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The origins of the black belt


Some of my research in the lead up to taking my grading for black belt candidate was to do some more detailed research into the origins of the black belt and I took a real back to basics look into the black belt itself.


Before this research, I don’t think I was specifically aware of this, but a simple online search will give the following (taken from Wikipedia):


“The systematic use of belt color to denote the rank was first used in Japan by Jigoro

Kano, the founder of judo, who first devised the colored belt system using obi (sash),

and awarded the first black belts to denote a Dan rank in the 1880s. Previously,

Japanese Koryu instructors tended to provide certificates. Initially the wide obi was

used; as practitioners trained in kimono, only white and black obi were used. It was

not until the early 1900s, after the introduction of the judogi, that an expanded

colored belt system of awarding rank was created.


Other martial arts later adopted the custom or a variation of it (e.g. using colored

sashes) to denote rank. This includes martial arts that traditionally did not have a

formalized rank structure.“



In all honesty, I would have previously assumed that black belts would have

existed long before this in the history of martial arts but it’s interesting to know

where the system has developed from.


There are many discussions on various martial arts forums that debate the value of belts and rankings, looking through forums and articles on the internet, it is clear any grading system can have pitfalls but if used in the correct way will have meaning and benefit for all involved. This is a big topic and one for a later discussion.


1st Dan

Looking further into the meaning of 1st Dan (again, taken from Wikipedia):

“Shodan (初段), literally meaning "beginning degree," is the lowest black belt rank

in Japanese martial arts”


Through training with Master Olpin, and a recurring theme in my research is

that 1st Dan is really only the starting point. The “beginning degree”, the point

where you are ‘trusted’ to manage your own training, the point where it really

begins, the end of the apprenticeship.


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