I was busy re-arranging my home office last weekend and happened to clear everything from on top of my barrack boxes. For those who may not know, barrack boxes are large, foot-locker style boxes used to store clothing and personal effects while going through basic training. In this context, I had the boxes issues to me while I was a cadet for six months at the RCMP Academy. I kept the boxes and they’ve served me well over the past decade and a half for storing certain belongings that either I don’t want damaged or can’t have out in the open.
Once I had cleared off the stuff I had sitting on top of the boxes. I decided to explore them and take a little walk down memory lane. I found photographs, weapons of varying sizes and types and most of all… I found my karate belts. All of them! Nathan walked over while I had them spread out and I could see he was confused by the display before. “Dad, why do you have so many karate belts?” Why indeed, son… Why indeed…?
I could get into the whole history of belt ranks and how they came to be, but I want this to be a light-hearted, nostalgic post. I’ll keep it simple by saying that the coloured belt system was introduced in Japan by Master Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo. He noted that some systems used ranking systems and adopted the belt ranking system as his own, which has become the standard in Japanese martial arts and all over the world.
If we look at the photo above, it’s a bit deceiving in that I did not wear all of these belts consistently through the years. In fact, the third belt from the left is my original white belt (if you couldn’t guess from the yellowing). The very first white belt is one I got with a replacement gi. The second one is a belt I borrowed from Sensei when I was at the rank it shows and had forgotten my belt at home. He didn’t want it back so I held onto it.
Unlike other systems with multiple belt colours, you may notice that there are only four belt colours present. The average student begins with a white belt, of course. Over the first couple of years, they acquire a green stripe for reaching certain milestones. When they’ve reached a key point and are ready to test for green belt, they get a solid green bar as seen on the third belt. once they graduate to the rank of green belt, they‘ll train at this level for a couple of years, depending on the student. When they reach a certain skill level and are ready to test for brown belt, they get a solid brown bar as seen on the green belt above.
From there, a number of years will elapse with the students training consistently. Black stripes will be awarded based on skill, much as it was during the white belt rankings. After the third black stripe, the student will express their desire to test for black belt; there is no black bar. And of course, once the student passes black belt, rankings are no longer shown (depending on the style, some will show gold bars for individual dan rankings).
I get a kick out of how my brown belt has soaked up so much blood, sweat and tears that it’s faded to a colour almost matching the green belt. That’s both entertaining and gross. But there’s Uechi’s belt system in a nutshell. I’ve kept all of my belts because they show me the journey I’ve been on and where my martial arts road is leading. And they make neat souvenirs and conversation started with my son. ☯️