Thursday, June 08, 2006

The rank rainbow

Many Martial artists have heard the explanation for the different rank colors that are found in Karate. Some people have wondered where the whole idea of changing a student's rank color originated. I have heard people claim that the belt colors were created for the money that a Sensei can get from his/her students for each succeeding test. The "revenue rainbow" is a sarcastic term for it. History is that Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, the Founder of Shotokan karate, was the first Sensei to award Karate Black Belts to his students. He was inspired by Judo Sensei Jigoro Kano. I quote:

"This much we know for certain: On April 12, 1924, Gichin Funakoshi, the "Father of Modern Karate," awarded karate's first black belt dan upon seven men. The recipients included Hironori Ohtsuka, founder of wado-ryu karatedo, Shinken Gima, later of gima-ha shoto-ryu, and Ante Tokuda, Gima's cousin, who received a nidan (second degree) black belt. Like Gima, Tokuda had trained extensively in Okinawa before coming to Japan proper. The others were Kasuya, Akiba, Shimizu and Hirose. This beginning was a highly personal, yet formal ceremony in which Funakoshi is said to have handed out lengths of black belting to his pupils. Still there is no evidence that Funakoshi himself had ranking in any budo under the dan/kyu system.

Actually, Funakoshi was greatly influenced by Jigoro Kano, aristocratic founder of judo, and originator of the dan/kyu system. Kano was a highly respected individual, and Funakoshi prided himself on being an educated and "proper" man who rightly believed that he was acting correctly. Kano's system was not only being applied to judo, but to other budo as well under the aegis of the Butoku-kai and the Japanese Ministry of Education. Funakoshi, then, just adopted the order of the day: a ranking system officially sanctioned by Japan's greatest martial arts entities. Funakoshi's own rank was of no consequence, since it seems that belt ranking was really just something for the students, not for headmasters. "

One of the legends of the color change is that the white belt becomes soiled with the yellow of sweat, the green of grass stains, the red/ orange of blood, and the dark brown of dirt as you progress in the art. This visualization might appeal to some of the men in my aquaintance.. that old "grunt grunt.. Hunh!" macho don't be afraid to get down, and get dirty perspective.

However for me, I have developed a personal impression of the color changes, which I do not mind sharing with others. It is based on energy ( Ki / Chi) ......

White: The fullest potential of all energy, not used yet, but available. Like the bright whiteness of the Sun that we cannot look at directly without harming our eyes. A white belt has all the potential within, they only need to learn how to direct the energy. (Sun)

Yellow/ orange: The student starts to learn how to apply their energy outwards. Just like the color yellow is in the center of a rainbow, you can see that the student is perceiving the various spectrums of the techniques, and stances. (Spectrum/ Rainbow)

Green: The student starts to absorb the energy, make it part of themselves, and use it productively. Like green plants, the techniques start to flow more naturally, with less thinking and more doing. (Grass)

Brown: The creativity, and ability to use the majority of the energy being absorbed, and produced. With a solid connection to the knowledge of who they are, and what they are capable of, the brown belt strives to grow even higher like a tree not letting the earth put a limit to their goals. (Tree)

Black: The fullness of absorbtion of energy... all of it being used effectively, and not wasted. Movement, and stillness at the same time.. like space. Filled with energy, yet no longer is it needed to have the energy visible. Ability just becomes present without fanfare. Then the black belt recognizes another Sun of potential within him/her.. and starts back to white. (Space)

(Can also be found on my good friend's "The Martial Arts Curator" forum: )

I prefer my own spiritual visualization of the color change over the soiled stained version.. but until recently I'm the only one that has seen the rank color system in this way. I share it with you so that you can join me in seeing the joyous inspiring thoughts of the cycle of energy.


[Mat] said...

I have mixed feelings about ranks/belts.

But I still do not understand everything that I have to. Yet.

They serve a purpose. I wonder how Seisei Kano thought of these ranks....

I agree with the progression you see. It's pretty much what I see too.

supergroup7 said...

