HISTORY OF BELT RANKS

 

In karate traditions there are only five colors of belts - White, Yellow, Green, Brown, and Black.

 

Originally there was no awarding of belts; instead, the karate practitioner (karate-ka) wore the same belt that s/he began with. Karate uniforms (gi) are traditionally white; this includes the belt (obi). Because it was believed that the obi retained the essence of the effort expended by the karate-ka, by virtue of catching the sweat and blood, the obi was never washed. When the gi was washed, it retained its white color, but the obi became stained. In antiquity there was no such thing as a dojo (training hall) and workouts were conducted outside on grassy areas. As any mother can attest, grass stains begin as being yellow - and this was the first indication of training for new karate-ka. However, as the stains on the belt became deeper, they eventually turned green, the second color of the belt, which indicated that the practitioner was maintaining their studies and advancing. Eventually, through hard training, the grass was worn away and practices were conducted on dirt, which stained the belts brown, marking the student as an advanced practitioner. As the stains continued to darken the belt eventually became black and this served as a marker of the most advanced students. However, this was not the end of the progression of rank. As the karate-ka became more advanced in skill levels they were sought out to teach more and practice less. Because the constant wearing of the belt causes it to become frayed, the outer layers wore off until white showed through once more. Thus the most advanced and knowledgable practitioners became as white belts once more. Just so, a karate-ka of true wisdom believes that there is much more that they do not know than they have accomplished, which gives them the attitude of a "white-belt" as well as the worn look of one. Be Humble, work to learn and perfect your skills.

Ranks and Titles

It is easy for those not familiar with the martial arts to become confused by the various ranks and titles. First, to differentiate, titles do not equal any certain rank. Ranks prior to black belt are called "kyu", which means "grade". There are 10 kyu ranks (including white belt). Kyu ranks are classified in reverse order (10th through 1st), which means that the last rank before black belt is 1st kyu. Ranks of black belts are called "dan", which means "degree". All black belts are "Yudansha", regardless of any other status. The first black belt rank - First Degree - is "Shodan"; successive black belts ranks are Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan, Rokudan, Sichidan, Hachidan, Kyudan, and Judan. 

 

Any instructor of black belt rank (Yudansha) can be called "Sensei". However, some beginner instructors are referred to as "Sensei-dai", which means "instructor assistant". One honorary title that is often given is "Shihan" which means "quality instructor". Usually Shihan is reserved for those of Godan (5th Degree Black Belt) or higher. The title "Soke" means "founder" and is given to the single creater of a karate system.  Traditionally, Soke refers to heads of large systems, but many instructors who create their own schools without being widely recognized adopt the title as a pretense of importance.  "Kaicho" translates into "president" of an organization; this title is usually reserved for heads of wide ranging systems such as Chito-ryu, Goju-ryu, Chito-ryu, Shotokan, and Yoshukai. "Hu-Kaicho" translates into "vice-president".

 

"Hanshi" is the most revered title of all. This is normally reserved for instructors of the highest order, 9th and 10th degree black belts that have given decades of contributions to the art, usually by founding systems of their own or branches of systems that they studied.

 

"Kyoshi" is the next highest title and means "teacher of teachers". This title is usually reserved for 7th and 8th degree black belts (or even higher in the largest organizations) and is given to long-term instructors who have many high level instructors under their tutelage. 

 

"Renshi", the title used by Mr. Darby, is also an honorary title. It translates into "teacher of the way" and refers to one who instructs in an admirable way. A person referred to as Renshi is respected not only for their ability to teach physical skills, but also for leading by example and exemplifying a positive life-style. The title of Renshi is usually given to Godan or Rokudan but can refer to one of other ranks as well it depends on the character of the instructor and the manner in which they lead.

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