What makes a belt black?

The covenanted blackbelt is considered by many the holy grail of martial arts, or is it? What does the belt signify? Why is it so revered by those in the martial arts? In this post, I will attempt to answer these and other pertinent questions.

Back in the day before the Americanization of martial arts the belt held no particular significance or value; it was used primarily to secure the dobok/gi top of the practitioner. As this fabled story goes, the student would not clean their belt, so the belt over time would start to become darker from the sweat, dirt and grime from training in the arts. It was considered, the darker the belt the more time the student had trained and thus the more proficient and skilled they supposedly were.

The belt system we have today is based on that philosophy, with white being the first belt and blackbelt being the last. Americanization of this system has taken this further by introducing other colors into the mix based on systems, ideologies and philosophies.

In most martial arts today the length of time between each belt is usually determined by four main criteria:

  1. Training classes attended
  2. Knowledge of curriculum and the execution of technique & protocol
  3. Attitude…Attitude…Attitude
  4. Instructor intuition

The Americanization of the belt system in theory has been good for martial arts, It has created more structure and given us a road map from each belt to the next. The downside is that it has also created an environment where attainment of the belt becomes the primary purpose and focus, causing ones vision to become skewed and narrow as a result.

To truly understand what makes a belt, one must first look inside themselves for its ingredients, and then ask this question: Does the belt make the person or does the person make the belt?

When the attainment of the belt trumps the attainment of personal excellence, it’s then that it becomes just another belt.

Blackbelt is and always has been a state of mind and an attitude, it’s not found in a belt.

By: Master Tim Bell

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2 Responses

  1. […] 5:00 pm – Wrote a new blog post – What makes a belt black? […]

  2. Black is black. No matter what level you get too. Some have made it easier to attain but most have kept some pretty stringent standards. It depends on where you trained and who you trained thru. Some have lost their way as well.

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