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Why Do Martial Arts Belts Exist?

There is a long standing argument in the martial arts universe. What is the purpose of a martial arts belt? Some people say it is to signify knowledge, some say it is for proof of rank, some say they exist as guidelines or for goal setting, and some say they simply exist to hold up your pants. What do I think? I think I agree with all of those statements except for one...let me explain.

When I was a child, getting that next belt was the always the goal. It meant I was doing what I was supposed to. I was achieving something. As I got older and higher up in rank, the ultimate goal became getting my black belt, which I did...but than what? It wasn't until then that I realized belts mean more than one thing. They could mean one thing to you but something different to someone else. They could mean more than one thing to the same person. Either way, belts serve us in many ways in the martial arts world.


This is one of the many reasons belts exist today. Even he average joe understands that a white belt knows less than a black belt. The various colours of the belt system help us recognize what each student may or may not know. Belts in this sense are not for the student themselves but for their peers and instructors. A prime example is when there is perhaps a guest instructor or students are working self-defence drills. A white belt may know how to break fall but it may not be very good yet. If this white belt is partnered with a student of higher rank, lets say a blue belt, the colour of the students white belt indicates to the blue belt "I should be careful and take it easy", or the reverse can be applied and the white belt will know they can learn something from the higher ranked blue belt.


The most common thought for the use of belts in martial arts is simply to prove ones rank, and it is correct. While I think that each student should wear their rank proudly as they have worked hard for it and they have gotten one step further in their journey, I do not think that it should be the only thing thought of the each belt. Considering anyone can walk into a supply store and buy a black belt, students need to keep their minds open than rank isn't everything.


This is one of my stronger beliefs as to why the belt system exists. We have guidelines and goals to be reached wherever we look in our society. Grades/years in school, promotions at work. No matter where we turn there are guidelines to follow and goals to be met. Belt in martial arts are just like job promotions. Think about this; If we stayed in school for an average of 15 years of our lives without really knowing where we stand in our education system, how would we fee? How would you feel if you went to school of 15 years and there was no system in place to recognize your accomplishments? This is why we have belts. The concept of not earring belts is easier for adults to understand but lets be real...we like to be recognized for what we've learned and accomplished too. Belts also give students something to reach for, to work for. Without them, we are just learning, which it great, but we begin to lack motivation. Belts set goals, thus, giving us the motivation to continue learning.


Now this ... this is the one argument about belts that I disagree with and I'll tell you why. Martial arts belts are for a lot of things, we have talked about that. Goals, rank, knowledge, awareness, understanding. Martial arts belts ARE NOT a simple piece of cloth to hold up your pant. Why? You have put work into each and every one of those belts. You earned them, trained with them. Sweat and tears and sometimes blood has gone into those belts. They should be important to you...and while all of that is true...there are also no belt loops on a martial arts uniform thus, the belt does not old up your pants...

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