Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Meaning of the Belts

A few years ago I was on a panel of speakers providing information to a group of new employees at the company where I work.  One of the other gentlemen on the dias was a Process Engineer, an individual who defines how to improve business processes. He was very skilled and had achieved a certification known as a Six Sigma Black Belt.

It was interesting that everyone in the audience immediately could understand the meaning of Black Belt, i.e. one who is proficient in his craft. The belt rankings of martial artists are used as indicators of skill in many venues, as most of us know that white is a novice, black is expert and green, red, brown, and blue fall somewhere in between.

Below are the color designation used in Tang Soo Do, along with some meaning that is associated with the colors. There is a theory that originally a young student would be given a white uniform and belt with which to train. The student would take meticulous care of the uniform, washing it everyday so as to not offend his masters. The belt, however, would not be washed, and as a result became darker with age - thus becoming an indicator of the student's training time.

Eventually, through age and effort, the belt simply became black. As the martial arts became formalized and commercialized, colors were introduced to signify training time and rank. Still, the colors generally progress from lighter to darker simulating the progression of age. Please note that one cannot infer much of anything about a green belt in martial art "X" with a green belt in martial art "Y" - there are no standards. Additionally, some arts like Tang Soo Do, don't use brown, or purple. Each art defines what they want.

Winter / White:
When a student attends his first class the master will generally (depending on the art, school, and local customs) provide a new, clean uniform, and a white belt. After some period of training, possible a few months and a test, the student will be awarded a yellow belt. White and yellow represent novice capability, or one who is an infant in the journey of martial arts. These belts are synonymous with Winter, a time of very limited capability, when one needs others to encourage and coddle.

10th Gup






9th Gup






Spring / Green:
As the student continues he or she will move into the Spring of their martial arts journey, a time when there is much growth, activity, and the stirrings of ability. The techniques that are learned in this time are referred to as the moves of the Turtle - somewhat methodical and careful. During this time, the students will learn the Pyung Ahn Hyung (Forms/Patterns/Kata). Combined, these five hyung have 145 moves which (legend has it) were used in actual battle and found to be effective.

The words Pyung Ahn Hyung have meaning that should translate into behavior and capability as the student progresses through the green belts:
  • Pyung - Well Balanced, Calm, Peaceful
  • Ahn - Safe, Confident, Secure
The Hyung practiced throughout this time should yield balance, calmness, confidence, and a feeling of security. Students often begin to feel genuine pride for their accomplishments.

8th Gup






7th Gup






6th Gup






5th Gup






4th Gup






Summer / Red:
As the student progresses into the Red Belts, i.e. the summer of their training, they should be "on fire" - perfecting movement, balance, timing, power, and precision. They should also begin to have an appreciation for just how much effort it takes to achieve small improvements, and therefore have greater and greater respect for their seniors.The pride of green belts should give way to humility and perspective.

3rd Gup






2nd Gup






1st Gup






1st Ore-test






2nd Pre-test






Autumn / Black:
Some students believe that the end of their training is near when they approach Black Belt, some even wonder what's next. Translated, the title of First Degree Black Belt, "Cho Dan" means New Beginning. Often, the attainment of Cho Dan means that the student has now mastered the basics and ready to put the abilities and concepts into context and perspective.

In Tang Soo Do, we don't actually use Black for our Black Belts, rather we use midnight blue. The color black signifies a certain finality, and we do not believe that one has ever completed their training.  True, the training becomes deeper or cognitive, but it continues nonetheless.

Cho Dan






E Dan






Sam Dan






At 4th Degree, one attains the designation of Master, and the vertical red stripe through the otherwise solid midnight blue belt indicates an internal strength surrounded by an external calmness. Masters continue to train and grow with new Hyung, weapons, and self defense techniques.





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