Black Belts and the Difference between Modern and Classical Systems

Makalakumu

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Ranking Systems in Modern Japanese Martial Arts:
Modern vs. Classical
by
Donn F. Draeger
Lecture on April 1st, 1976
It began as far as we know with Kano Jigoro of Kodokan, and the first date probably 1883, about a year after he founded the system. He awarded proficiency ranks to his Judo men, his exponents, on the basis of kyu, which translated as "class" or "ungraded" ranks and "dan". These are, you can say "degrees" if you want and ranks. So that is the beginning of the black-belt system.

The dan are the so called "black belts". The people who have black belts are called, by the way, yudansha. The kyu are mudansha: mu means "nothing", literally.

Now, the black belt system is the product of the peasant class, not the warrior class. The commoners. Dr. Kano was a commoner, a wealthy commoner. His family owned a sake mill. He was a merchant, the lowest social class. Had he taken part in Tokugawa Japan, he would have been at the bottom of the social level. So, any attempt to rationalize dan (black belts) with martial training in Japan is erroneous on the basis of history. You can recognize a modern art by the very fact that it does give black belts and other kyu grades. That is one of the unfailing recognitions. Not all of them. Some of them have deliberately avoided it because of all the nonsense and politics that goes with it.

The classical arts do not use the black-belt system. Now, classical arts you must recall, run between the 8th century and 1877. But what did they use, because the Japanese, like any society, are rank and prestige conscious. As they learned from China, court ranks and so on were important in social structure. So, they used this system which they called the menkyo system. The exponents of classical arts receive menkyo and their evidence is shown on a densho or makimono. That would be a certificate of your proficiency at a certain level.

Now, there are different levels of menkyo but far fewer than black-belt. Black belt is very finely divided as are the kyu below it. The basis of it, the basis of the kyu and dan system is commercial. Dont think it isnt. Even in Japan. It was created for prestige and recognition, true, but for commercial purpose to keep Kodokan in business, originally. It has grown out of proportion today, not only in Japan but in the West. Many misuses and abuses, but that is not our thing to talk about today.

http://judoinfo.com/obi.htm
 

still learning

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Hello, Today it is amazing of the colors,stripes,designs of belts today.

Even the ranks of Black belts many systems put stripes /solid color on the tips to show rank. Kinda like a General with stars.

What I am impress with is the old style once you get a Black belt, you kept that forever, and you could tell they train a long time because the belt would fade and the blackness turns to white. (NO stripes on tips either)

You do not see that anymore? well not as often.......

There was a guy in Kona, HI, whose belt look so white because of all the blackness gone. You know he train for a very long,long time.

Only by wearing the belt for years and years this will happen...a true sign of the person wearing this belt has train long and hard! .....Aloha
 

bushidomartialarts

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in our school, we point out the philosophical niftyness of how your black belt slowly turns back white.

in terms of the article, i don't care if 'black belt' was invented by ray croc and originally sold in a happy meal.

since coming to america, the 'black belt' has become something magical. it's significant, important and empowering to thousands of people in the west. that power has made countless lives better.

i figure the post was meant to help us stay humble and to avoid politics, but let's not devalue the symbol that helped each of us grow as humans and reach places we first didn't realize were there to strive for.
 

Blindside

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still learning said:
What I am impress with is the old style once you get a Black belt, you kept that forever, and you could tell they train a long time because the belt would fade and the blackness turns to white. (NO stripes on tips either)

Actually, they were and are usually replaced when they get worn. Take a look at photos of the Japanese founding fathers of the belt system, and tell me how many worn out black belts you see. The wearing out of a belt is more of a western custom.

Lamont
 

still learning

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Hello, Thank-you for pointed that out about many old timers replacing with new belts. Good point here.

The same goes for Gis? Cannot wear forever? rip,torn, wornout, and wash to much. Must be replace with the new.

My old Sensi in Shotokan, his belt was over 20 years old. Last time I saw him? ..still has it.

In our school after testing everyone gets a new belt. (has chinese words and a small stripe/stripes for BB's). The 4th degrees and up to 7th get's a red edges on the top and bottom of the belts. Very few are able to wearout the belts because of this.

Thank-you again..........Aloha
 

stickarts

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The many colored belts works in a society that needs quick gratification! :0)
The worn out blackbelt in our school is pointed out too as showing years of hard training.
 

SFC JeffJ

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Sometimes I think it would be better if we just went with certs. Be the same problem though. The value of the cert would only be as worthy as the issuing school. People would just have to be a little more verbose in praising or denigrating it.
 

tshadowchaser

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Nice article thanks


I belive that in todays world most people want a way of seeing and displaying that they have learned something or achieved something thus all the colored belts and stipes on the belts
 

chinto01

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The more I train the more I realize that belts are for nothing more than holding the gi top together when the ties on the side come undone. When I look at my belt (please do no think I stare at it) I do not see a color but I see memories. My trip to Okinawa, training with my Sensei, the people I have come to know from my time in the arts things like that. The belt I wear now I hope to be wearing in 60 years. The belt a little more tattered, and myself alot older, but the memories that belt will hold are going to be priceless. I look at it kind of like my scrapbook.

Sounds tacky but it's my belt!

In the spirit of bushido!

Rob
 

tkd_jen

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chinto01 said:
The belt I wear now I hope to be wearing in 60 years. The belt a little more tattered, and myself alot older, but the memories that belt will hold are going to be priceless. I look at it kind of like my scrapbook.

Sounds tacky but it's my belt!

In the spirit of bushido!

Rob

Rob,
It doesn't sound tacky at all. It is awesome you feel that way about your belt and your art. Imagine if everyone trained with that dedication and desire. I think you have the right attitude!!
 

SFC JeffJ

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I hope to be doing the same in oh, another 30 years.
 

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