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Meaning behind the Karate Belt

By bzarnett | In Martial Arts | on June 4, 2016

At Durham Modern Martial Arts a belt represents a series of accomplishments a student has achieved during the practice of our art. It is a measurement of goals, lessons and expectations that each student has learned, experienced and demonstrated with confidence on and off the training floor. Each belt is earned for those accomplishments; they are never given for time alone. We focus on time at training versus time in training.

Each belt at our school begins with an underlying expectation we set for the students in order to gain their belt. This includes a series of lessons to accomplish and a particular attribute of the martial arts. For example, in order to achieve a Yellow Belt a student must demonstrate knowledge from 12 lessons in addition to understanding the expectations of our school and training — listen, focus, do your best and the demonstration of respect.

Each student works at their own progression. Some students will achieve their first belt in 3 to 4 months while others will reach their first belt in 5 to 6 months. Once again, the effort of the student helps support the individual’s ability to reach each accomplishment and goal.

Time to black belt

We believe that every student has the potential to reach the basic and advanced black belt ranks. In our school we believe that an individual who wears a black belt has the characteristics of a leader and an athlete. A black belt has a degree of maturity. A black belt is someone who shows their art in every action they perform. Like every belt, the black belt demonstrates a level of proficiency, experience, responsibility and accomplishments. The time to get a black belt differs per student with some obtaining the belt in as short as 5 years and others on upwards up to 10.

Mr. Parker (senior grandmaster of American Kenpo Karate) commented, “We don’t give somebody a rank. If I was a world class instructor of swimming and my son couldn’t swim. And I still gave him a certificate that stated him an expert swimmer. The ship went down. He can’t use that piece of paper to convince the water not to drown him. The water won’t listen. Your rank is the same thing. We can’t be with you on the street, hopefully…you never have to use this. But if the day comes, we want you to be ready.”

The Basic Cycle

Yellow, Orange and Purple are referred to the basic cycle. These are the fundamental levels of progression in our art and focus on building a competent level of capability in our students. Each rank in the basic cycle takes between three to six months for each student to meet the expectations in a positive way.

Yellow belt represents expectations. In order to obtain a yellow belt in Kenpo Karate a student must demonstrate the lessons they learn as well as demonstrate that they understand and can perform the basic expectations of a martial art student at our school.

Orange belt represents good study habits. Students train in our martial arts academy and practice in everyday life. As student’s progress through their orange belt levels they need to also demonstrate their yellow belt lessons at an orange belt level. In order to accomplish this they need to develop basic study habits.

Purple belt represents consistency. We look at students to have consistent study habits, good basics and a passion for the martial arts. You can always see and feel the difference of a DMMA Purple Belt.

“What you earn, you get” – Ed Parker, Sr. Grandmaster of American Kenpo Karate

The Intermediate Cycle

Blue and Green belts represent the intermediate cycle of the martial arts. Blue and green belts are known as good or great! It is the first phase of changing from a student of the martial arts to becoming a martial artist. At the intermediate stage (like high school) students start understanding the potential direction they want to take in the martial arts and areas of specialization (like university — the black belt degrees). At these levels students have a clear understanding of how basics, principles of motion and principles of self-defence interact and are able to make positive choices as well as strategic decisions.

Blue belt is about solid basics. Blue belts demonstrate their capabilities through consistency in their basics in every exercise they perform…drills, forms, sets, techniques and freestyle. Students are measured for Blue Belt through the zero game, an approach to validating the quality of a student’s basics in every action they perform.

Green belt is all about speed. We are not just talking about the seven levels of physical speed but speed in our mental and spiritual fitness as well. Students at green belt have the ability to be economical in their actions while performing moves and methods at great speed while still being technically correct.

The Advanced Cycle

Brown belt is the advanced cycle. Brown belt is represented by proficiency and knowledge. A brown belt can demonstrate the art at a mathematically precise level while being able to explain the choices behind their actions. At brown belt the principles of motion that enhance a student’s basics are spontaneously demonstrated in their moves and methods while their actions are extemporaneous – selected choices performed in a fraction of a second. A brown belt is known for the quality of their art, the martial art values they represent and their accomplishments outside of the art.

“Although belt colors show, they are no proof that you know” – Ed Parker, Sr. Grandmaster of American Kenpo Karate

The Mastery Cycle

Black belt is represented by a series of levels known as degrees. Like our previous belt levels, black belt degrees are not awarded for time but accomplishments in new lessons learned, experiences gained, and goals reached. The mastery cycle is never ending; it is about gradual and continual improvement…a process of renewal. Mr. Skip Hancock (my teacher) presented the following attributes for students working towards the various levels of black:

  1. Willpower and the self-discipline to continually experience the art from the perspective of a beginner’s mind. The beginner’s mind is a common metaphor in the martial arts to represent the passion and enthusiasm to explore the martial arts and everything is represents with an open mind, eagerness, energy and enthusiasm.
  2. Awareness of everything in, on and around you. Awareness is a fundamental aspect of how we train and think. As we advance in our skills we need to broaden our sphere of awareness and the things we are paying attention to.
  3. We strike for new levels of fitness to excel at. We view fitness as five inter-related ideas: Spiritual, Perceptual, Emotional, Mental and Physical fitness. We should constantly strive to improve our strengths while understanding our weaknesses in each area. A Durham Modern Martial Arts Black Belt is known by the quality of their fitness.
  4. Regardless of the level of Black Belt you must remain the student and continually develop yourself with new lessons in the art. An individual cannot obtain new levels of black by resting on their laurels.
  5. Demonstrate your skills and attributes represented by your level. A 2nd degree black belt should perform every action they perform at the level of proficiency represented by their level. When they reach 3rd degree black, their actions are performed at this new level of refinement.

I hope this brief article helps everyone better understand the meaning behind the belts in our martial art system and the expectations represented by each. The Martial Arts for centuries have created great men and women that have been a benefit to their families and the community. In our modern martial arts the belts and their representation are one of the tools we use to create this goal.

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    Durham Modern Martial Arts • 605 Brock Street North, Whitby • 905-493-1044