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History of BeltsOriginally, on Okinawa, there was no ranking system for karate. They did not get promoted for learning a new kata, they did not receive colored belts, and they didn't even wear karate uniforms.
Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, was never given a rank by his instructors Master Azato or Master Itosu. He was taught in his instructor's back yard in his everyday clothing. He learned karate kata systematically one after the other without receiving colour belts for his efforts.
It wasn't until Master Funakoshi meet Kano Jigoro, the founder of modern Judo. He adopted the Judo style uniform and coloured belt system for use in karate.
The belt colours instituted by Funakoshi were the white, green, brown, and black. Additional colors have been inserted into this structure to provide inexperienced students with visible results for dedicated training.
Kyu BeltsThe order in which coloured belts are awarded differs in many clubs and styles. The order shown below is the one that my club uses. Underneth each belt you can see the word "KYU" in Japanese this means GRADE.
The general public, even in Japan, equates the black belt with a high level of skill. Although this is true many people don't know that once you are awarded your first Dan (Black Belt) this is the beginning of any real knowledge about karate. Before this level you are just learning the basics of karate.
Many experienced black belt holders are fond of their old, dirty, worn out belts. They wear these belts, even though the black color has worn off, as symbols of experience and tenure.