Question about karate belts

chrispillertkd

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Hello, all. I am a long-time Taekwon-Do practitioner and have very limited exposure to Japanese styles. I have a question regarding stripes I see on some fairly senior karate practitioners' belts. In some Korean styles it's common to have one hash mark on the end of a black belt for each dan level (i.e., one stripe for a first dan, two for a second dan, etc.). In the ITF, rank is denoted not by hash marks but by Roman Numerals.

My question regarding karate belts and their rank signifies is I have seen pictures of people who are listed as being very advanced dan ranks (8th or 9th) and yet they have only maybe two hash stripes on each end of the belt. I was hoping if someone could tell me a bit about this system (how the stripes line up with dan rank, if they denote teaching level rather than dan rank, if each stripe denotes a level rather than the total stripes on a single end of the belt, etc.).

Thanks in advance.

Pax,

Chris
 

Bill Mattocks

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Hello, all. I am a long-time Taekwon-Do practitioner and have very limited exposure to Japanese styles. I have a question regarding stripes I see on some fairly senior karate practitioners' belts. In some Korean styles it's common to have one hash mark on the end of a black belt for each dan level (i.e., one stripe for a first dan, two for a second dan, etc.). In the ITF, rank is denoted not by hash marks but by Roman Numerals.

My question regarding karate belts and their rank signifies is I have seen pictures of people who are listed as being very advanced dan ranks (8th or 9th) and yet they have only maybe two hash stripes on each end of the belt. I was hoping if someone could tell me a bit about this system (how the stripes line up with dan rank, if they denote teaching level rather than dan rank, if each stripe denotes a level rather than the total stripes on a single end of the belt, etc.).

Thanks in advance.

Pax,

Chris

They're all different, depending on the style (or 'ryu'). It is even different from dojo to dojo sometimes.

We only use hash-marks on belts for kids. Adults wear solid color belts.

Ours (Isshin-Ryu) are:

White
Yellow
Orange
Green
Blue
Brown (1st)
Brown (2nd)
Black (1st through 10th)

6th Dan and above black belts can wear a red belt if they have a dojo of their own. And even some Isshin-Ryu dojos will be different than my list.

Sorry, not much consistency in Karate.
 
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chrispillertkd

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Bill, thanks for the reply. I knew about the red belt (as well as some belts with panels of alternating colors). It would be interesting to hear why there is a color "above" black. Any idea? (In ITF Taekwon-Do black is the top color although with various dan levels, of course.)

I am thinking specifically, however, of a high ranking black belt who only has like two stripes on each end of his belt. How does a total of four stripes add up to, for example, 9th dan? Is it instead an indication of teaching level, perhaps (hanshi, renshi, etc.)?

Anyone have any clue as to what I'm talking about?

Pax,

Chris
 

dancingalone

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"Bling" is somewhat frowned upon in most karate groups I am familiar with, Chris. You can look at photos on the web of high ranking sensei like Kanazawa from Shotokan or Eihachi Ota from Shorin-ryu or Morio Higaonna from Goju-ryu. Most of the pictures will show them wearing a plain black belt or perhaps with some embroidered wording at the most. If you'll share the name of the person you are talking about, perhaps someone can give a more specific answer.

"It would be interesting to hear why there is a color "above" black. Any idea?"

Probably just follows the custom from judo, where 9th and 10th dans can wear a red belt. But this custom is anything but universal in karate. I've never seen anyone in Okinawan Goju-ryu for example wear a red belt. (USA Goju yes. <shudder> :) )
 

Omar B

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I think what you are thinking of are Kenpo belts. In Kenpo they have the same stripes for each degree, but a 5 is represented by a solid red block that is about as wide as 5 stripes would be. So like a 6th degree black in Kenpo would look like a solid block of red then a single stripe on both ends of the belt.
 

Bill Mattocks

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Bill, thanks for the reply. I knew about the red belt (as well as some belts with panels of alternating colors). It would be interesting to hear why there is a color "above" black. Any idea? (In ITF Taekwon-Do black is the top color although with various dan levels, of course.)

At least in Isshin-Ryu, there is no rank above black belt. The red belt is worn, but the wearer is not a 'red belt'. They're still a black belt. It really indicates something else. By the way, I misspoke - it's red and white, not red only.

I am thinking specifically, however, of a high ranking black belt who only has like two stripes on each end of his belt. How does a total of four stripes add up to, for example, 9th dan? Is it instead an indication of teaching level, perhaps (hanshi, renshi, etc.)?

Anyone have any clue as to what I'm talking about?

Pax,

Chris

I think it just varies a whole lot by ryu and even by organization or even dojo. Everybody follows a basic formula, but it is all over the place.

I have been told by my dojo mates who are black belts that they have gone to competitions (Isshin-Ryu only) and have found themselves disrespected because even though they are fifth-dan black belts, they wear no hash marks and others do. They laughed and said that other black belts kept staring at their belts and being astonished when they got their clocks cleaned in kumite by what they THOUGHT was a sho-dan, not a go-dan.

