Author: Bret Gordon
There's an interesting trend going on the martial arts concerning the use of the red belt and I'd like to weigh in on it. Everyone tries to be humble and say "A belt is only good to hold your pants up, it only matters what you can do on the mat" but they're also the first ones to jump on the bandwagon and attack someone who wears a color of cloth that doesn't meet their standards to wear that particular color of cloth. First and foremost, the use of kyu/dan s...ystem as well as various colored belts to denote rank was instituted by Kano Jigoro (the founder of Kodokan Judo). This system of rank, eventually replacing the older Menkyo system in most styles, served several purposes. Mainly, it served as a way for people in class to distinguish practitioners from one another and there were only two belts: white and black. The common myth that all practitioners wore a white belt which through age, dirt and sweat turned black as a symbol of your proficiency is just that... a myth. Belts were deliberately white and black. Over time, this system of belts was adopted by other forms of martial arts and new colors were added. In 1930, Kano designed a red and white alternating panel belt, using the national colors of Japan. In 1943, he designated an optional solid red belt for holders of 9th and 10th dan. I'm sorry it isn't more elaborate or mysterious, but that is the origin of the kyu/dan system as well as the belts. Now, here is the issue. Kano implemented this ranking for HIS style. Nearly everyone has adopted the rank system, and made their own adjustments. There is nothing wrong with that, but it leaves a big margin of error. What a specific belt color represents in one system may or may not be what it represents in another. Do not be so quick to judge. If all of you truly believe that ranks and belts don't matter... If all of you truly believe that a combination of skill, application, understanding and maturity is all that matters, then stop! Stop arguing over whose piece of paper means more. Stop arguing over whose colorful piece of cloth is more prestigious. What happened to the days when brotherhood and the share of knowledge were more important than what's around your waist? That is the world of budo I signed up for.... Just saying. And don't get me started on the use of the red belt in Korean styles. That's a rant for another day.