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What Are the Colors of Karate Belts in Achievement Order?

I love martial arts and I enjoy sharing information about karate.

A teacher wearing a hakama executing an Aikido technique on a student wearing a gi.

A teacher wearing a hakama executing an Aikido technique on a student wearing a gi.

Karate Belt ORder

Depending on the art that you’re interested in, there are different ways of denoting rank.

In aikido, for example, there are tests for what are called Kyu (pronounced kee-yoo) and Dan (pronounced dahn) ranking. Traditional aikido schools don’t have belt colors—only the simple white uniforms, called gi (pronounced gee with a hard "G" sound), and when a student hits Dan level, they’re allowed to wear the black hakama (hah-kah-mah) as a mark of their elevated rank.

Other arts, such as karate, have different-colored belts to differentiate ranks. However, as with all other aspects of this martial art, this ranking system has a deeper, more profound meaning than most people realize.

Although there is variation between schools, the below order is the most commonly used.

An example of the first rank: the white belt.

An example of the first rank: the white belt.

White Belt

White is the symbol of innocence and the desire for knowledge. When a student first starts their study, they are, in essence, a blank slate. The color white symbolizes this clean purity of nature.

Yellow Belt

Yellow is representative of the sun as it peeks over the horizon. As the student progresses in knowledge and skill, it is as if they are starting on a new day. The sun is still weak, but it still offers the brilliance of light and strength of hope.

The third rank: the orange belt.

The third rank: the orange belt.

Orange Belt

Orange is of the strengthening sun as it rises in the sky. The day is still young, and the sun still has a great deal of strength to gain, but it is on its way. The sun is the student at this point in their studies. They are progressing in rank, strength and skill, but although they’ve hit a new benchmark, they still have a long way to go.

Green Belt

Green represents the plants which are starting to grow from the sun’s light and heat. These plants are the budding product of the student’s hard, enduring work. The skill gained is not yet mature, but it has taken on form in both the individual’s psyche and body.

A young woman with a blue belt testing for purple.

A young woman with a blue belt testing for purple.

Blue Belt

Blue is the sky which the branches of the trees and plants are reaching toward. The student is well on their way to attaining their mastery of the art, and they can clearly see what it is they’re reaching for. It’s still distant, but the focus is far sharper than it had been at the beginning of their journey.

A girl with the rank of purple belt.

A girl with the rank of purple belt.

Purple Belt

Purple represents the color change of the sky as the morning progresses. The sun is growing stronger, and training is progressing towards the next level. Students have yet to master their skills, but they are beginning their transition from novice to something more advanced.

The rank below the highest: the brown belt.

The rank below the highest: the brown belt.

Brown Belt

Brown represents maturity. It is like the brown of new seeds ready for harvest. They are very nearly masters, and they are able to use their skills but they have yet to fully master the art.

Black Belt

Black represents the world beyond the sun. It is the universe and final knowledge. It represents mastery of the art which had been and is still being studied.

Some schools continue with the belt ranking system after black by adding stripes to the belt. This represents the ongoing personal growth, which continues throughout our lives.

Origin of the Belt System in Martial Arts

The coloring system originated in the 1930s and has endured since then. One of the theories of how it came to be is that students would dye their belts every time they got a new rank. Each time the belt was dyed, it would result in a different color, and that would naturally become their marker of rank.

Another (less sanitary) theory is that belts changed color over time simply because they were never washed. The more the individual trained the more dirt the belt would pick up. There were some schools in which the students would leave their uniforms in the changing rooms and not wash them at all, sometimes for years. This may have had to do with cost consciousness, or perhaps a rather odoriferous way of expressing ego.

© 2012 Emilie S Peck


Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on September 24, 2012:

Thank you! I have actually practiced a few different martial arts over the years, and to be honest, I do prefer referring to ranks as kyu and dan instead of in terms of belt colors.

I actually hadn't heard the dirty belt story until I did my research for this article. Very interesting stuff.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on September 24, 2012:

Beautifully written piece here, and I like how you've addressed the Kyu and Dan ranking, which you don't hear about so much unless you are practicing martial arts. Love the whole story and progression of belt colors you've presented here. The story about the belts getting dirty is the one I've been told before, it indicates wear and experience.

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on September 24, 2012:

eHealer - no problem!

Barnard - Indeed they do! I'd run into that order during my research, but went with this one, since it seemed so much more common. Some schools also use a red belt between brown and black. Thank you for the comment!

Bernard Sinai from Papua New Guinea on September 24, 2012:

Nice hub, different schools of Karate have their own belt grading system. For example, in Kyokushin, like all schools, use white for beginners, then the next grade would be orange, blue, yellow, green, brown and then black. Each of the colored belts have two rankings; junior and senior.

The use of belts into Karate was adopted by Gichin Funakoshi from Judo.

Deborah from Las Vegas on September 24, 2012:

Great ESPeck1919, I am so glad someone finally explained this to me! I was never given the right answers to the topic! Love the hub, voted up!