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What do Karate Belts Signify?

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In the martial arts, ranking of skill level is demonstrated through the awarding of belts, and belts in karate are the most familiar to the general public. While most people may know that white is considered to lowest ranking, associated with the beginner or novice, and black is the highest rank, reserved for the expert, what comes in between is not so well known.

Karate belt hierarchy

Karate skills are hierarchical, and it is not possible to move to a higher level without mastering the skills of each of the lower levels. When a student is ready to move up in rank, he or she must pass a test. This test not only assesses the new abilities, but also reinforces previously learned skills.

The early belts

First, know that there are different schools of karate, and each has its own ranking criteria. That being said, the white to black path is found in all. Most use the same colors in the same order, but some may have another color – usually as the student gets close to black. It is not better or worse, it simply substitutes for one of the black degrees in other systems.

Karate belt colors

Each color signifies a certain level of skill. In addition, it determines how sparring is handled, and what restrictions are applied to those who wear belts of a higher rank.

The traditional color hierarchy, from lowest to highest is

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Purple
  • Brown
  • Black

In addition to these six, there is also a red belt with white striping, signifying the highest achievable level. Within each color of belts in karate, there are also gradations, which are indicated by stripes on the belt in the color of the next belt. No more than two are awarded, and they have no real meaning other than as a way for the student to monitor progress towards the next level.

Variations on a karate belt

As stated, the above list may vary among different schools. Another adjustment comes in age groupings. The color system is adjusted slightly to account for age differences, so students are not overmatched in tournaments. This is important because some children develop more rapidly than others do, and the child’s safety is of foremost concern. As students grow older and mature, they move into the traditional adult system of belting.

Importance of karate belts

The wearing of a certain color of belt is to be taken seriously, and it is important to understand what it means. Wearing a color of a lower skill level is not a negative concept. Rather it is sign that a student is on a path of achievement, and each level lays the foundation for the next. Wearing a belt that has not been earned is an insult to those who have won their color, and is dangerous for the imposter.

For practitioners of the sport, belts in karate serve a significant function. They signify accomplishment, skill, and dedication to a particular philosophy and a drive to excel.

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