It's kind of a free-for-all.
 

dancingalone

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"At least in Isshin-Ryu, there is no rank above black belt. The red belt is worn, but the wearer is not a 'red belt'. They're still a black belt. It really indicates something else. By the way, I misspoke - it's red and white, not red only."

I believe Angi Uezu wears such a belt in his video series. You know him, right? I've also seen some people wearing a black and red belt similar to the white and red belt. It's supposed to be a lower master's belt than the white/red according to them.

I'm a fan of keeping things simple myself. I don't see the need to add stripes and such.
 

Bill Mattocks

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"At least in Isshin-Ryu, there is no rank above black belt. The red belt is worn, but the wearer is not a 'red belt'. They're still a black belt. It really indicates something else. By the way, I misspoke - it's red and white, not red only."

I believe Angi Uezu wears such a belt in his video series. You know him, right? I've also seen some people wearing a black and red belt similar to the white and red belt. It's supposed to be a lower master's belt than the white/red according to them.

I'm a fan of keeping things simple myself. I don't see the need to add stripes and such.

Yes, Angi wears (I am told) a red and white belt. So does my Sensei, if he is asked to do so by his Sensei (my Sensei is 8th dan); otherwise he just wears his black belt. But he's not a 'red' belt, he's a black belt. The red and white belt is what he wears, not what he's called. I probably should have worded that better, sorry. I think the term we use for those who can wear the red-and-white belt is 'hanshi'. Could be wrong. Again, not universal, even within Isshin-Ryu. Angi, for example, is not in my lineage.
 
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chrispillertkd

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If you'll share the name of the person you are talking about, perhaps someone can give a more specific answer.

He's a high ranking pangainoon/uechi Ryu stylists, although I don't know his name. You can see a picture of him here (he's on the top right column).

This is another picture of the kind of belt I was thinking of, although it's different gentleman than the one above. Notice the difference in the number of stripes on the belt, too.

Probably just follows the custom from judo, where 9th and 10th dans can wear a red belt. But this custom is anything but universal in karate. I've never seen anyone in Okinawan Goju-ryu for example wear a red belt. (USA Goju yes. <shudder> :) )

Interesting. Do you have any idea if the color red is symbolic of anything (the Chinese associate red with energy, for instance), or is it just a way to distinguish people of stratospheric rank from those who have merely really high rank?

Pax,

Chris
 
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chrispillertkd

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I think what you are thinking of are Kenpo belts. In Kenpo they have the same stripes for each degree, but a 5 is represented by a solid red block that is about as wide as 5 stripes would be. So like a 6th degree black in Kenpo would look like a solid block of red then a single stripe on both ends of the belt.

No, I've seen those before and know how they present rank. The stripes I'm talking about are thin and usually just embroidered onto the belt like the person's name or style. They are thin stripes, not blocks (which are more like the panels on judo and some karate belts people have mentioned).

Pax,

Chris
 

dancingalone

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He's a high ranking pangainoon/uechi Ryu stylists, although I don't know his name. You can see a picture of him here (he's on the top right column).

Shinyu Gushi from Uechi-ryu... Think his particular group calls their branch Pan Gai Noon, though, to respect the feelings of the Uechi family.

This is another picture of the kind of belt I was thinking of, although it's different gentleman than the one above. Notice the difference in the number of stripes on the belt, too.

You might be onto something with the renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi designations. Maybe this is the representation?


Interesting. Do you have any idea if the color red is symbolic of anything (the Chinese associate red with energy, for instance), or is it just a way to distinguish people of stratospheric rank from those who have merely really high rank?

Pax,

Chris

My understanding is that it is just the opposite of the color white. Japan's national colors of course are white and red, and modern sports competitions usually divide into white and red teams. Jigoru Kano continued this tradition during the judo contests he organized. Over time, veterans of the tournaments gained higher rank and were awarded white and red panel belts, recognizing their seasoned status in these competitions.

I imagine some karate groups just lifted the red and red/white belt colors from judo for high dans.
 

Stac3y

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We use small stars embroidered on the end of the belt to denote black belt level (there are 7 levels.) We also have our surnames embroidered on the other end of the belt. Sounds a little "bling-y," but it's really quite subtle when you see it.

On a related note, I saw a website selling hot pink and 2 different colors of camo belts the other day. Also had a woman tell me her son was a "camo belt" in Tae Kwon Do. I refrained from asking her what the hell a camo belt means, but it was hard.
 
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chrispillertkd

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You might be onto something with the renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi designations. Maybe this is the representation?

Could be. Like I said, I have very limited exposure to Japanese/Okinawan styles so that's just a guess on my part.

Japan's national colors of course are white and red, and modern sports competitions usually divide into white and red teams.

Interesting. Never thought of that before. In Taekwon-Do the colors of the competitors are red (hong) and blue (chung) which happen to be the colors of the Um-Yang symbol on the ROK flag. I wonder if those who came up with the tournament rules for the ITF had similar thoughts in mind when they decided on that.

