It is believed that the tradition of wearing belts in martial arts comes from as far back as the Shaolin Monastery in Henan province, China, home temple of the Buddhist Shaolin Monks. A wide sash, or obi, was worn as a functional item rather than as as item of clothing. It's also from here that the tradition of not washing the belt comes.
After 1900 the kimono was replaced following the introduction of the Judogi (Gi), and the obi gave way to the belt similar to what we wear today. Kano also expanded the belt colour system from just white and black, to include a few more colours. Through this formalized structure he could reward achievement and mark a students progress towards Dan rank, and it's also provided students with recognition of their continued improvement and growth.
Other martial arts soon began to adopt this system of coloured belts, many changing the colour order of belts, expanding the range of colours and also adding tags to denote that a student is on the path to their next grade but not yet quite ready for the full belt.
The myths behind the meanings of the various colours of martial arts belts differ across the range of arts.
Through the custom of the belt being the only part of the uniform that is not washed, over time a beginners white obi would become stained yellow with sweat from training. After more time has passed, mould would begin to form and give the obi a green tinge, which would then give way to brown as the mould aged and more dirt and grime built up. Eventually the belt would turn black from several years having not been washed.
In other Martial arts, the white belt represents purity & new birth, or perhaps a blank canvas ready for the beginning of a new painting.
The traditional attire of the martial artist, the Kimono or the Gi, needs a belt to keep it together so the white belt was given to the new beginner as part of the uniform. In Kickboxing our more modern training uniform doesn't require a belt, and we think that you should have to earn your first belt, so we do not have a white belt within our grading syllabus.
Represents the dawn and the beginning of a new day,
a new chapter.
The first new green shoots emerge from the seed. The plant starts to grow leaves to capture and absorb more of the suns energy, or in case of the martial artist, more knowledge.
As more knowledge is gained, the plant grows taller and reaches upwards towards the blue sky.
More time has passed and day turns to dusk and the sky darkens.
The green of the plant has given way to the brown bark of the tree, showing strength and experience.
Finally representing the night, the end of this journey, but also representing the start a new journey to a deeper knowledge.
The Black belt is awarded to signify that the student has mastered all the basics of the art and is now ready to form a new understanding. Once a black belt has been worn for many years the black will eventually fade and wear away to reveal the white fibres at the core of the belt, representing the return to purity, and demonstrating to us that all black belts are beginners underneath it all, they just never gave up their practice and their training.