Belt grades (Obi, kyu, dan, menkyo,...)

Posted by Larry Foisy on

While some martial arts ( budo ), such as iaido and aikido , refuse to mark rank with an outward sign, the vast majority of practitioners such as judo , karate , taekwondo , jiu-jitsu , etc. wears a band of colored cloth around the waist to illustrate their level of advancement in the practiced martial art.

The wearing of belts could come, at the base, from the samurai who wore an obi (belt) to keep their sword at their waist. But this practice has evolved within the framework of a gradation system in order to illustrate learning markers testifying to the level of advancement of practitioners.

The Gokyo system
The Gokyo system is one of the representations widely used by practitioners in Judo . It consists of having 5 kyu 's (belt levels) i.e. the belts: yellow, orange, green, blue and brown/brown) in order to climb the ladder towards the prestigious black belt.

The 10 kyu's system
The Ju kyu 's system is also very popular. It consists of having 10 kyu 's, represented by half-levels signifying the advancement halfway between two belt grades with respect to the Gokyo . It is generally symbolized by a middle black line or a two-color belt (eg half yellow and half orange).

Other systems
There are many other gradation systems for example Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ): blue, purple, brown and black.

The order of color belts
If the most common order is probably that of yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black. This order would represent the progression, either from white representing potential and purity to black, which is a fusion of all colors.

Subsequently, the black belt by wear or by the use of other colors, faded to the white-red and red belt. Red, being the color belt of protection in the East.

On the other hand, in Kyokushinkaï and in certain schools of Ninjutsu , the order of the colors is different based on the Gokyo/Godaï representing the 5 apprenticeships associated with the 5 elements of knowledge symbolized by earth, water, fire, air and ether/emptiness ( kara )/emptiness. Thus each of the elements is associated with colors either: orange, blue, yellow/red, green, brown/brown.

The belt and the dan 's
Following the transfer of the black belt, the practitioners are then recognized as first (known as shodan ) and there is still a gradation system which generally scales up to the level of 10 th dan. Often the level of 10 th dan is reserved for the founder of a r yu (a style, a school). Also, although at one time m enkyo (license), titles (usually taken from the military system) and dan 's were independent concepts, but it is rather common now to get at the handing over of a dan a martial title like * Sensei, shihan, Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi, Shinan , … and the menkyo which were at the time very difficult to obtain is now almost non-existent. On the other hand, some budo have adopted the possibility of obtaining more than 10 dan, which is relatively common in ninjutsu representing the number of dan 's obtained from different schools of ninjutsu . Or even get a 10 to 12 th in post-mortem for a lifetime of martial arts achievement.

*Martial titles will be part of a future blog post.

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