Pax,

Chris
 

David43515

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Shinyu Gushi from Uechi-ryu... Think his particular group calls their branch Pan Gai Noon, though, to respect the feelings of the Uechi family.

I know he`s been training under the founder`s son and the founder`s top deshi since the early 1950`s. He said the first belt test he ever took he was given 2nd dan. Maybe that`s why he wears it in the picture even though he`s a 8th or 9th dan now.

As for the red and white, I`m not sure about why it`s used on belts but you`re dead right about the way competitors break into red and white teams here. Judi turnaments and school atheletic days are all done that way.
 
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chrispillertkd

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I know he`s been training under the founder`s son and the founder`s top deshi since the early 1950`s. He said the first belt test he ever took he was given 2nd dan. Maybe that`s why he wears it in the picture even though he`s a 8th or 9th dan now.

Could be, but the other photo I posted is of Ryuko Tomoyose who is, I believe a 10th dan Hanshi. It would be odd for him to be wearing a 3rd dan belt, I'd think!

Pax,

Chris
 

dancingalone

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We use small stars embroidered on the end of the belt to denote black belt level (there are 7 levels.) We also have our surnames embroidered on the other end of the belt. Sounds a little "bling-y," but it's really quite subtle when you see it.

Whatever works for you. We can see that different groups in karate do different things. I myself come from a fairly 'traditional' line and style so we don't have much adornment on our uniforms and belts other than a small style badge. I do fancy a blue uniform, but <sigh> it really doesn't fit my group's culture.

On a related note, I saw a website selling hot pink and 2 different colors of camo belts the other day. Also had a woman tell me her son was a "camo belt" in Tae Kwon Do. I refrained from asking her what the hell a camo belt means, but it was hard.

Sounds like they're ATA kids. My niece and nephew train in an ATA dojang. They enjoy it. Aesthetically, I think Mr. Lee should have just picked light blue for that rank myself, instead of the camoflauge belt.
 

cdunn

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The panel belts are simply there to point out who the senior black belts are in a crowd, such as a seminar. Hash marks on a belt around the school may be similar. The guy with the stripes is the boss. It doesn't matter how many he has if no one else has any.
 

twendkata71

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I know he`s been training under the founder`s son and the founder`s top deshi since the early 1950`s. He said the first belt test he ever took he was given 2nd dan. Maybe that`s why he wears it in the picture even though he`s a 8th or 9th dan now.

As for the red and white, I`m not sure about why it`s used on belts but you`re dead right about the way competitors break into red and white teams here. Judi turnaments and school atheletic days are all done that way.
In several Okinawan schools they wear the stripes to represent certain ranks( 5th and 6th dan-1 stripe),( 7th and 8th dan-2 stripes), (9th and 10th dan-3 stripes) Some shorin ryu schools(matsubayashi Shorin ryu), Okinawan Kenpo and Uechi Ryu use this. Not sure where that tradition came from.
Not sure when karate schools started using the red/black panel belts,usually representing a renshi. The red/black panel belts are more used in Jujitsu to represent a shihan.
The concept of belts came from Judo originally.
Now you can see schools having masters wearing all sorts of colour combination belts. This is an American creation.
I know in Japanese Goju kai(Yamaguchi's school) they have a black belt with a red stripe through the middle for senior instructors.
 

Bill Mattocks

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In several Okinawan schools they wear the stripes to represent certain ranks( 5th and 6th dan-1 stripe),( 7th and 8th dan-2 stripes), (9th and 10th dan-3 stripes) Some shorin ryu schools(matsubayashi Shorin ryu), Okinawan Kenpo and Uechi Ryu use this. Not sure where that tradition came from.
Not sure when karate schools started using the red/black panel belts,usually representing a renshi. The red/black panel belts are more used in Jujitsu to represent a shihan.
The concept of belts came from Judo originally.
Now you can see schools having masters wearing all sorts of colour combination belts. This is an American creation.
I know in Japanese Goju kai(Yamaguchi's school) they have a black belt with a red stripe through the middle for senior instructors.

I was told that when the first American students in Okinawa started training in Isshin-Ryu, there were only two belts, white and black.

I read that when Steve Armstrong came to train at Master Shimabuku's dojo, he told Master Shimabuku that he was a Ni-Dan in another style. Master Shimabuku said "Do kata." Armstrong did his kata and Shimabuku laughed at him. "Ni-Dan. Ha Ha! Ni-Dan, Ha Ha!" and handed him a white belt. When Armstrong had learned his kata to Shimabuku's satisfaction, he gave him back his black belt. Of course, the fact that he was a Ni-Dan in another style would seem to indicate that there were at least 'Dan' ranks in other styles.

It was also true that when the first American Marines who trained with Master Shimabuku rotated back to the USA, he gave them advanced black belt dan ranks; many of them were made 6th degree, no matter what they were before. He expected them to continue to train on their own and that someday they would be worthy of the rank. Most followed through, to the extent that even though Isshin-Ryu organizations are very splintered, very few would say that American high-dan ranks are not valid.
 
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