Dirty Belts... The Myth...The Facts!

While recently browsing Technorati, I ran across this little gem:

Japanese Judo was the first Martial art to have a colored belt ranking system. Students progress to a higher rank by taking graded examinations. If a score is high enough the next color in the rank of belts will be earned. The color order of the belts depends on the school but most belts begin at the white belt and end with a black belt. There are different degrees of black belt in case one wishes to extend there training. The history of the lighter to darker colored belts is that the belt is getting dirtier over time. The standard colored system is white, yellow, green, brown and then black. It takes at least three years of continues training to obtain a black belt.

While it’s certainly not the first time I’ve run across this factoid, I’m quite sure it won’t be the last. I’m not really sure just where this silly idea first took hold, but it was certainly not from within a Japanese art or historical framework. You’ve heard the phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness?” - well, the Japanese have raised cleanliness to a fine art. In fact, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to state that the Japanese, as a culture, have an almost fanatical obsession with being clean.

So it becomes simply nonsensical to suggest that Jigoro Kano was thinking of a colored belt system, in which dirt was involved in any way whatsoever. But this bit of nonsense continues to be passed along to the next generation of martial students.

All martial art systems are heavily influenced by the culture they come from… the language used, the courtesies followed, and so forth - and students of Japanese arts should never confuse ‘black belt’ with ‘dirty belt’…