Why are black belts black?

Why are black belts black?
It seems almost universal in every form of Martial Arts that new students start out at white and senior students are black. But have you ever wondered why that is?

There are many theories and stories that surround the belt colors. Some of my favorites are below:

Ever changing belt color

Some legends say that the colors are merely a representation of what used to occur with a student’s uniform. When they start, their belts are white because they are new and haven’t actually started training. Over the years, with hours of sweat and rolling in the dirt, the belt (and anything white for that matter) would grow dirty and eventually turn dark or black. Thus a black belt represented someone who has spent much time “getting their sash dirty” to the point that they have become the expert.

Becoming a man

In China, children were often dressed in bright, colorful outfits. Partly it was to scare away any demons. In part, it was to celebrate their youth and joy of life. When a boy becomes a man, though, they begin to dress more seriously in black. Black was then a more traditional color men would wear to represent maturity and responsibility to the family. So someone who wears a black belt represents someone who has matured within the system to a position of responsibility.

The yin and yang of it all

In today’s advanced world of science, we explain white and black as being polar opposites. One is the inclusion of all color and the other is the exclusion. On repels all light and the other absorbs. But even without these more detailed explanations, the Chinese understood this concept as represented by their yin and yang symbol. White in Chinese culture has always had significance to meaning a change or a start of something new. That is why it is the color used in funerals, a change in life. Thus, the opposite is black that represents stability and a pinnacle or apex of one’s journey. A black belt is one that has reached that apex of his or her journey.

As you study Martial Arts, you learn that much of the history is shrouded in legends and egos. It depends on whose version of the history you listen to and at what time in their lives. We may never know the “real” reason everyone seems to have adopted the color black to represent one of the highest ranks in most systems. Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the reasons at once.

Regardless, it’s fun to explore the stories. What stories do you have around the belt colors in your system? Come share with me in either the forum or on our Facebook page.

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