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What does a Black Belt mean?

If you take white light and shine it though a special glass called a prism, the light bends and separates into all the colors of the rainbow. In fact, that’s what a rainbow is: white light shining through millions of water droplets that act like prisms hanging in the sky. White, which really isn’t a color, contains all colors. Black is interesting because it, too, is really no color at all. Black means no light. Inside a box, a camera, a darkroom, or between the stars in outer space, it is dark and black.

decoHow did white come to mean beginner and black mean advanced in the belt system? In the earlier days of the martial arts, students usually practiced with a teacher at their home, a farm, on the beach, or in a village square. The original gi or uniform that you wear today was just the clothes worn underneath a kimono or other outerwear. In China as well, plain loose-fitting shirts and pants were worn for practicing. These would be held together at the waist with a sash or belt. Buttons, zippers, elastics, and Velcro were not in use during these times.

The belt was a cloth folded over many times and stitched so that it would be strong. Sometimes students used the belts to practice certain self-defense techniques, but mostly it was just used to keep their clothes together.

As a student practiced more and more the belt would change from white to brown, even after washing, and after a long time it would look almost black.
If you were to see all the students of a sensei lined up in a courtyard, you could tell who were the more experienced or advanced ones by the color of their belts. This was the origin of the black belt—in truth, a dirty white belt!


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