I agree with you, Mat, the rank system can create inequalities, and confusion, but I believe that it's main goal is to help create order in a large dojo.

When you teach more than 30 students at one time, it's convenient to separate them into levels of knowledge and ability.

In Okinawan history, a Sensei would only take on a little handful of students. What need would there be for rank if you have only 3 students? I could see that the visual progression of attaining a new belt color could provide inner motivation to keep training.

Ruth said...

I just wanted to thank you for all the lovely comments you have added to my blog - especially for saying you'll pray for me and my family following the death of my father. You seem to have such an incredibly full and challenging life and yet can still make time for others (even strangers). You are a really amazing person.

Thanks ever so much.


(I know that this comment doesn't relate to your excellent post on belts and I don't mind whether you publish it or not - it's just for you to read really).

John Vesia said...

You know, I had a feeling it was Funakoshi who first implemented the belt/rank scheme from Kano to be used in karate. I'm going to check out those links you included when I get a chance.

meyy said...

i'm so glad to have found this site! i'm just beginning my trek up the same mountain and it is a joy to meet a fellow climber! if you don't mind, i'd like to put a link to your site on my blog. thanks, and happy journeying!

supergroup7 said...

Welcome Meyy.. sure, place a link on your blog. I went to visit your blog, and I have a few questions:

You mentioned that you have been in karate for about 2 years, but I was under the impression that you took a short break from training.. am I correct?

What kyu level are you at right now? I was guessing that you are perhaps a 2nd or 3rd level brown.. but I'm willing to be way off the mark.

What is your favorite kata?

[Mat] said...

thanks for all your comments :)

How's that book coming?

meyy said...

hello! thanks for dropping by!

yes, i took a break at the beginning of last summer after i twisted/sprained my left ankle. then laziness set in and my break stretched till the end of summer.. it was very hard to push myself to go back to training, but i'm glad i did.

you're right, i just got my 3rd kyu at the end of spring, so i've just barely started as a brown belt.

my favorite kata? hard to pick...i kinda like them all for different reasons and then sometimes i like one more than the others simply because i'm working on it... currently, i'd say probably tekki shodan. :)

supergroup7 said...

Hi Mat,

The book is just finished this morning. It has taken all of my energy for the past week, and a half, but it was worth every ounce. I'm so proud of what I managed to do. It is an honor to be allowed to contribute to the advancement of Martial arts in the world just by using my skills of typing, and organizing. I learned alot about Kung Fu, and in the process helped someone accomplish their goal. What a wonderful thing the Internet is!!!!

supergroup7 said...

Yes, Meyy, It IS hard to return to training after taking an extended vacation. I remember reading Sensei Gichin Funakoshi saying that Karate is like boiling water.. if you remove the heat, the water stops boiling. Now, as a mom who cooks meals frequently, I have had the experience of boiling water. It takes alot of time ( about 10 to 15 minutes) to get water to start boiling. Alot of energy is applied, and you see little result at first. Once that water starts boiling though, it's not hard to keep it boiling. I think that this translates to our karate training, or mothering, or any other activity of life. We have to be constant in our efforts to keep the skills, and abilities at a good level. I'm sure that I would get "rusty" and "slow" at something as everyday as walking if I spent a whole year rolling around in a wheelchair. I'd suggest that you give yourself permission to warm back up to your karate skills, and accept that you are doing pretty good right now for someone who has just jumped back into the pool. :-D

Tekki Shodan is one of my favorites too! I really love how it flows from movement to movement, and yet maintains solidity. I found that this kata makes the muscles of my ribs, and torso feel the burn. However, that Horse stance ( Side stance) can really make your Butt muscles sore too.

Stephen Irwin said...

Count me in on the belts thing.

In days gone by we used to have meanings for our belt colours (that was when I was doing taekwondo), but I can't remember what they are now.

Seems a bit strange really.

Belts are useful for organising classes, that's why they are a good thing. But there are many down sides too.

You have Tekki Shodan, we have Naihanchi. I like that kata - it has real depth. Very cahllenging.