THE KARATE BELT HISTORY, TRADITIONS AND LEGENDS
 

       The karate belt (obi) is a very important part of the uniform (gi). It works well holding the garment in place and provides support to the middle of the body (hara). Each school has its own variation of wearing their obi. In Bushi-no-Nasake we use the crossover  method. This produces greater lower back support. The ends should hang evenly. Be sure there are no extra twists. It is part of training to learn to follow directions and pay attention to details. These abilities are displayed by how we tie, wear, and treat our belt.

       It is believed that the origin of the belt goes back to the birthplace of the martial arts, the Shaolin Su Temple in China. The monk warriors wore a long wrap-around sash. The sash was used as a utility item, rather than clothing. From this comes the custom of not washing the belt. When you first receive a new belt, unused, you may wash it once to the loose dye out. If the belt becomes heavily soiled or filthy it should be hand washed.

       During the last century, in Okinawa, modern karate was developed. Practice was done secretly, usually in the dead of night. Though continued practice the belt would first take on a yellowish color as the student's sweat dyed the belt. The belt was carried and stored in a cloth pouch hidden  in the folded gi. In that  hot, dark, and humid enivornment mold would form. This mold was usually green. Then,  after months and years use, the student became strong enough to accept the teacher's better techniques. This resulted in the student getting knocked down or thrown repeatedly to the earthen floor. As the dirt was ground into the belt the green mold died turning to a brownish tint. Black was the final hue as many years of use took effect. Early on, most martial arts used white, yellow, green, brown and black belts, emulating the orginal use of discoloration. Later, other colors and markings were added to differentiate between the ranks and to act as a motivation.

       Most traditional martial artists have high regard for their belts. It represents their determination and accomplishments of the ancient masters. Some believe the obi is to the karate-ka as the sword was to the samurai. It may be even be considered an extension of their being. To touch or handle someone else's belt without their permission might be taken as a challenge or insult.

       To wear the uniform/belt in public is inappropriate. It may be construed as showing off or even as a challenge. Do not wear the jacket top or belt in public unless particpating in an offical function.

       Remember to bring your belt to practice. Hang it up to dry if sweat soaked or fold neatly if not in use. Do not drag the belt on the floor. Wear your belt confidence and dignity.

       In our school, it is customary for the student to surrender the belt to the Sensei (teacher) if the student leaves the school. The plain white belt or black belt is retained if the practitioner moves on.  The student  may also  be asked to surrender the belt for unacceptable conduct or peformance. The concept is that belt belongs to the ryu (school), and the student represents the school's standard by the rank worn. If a student's  conduct or performance is not up to par, the student may be reduced in rank until such time as Sensei deems the student has earned back the right to wear their lost rank.

     I would like to thank Hanshi Mitchel Mandel of the Bushi-no-ryu System for passing this information along to all of his students,  encouraging me, and allowing me to share this information with the public in order to promote better understanding of the Martial Arts.