A martial artist’s knowledge and ability is represented by the color of the belt he or she wears. Belt colors begin with white and generally progress to orange, green , red and the coveted black belt.
The belt ranking system began at the turn of the 20th century and has proven to be an excellent form of teaching. Each belt color signifies not only a student’s progression of skill, but also his attitude. The colors symbolize the growth of a plant from seed to harvest.
The white belt represents a seed which is ready and willing to sprout. The white belt must first form a foundation of roots to supply the future sprout with nourishment.
Tanito Aguero demonstrates board braking – TKA Promotion Board Dec. 2005
The orange belt represents the growth of the seed into the form of a sprout. Remember the color of the young bean sprout in those science experiments in school? The sprout was orange in color, and very delicate. This is also true of karate students. If the student makes it through this transitional period, he will reach green belt and continue to further this growth. Or, like the sprout, his enthusiasm will wither and die, and he will quit training.
If growth does continue, the seed becomes a plant, the color of bright green. Green belt is the most critical period for the karate student, because if the roots and foundation have not been secured, the student will not produce the needed fruits to continue the growing process. A green belt student is both dangerous to himself and others. He has just enough knowledge to get into trouble.
Just as a plant starts to change to the colors of autumn, so too does a karate student change as he gains seasoning. The green belt discovers that, to mature in the martial arts, he must begin to focus less on himself and more on helping others. This starts at green belt and continues through the red belt level. The red belt student is the hardest worker in the training hall and cannot seem to absorb enough knowledge. Whatever knowledge he gains, he gladly shares with the lower-ranking students.
The karate harvest is almost complete at this point. The plant has reached the end of its growing cycle, but has generated new seeds by helping others. Before obtaining his black belt, the red belt student will participate in an experience similar to an internship. Only after careful consideration by the chief instructor can the read belt progress to the next stage of development: graduation to the Chodan, (first-degree black belt).
Just as a plant cannot be rushed through its growing cycles, a karate student must progress slowly and naturally through the cycle of belts. It takes approximately six months of training for most students to advance to the next belt level. the Chodan is no the end of a long journey, but rather the beginning of a new one. There are nine black belt levels, each of which takes three to five years to attain.
It has been said that only on out of every 100 white belts will obtain a black belt. That leaves 99 others who will never harvest the bountiful knowledge and skills the martial arts have to offer. And that is truly a shame.