top of page
  • Writer's picturePSBN David

Black is the New White

The more impressive others find your belt, the less impressive you find it.

That doesn’t mean you don’t or shouldn’t take pride in your accomplishments. Rather, you realize just how much more there is to learn. You think of all the people that you’ve met that are that much better than you. You’re by no means discouraged, but rather you’re further out into the ocean and the floor is dropping more and more. Yet it’s somehow invigorating.


The interesting part is that the colour belt system that everyone knows is a relatively recent invention (compared to the thousands of years of martial arts, at least). The origins are traced back to around 1883, when Judo’s founder, Master Jigoro Kano, added this to the practice. Samurai had levels of certification, though there was no display of this. As well, players of the Japanese board game Go had a ranking system. Master Kano then merged a few of these to introduce White (for students) and Black (for instructors) belts to Judo. From there, it wasn’t until around 1930-40 where European martial artists added coloured belts. Add in the fact that Korea was occupied by Japan until 1945 and had outlawed martial arts practice, and it’s clear that belts weren’t actually a common thing!

But! Once again, this doesn’t diminish the training at all. There are just more markers for your training now. Whereas there originally wouldn’t have been any indication of your progress for around the first four years or so of your training, now you have something to show for it. It doesn’t somehow cheapen the experience.


The reason why people see a Black Belt as the end-all-be-all is because it’s such a far away goal. Years of training is a lot, especially when you haven’t taken the first step. Much like in previous posts, the secret to progress is never giving up. Piece by piece, step by step, you get closer to your goal. And that’s exactly why you’ll find your Black Belt less impressive the closer you get to it. We naturally lose sight of the work we’ve already put in; it’s in the past, after all. By the time you’ve gotten to it, you’ve started to feel more like a Black Belt the closer you come.

It's a common “Bucket List” item for people to receive a Black Belt. It’s one of the “filters” we see in the martial arts world. For people dropping off, it will commonly be White Belt then Black Belt. Once people have received their Yellow Belt, they usually stick with it for quite a while unless personal circumstances arise (work, moving away, etc.). But White and Black have a special motivational factor tied into them which, funny enough, is the exact same question: “Do I want to continue with this?”

If reaching Black Belt was a Bucket List item, then First Degree is a natural stopping point. Even if it wasn’t just a checkbox for you, now you can see the potential lifetime of commitment ahead of you. Do you want to stick with this martial art, ‘til death do you part? Some people don’t think of it this way and just keep asking themselves the question “Am I enjoying this?” Neither is inherently right, it’s just your natural inclinations towards a more long-term or short-term view of things. Looking long term tends to be more daunting, but short term can be dissuaded by the natural lulls that happen with anything over time.

As a side note, some diehard martial artists will resent these people. They see it as somehow “cheapening” the prestige of the Black Belt. This obviously isn’t the case at all: you put in the years, you received what you earned for your efforts. Don’t be dissuaded by someone who can’t see that others may not share the same amount of love and devotion to it that they do!


So, you may be asking, what’s the whole point of this blog post? Reducing buyer’s remorse, giving an insight from the other side of the Black Belt, killing the joy of receiving a Black Belt… Whatever you take out of it, really! All belts are accomplishments, but because they’re incremental, they don’t tend to feel as large of an accomplishment as you think they should have been at the start.

Just remember to take a step back and look at the whole journey you just took. Admire the view before you decide if you want to keep climbing, or if you’d rather take up kayaking.

30 views0 comments


bottom of page