am not sure I want to tell you that the ranks I just created for the online program mean anything. They either do or they don’t; and it doesn’t really matter either way

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