What Are the Colors of Karate Belts in Achievement 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 the martial arts, 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.
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 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.
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 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.
Blue is the sky which the branches of the trees and plants are reaching toward. The student is well on their way into 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.
Purple represents the color change of 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.
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 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.
The coloring system had 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.