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Shin Karate Belt System (Symbolism)
Kohai – Purity: White, the colour of innocence. The carrier has a blank spirit with relation to Karate techniques and the spiritual aspects of Karate. White is the symbol of purity, at least in the English and Japanese based cultures. The new white belt student might be described as pure, being completely ignorant of the requirements of the art. The purity is lost as soon as the first exercise is performed in the dojo. The pristine colour is gone forever through sweat and dust, and the journey through the colour spectrum begins. There is no shame in being a white belt and the instructor, more than the others, is aware of this because he or she too was one once.
In the Honbu dojo in Japan, while under Mas Oyama, the tradition was that uchi-deshi (live-in or full-time students) white belts would shave their heads as a sign of their dedication. The third year uchi-deshi, newly graduated black-belts, also did this to indicate humility, symbolising the return to the spirit of a beginner.
10th / 9th kyu – Stability: Orange or Red, the colour of the Japanese sun as pictured on its flag, as it sets at the end of the first day. It shows that someone has sustained the first days and whose capabilities and understanding is growing to further boundaries. In some countries or dojo, the red belt is not used. For a while, in Japan the white belt gains first one black stripe, then a second one. Currently (1997) the system for the IKO(1) is an orange belt. The reason for the change is that in some karate systems, the red belt actually denotes a very high rank e.g. 5th Dan or higher, and to have junior kohai wearing such a belt would belittle those red-belted Yudansha.
In the run-up to and throughout the red belt training, you develop the very basics of karate. You unlearn any ideas you had about how to fight, and you learn about your body. (Anyone who has been through this stage will tell you that this is where they learnt their body had muscles where they didnt even know they had places!) It is here too that you begin to develop a sense of balance and coordination between the various body parts, with an emphasis on stance. You should also be familiar with dojo etiquette at this stage.
8th / 7th kyu – Fluidity and Adaptability: Blue, Colour of the sky and the ocean, the carrier has aspirations to the horizon of Karate the spirit is as the depths of the ocean not yet explored. While the red belt aspects of training must be continued, now the Karate-ka begins to work on the upper body, strength, flexibility, and coordination. It is here that you learn to overcome the urge to “Take it easy”, and if successful, training becomes a pleasure. The student begins to feel the benefits of training with an increased sense of well-being, a bigger bounce in ones step, and overall better fitness.
Here the Karate-ka must start taking control of mind and body. This might take the form of not showing the pain of being hit during sparring, not showing exhaustion during training, not wiping the drop of sweat off ones nose because one hasnt yet been told to, not yawning despite extreme tiredness etc.
6th / 5th kyu – Assertion: Yellow, the colour of the sun, light and new founded richness and knowledge. The colour shows that the carrier has seen a new day and that the bearer is beginning to develop and understand the principles of Karate the spirit is beginning to develop, understanding and technique is dawning. Here you learn to focus your power, by concentrating it on the hara (the general area of the lower abdomen) or even the tanden (the single point in the lower abdomen that more or less is located at the centre of gravity of the body). Fortunately for most of us, this point is just behind where we tie the knot of our belts.
This is the first level where training begins to concentrate the psychological aspects of training, with an emphasis on mind-body coordination. It is here that the Karate-ka must begin to develop both power and speed when performing techniques. The yellow belt is the last of the “raw beginners” belts and the Karate-ka begins to take control of his or her life. body, and environment.
4th / 3rd kyu – Emotion and Sensitivity: Green, colour of growth the grass and the trees. The carrier of this Obi is understanding and exploring the deeper meanings of Karate, whose spirit and techniques are growing and bearing fruit.
2nd / 1st kyu – Practical and Creative: Brown, colour of dirt and the earth. This colour shows that the skills of the carrier are executed professionally. He also has a rich and steady mind.
Yudansha – Understanding and New Beginnings: Black, it is a fusion of all the colours. The carrier has learned most of the techniques and has overcome all the possibilities of the first days. Its not the colour of victory but the colour of the night. This means that they have not found the road yet. As you have moved through the colours, after the day, the setting of the day, the growth and the creation, there will be a new day. A day where the carrier realizes that they are at a new beginning of a new vision of the road. The carrier is stepping out of the student period and now exploring the way to further grow and explores the way to maturity in Karate and possibility the way to become a teacher, or Sensei, which literally means, born before.
Significance of the belt (obi)
The colour of the belt isnt the only meaning. Another aspect is the way its worn. the obi encircles its carrier and in Buddhism this signifies a circle in the centre and totality of the universe. A correctly worn obi encircles the Hara, the centre of gravity of the carrier (just under the bellybutton) in martial arts this is where our inner power or Ki is generated. The meaning of the obi is therefore not only symbolic for the technical abilities of the carrier but also the spiritual maturity.
Thus, the belt is never washed. Every class you take, every drop of sweat is part of what goes into each students unique experience. It must be remembered although not clung to. The belt must tell its own story. Therefore, no experience is washed away.