Belts and Grading

In the popular imagination, a "black belt" is a martial-arts master. In reality, not all black belts are masters and not all arts use colored belts - or have any ranking system. Even in styles that use belts, the black belt doesn't mark the end of instruction: a black-belt student has mastered the basics and is ready for true apprenticeship. If his style is combative, he might be extremely tough. If his style is artistic, he might be less capable in a fight than the average brawler!

A widespread origin myth for the black belt suggests that a novice received a white belt. When he had learned enough to be deemed a master, the belt would be so dirty that it was black. This is at best unverifiable.

What is verifiable is that today's familiar colored-belt system was invented for Judo (p. 166) by founder Jigoro Kano. The rankings in that system were: white (6th through 4th kyu), brown (3rd through 1st kyu), black (1st through 5th dan), red-and-white (6th through 8th dan), and solid red (9th and 10th dan). Later, 10th dan was changed to white. The rankings didn't stop at 10 th dan, but no one was ever promoted higher. In this system, one says the ranking's number first, then its name; for instance, 4th kyu is yonkyu and 4th dan is yondan. In English, "dan" becomes "degree"; e.g., a 10th dan is a "10th-degree black belt." Kyu rankings are usually known only by color.

When Te (pp. 169-170) came to Japan and became Karate, it adopted Judo's ranking system. Funakoshi Gichin created the first karate-do black belts in 1924. Today, Karate (pp. 169-172) and Tae Kwon Do (p. 200) use similar systems, but with 10 kyu ranks and 10 dan ranks; belt colors vary considerably. Kendo (p. 175) doesn't use belts, but has eight kyu and eight dan ranks. Chinese systems use sashes instead of belts, and the top color is red or gold. The only generalization one can make about other Asian styles is that the top and bottom ranks are black and white - usually. Outside Asia, sport styles typically have ranking systems based on belts or colored patches (e.g., Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and sport Sambo), fighting record (e.g., Boxing, Wrestling, and mixed martial arts), or a combination of the two (e.g., Savate).

Things were quite different before modern times. In the Japanese arts, instructors in each ryu issued teaching certificates, awarding grades that denoted how advanced and respected the teacher was. The chosen head of the ryu held the highest rank. Chinese martial arts used a similar system, with a letter from an instructor testifying to his student's skill. In historical Europe, the Masters of Defence (p. 17) had a grading system similar to that of trade guilds: "apprentice," "journeyman," and finally "master." A would-be master had to acquit himself with any combination of weapons in a public test by other masters.

A great many historical and modern arts have no formal ranking system. Each school ranks its students by seniority. Instructors either receive teaching permission from their peers on an ad hoc basis or are entirely self-proclaimed.

Kyokushin attracted many students at its inception and is still widely taught today. Its full-contact sparring and tournaments, emphasis on tameshiwari competitions, and strenuous belt tests are well-known in martial-arts circles. These things have made the style famous for producing tough, contest-hardened martial artists. Kyokushin schools are found worldwide.

Skills: Karate; Karate Sport; Savoir-Faire (Dojo).

Techniques: Aggressive Parry; Axe Kick; Back Kick; Elbow Strike; Exotic Hand Strike; Hammer Fist; Head Butt; Jump Kick; Kicking; Knee Strike; Spinning Kick; Stamp Kick.

Cinematic Skills: Breaking Blow; Immovable Stance; Kiai; Mental Strength; Power Blow; Pressure Points; Pressure Secrets.

Cinematic Techniques: Lethal Kick; Lethal Strike; Pressure-Point Strike.

Perks: Clinch (Karate); Iron Hands; Special Exercises (DR 1 with Tough Skin); Special Exercises (Striking ST +1); Unusual Training (Breaking Blow, Only vs. well-braced objects out of combat).

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