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Martial Arts Belts 101: Colored Belt Ranking System & What They Mean

March 1, 2018

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Many people are familiar with the term “black belt” and associate it with having a very high ranking in the practice of martial arts. However, there is much more to the system of the martial arts belts, including the order of their rankings and what each color belt means. 

To help you better understand how the structure works, on this post, I will be sharing information and insights on the history of the martial arts belts as well as an overview of the color based ranking system:


The History


The colored belt system in martial arts was created by a man named Dr. Jigoro Kano, a Japanese man who is referred to as the “Founder of Modern Judo.” The idea was to create a visible symbol of a student’s progress and ranking, rewarding the best students with the honor of wearing a black belt. 

It is important to note that the ranking system is not only used in Judo. Gichin Funakoshi, the “Founder of Modern Karate,” also adopted the system, as well as Byung Jick Ro who was the “Founder of Modern Taekwondo.”


The Definitive Ranking System of Colors


Historically, students’ white belts were simply dyed a new color as they worked their way up in the rankings. This is why the colors progress from lightest to darkest: This made it easiest to change the color. Nowadays students are usually presented with a brand-new belt of a new color when they progress, and they can keep their old belts as trophies. The order of the belts is as follows:


White Belt


white belt martial arts practitioners

Image credit: West Moreton Martial Arts


The white belt is meant for beginners; it is symbolic of a new beginning or the birth of a seed. Beginners are seen as seekers of knowledge, just starting out on their cycle of understanding. Another metaphor commonly used for the white belt is the seed lying beneath the snow, waiting for spring. This is the first stage in martial arts skills.


Yellow Belt


The yellow belt is the second level of martial art skill, and the coloring represents the sun warming the seed. The warmth of the sun strengthens the seed and gives it new life, representing a student’s ability to receive the initial knowledge from their instructor with an open mind.


Orange Belt                                     


Moving past the yellow belt level, the orange belt signifies the strengthening and warming of the sun as it begins to prepare all the new growth for the spring season. The coloring represents the student’s mind and body opening up to new potential and beginning to strengthen and develop.


Green Belt


green belt


The green belt is a significant transition for students, as this belt color is a representation of the seedling actually sprouting from beneath the Earth and beginning to explore a new world of possibilities. The seed is freed from its previous form in the ground and can now sprout its leaves and take in all the warmth of the sun.

During this stage of training, a student begins to hone his skills, learning how to strengthen and refine his martial arts techniques.


Blue Belt


Once a student has begun to refine her technique, she can begin to utilize her newfound strength to obtain the blue belt. This belt is meant to signify the blue sky, which the plant continues to grow toward, becoming stronger and beginning to possess a more confident presence.

Just as the light from the sky feeds the plant, the student continues to gather any additional knowledge she can from instructors to ensure she is on the right path.


Purple Belt


There is a strong significance in the advancement from the blue belt to the black belt. While the blue coloring represented the bright daylight and the plant’s thirst for knowledge, the purple coloring is meant to represent the colors of the changing sky at dawn.


At this point in the martial arts belt rankings, students are undergoing changes and preparing for their transition to an advanced level of martial arts. Now is when students begin to understand what is going to be required of them to obtain the black belt. 


Brown Belt 

Brown belt


The brown coloring of this belt is a symbol of the seed beginning to experience a maturing or ripening. As the student’s talents begin to harvest themselves, he can begin to understand how far he has come from his white belt status and how much has been gained from his status as a beginner. This is when the student begins to appreciate his dedication and hard work, and it gives him the necessary push to continue toward the black belt.


Red Belt


As the last martial arts belt before the legendary black belt, the red belt signifies the red-hot head of the burning sun as the plant begins to reach its matured height and become a permanent component of the Earth.


As the plant continues to grow toward the hot sun, the red belt coloring also signifies the caution a student must include with her learned knowledge and newfound abilities. The red belt is a sign of danger, as the student becomes more powerful in her abilities and must recognize and respect this power.


Black Belt


black belt


As the last and most prestigious belt in the system for martial arts, the black belt signifies what can only be described as the darkness that looms beyond the bright sun. At this time, students are able to fully control their knowledge and abilities and have the power to pass down this knowledge to the new seeds waiting hungrily where they once began.

Now the black belt can become a part of the never-ending process of teaching others to seed, blossom and grow to their full potential.




The definitive ranking system for martial arts belts helps to recognize the dedication and work that each student has put into rigorous training. The martial arts are about performing with strength, control, and technique. Beginners should most certainly begin with professional lessons and wear protective gear for martial arts to avoid injuries. 


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