What do colored karate ranks mean?
We took a look at the history and symbolism of karate belts in the blog post “The Meaning Of Karate Belts.” And we all know that most martial arts use some kind of color-coded ranking system to represent class advancement and reward the hard work and discipline that a student has put into mastering their art. But what does each level of the color-coded journey toward a black belt signify?
While many schools have their own unique spin on exactly what each color (or kyu) represents in terms of both technical skill and philosophical growth – and some might have slight variations in the order of their belts– most generally follow this path. Let’s break down what each rank means to a karateka beginning their training journey, color by color.
A white belt represents the very beginning or the birth of the martial arts process. Like a seed covered by a blanket of snow in the winter, the new karate student is ready and waiting to start growing. The brand new student does not yet know how to control their minds or bodies, but their white belt is a symbol of both their clean slate and their willingness to learn.
A yellow karate belt is awarded when a new student has demonstrated that they are opening their minds to the practice of karate and to their sensei’s teachings. The yellow color is generally understood to be representative of the sun, which means that the blanket of white snow has melted and the fresh spring ground beneath is now basking in its first transformative rays of sunshine.
As the sun’s rays intensify, they switch from a yellow glow to a bright orange one. Therefore the orange karate belt represents the student who has further opened their minds to karate’s teachings and is beginning to benefit from that more brilliant light. Orange is awarded to the student who is starting to gain a sound grasp of karate’s basic and fundamental skills.
Once the orange belt begins to refine the basic skills they’ve learned so far, they can graduate to a green karate belt. The very basic steps of their journey are complete and they can begin to work toward the intermediate belts. The green color is representative of the seedling itself as it starts to break through the ground and grow.
Just like a plant reaching up toward the sky as it grows stronger, the green belt builds upon the lessons and techniques that they have already been taught and continues to strive for more knowledge, skill, and ability to control their mind and body in the ways of the art. The blue belt represents the growth toward that sky as the student is fed more and more difficult techniques in order to nurture their growth.
As the student reaches the end of their time at the blue belt level, they begin to develop a deeper appreciation of what a black belt means. The graduation to a purple karate belt represents a moment of dramatic transition for the karateka as they begin to grow into the more advanced levels of their training, just like the purple color that the sky takes on as it begins to emerge into dawn.
Just like the ripening seed that is ready for harvest, the brown belt is a student who is ready to mature into the higher ranks. Like a plant that will be cultivated for the next step in its life cycle, the brown belt will begin to reap the benefits of all of their hard work from their first steps as a white belt to this current stage in their journey.
The color of a spectacular sunset, a red belt symbolizes a student’s intense dedication as they work toward mastery of their art, as they gain more detailed knowledge and learn increasing control and discipline in their physical skill. As red can also signify danger, a red karate belt can also be read as an acknowledgement of the fact that a student is becoming more dangerous thanks to their skills (which, of course, must be balanced with their newfound self-control).
In many ways, the black karate belt symbolizes the end. The darkness that exists after a sun has set and a plant has been harvested. The student who has completed their transformation from unknowing and unskilled white belt into a mature and wise black belt. As with any journey, though, the end is only the beginning of something new. As many karateka will tell you, your martial arts evolution truly begins when you earn your black belt. While it does signify your mastery of karate fundamentals it also, more importantly, represents that you are ready to share what you’ve learned with others and continue to grow and seek both skill and enlightenment from your training.