If you are interested in starting your martial arts journey, the belt system may be a lot to take in. Starting at white and going up to black, newcomers to the sport undoubtedly have questions about how the whole system works.
First, it is crucial to understand that every belt in the system has a meaning, and the white belt karate employs is no different.
Like other martial arts, karate uses belts of varying colors as its ranking system. Each color indicates a different degree of mastery over the sport.
The martial artist’s goal is to work towards the next belt color in the system, which signals that they have leveled up and are one step closer to earning their black belt.
If somebody has a martial arts white belt, they are at the very first stage of the system. When someone first starts karate, they will wear a white belt around their waist to close the lapels of their uniform, traditionally called a gi.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to get a white belt in karate.
What is the Belt Ranking System in Karate?
The karate belt ranking system varies depending on the style and the school. Some academies adjust the order of the standard colors, while others add in new colors based on preference and lineage.
Origins of Belt Ranking
So, where did this belt ranking system come from?
The belt system came from another martial art. The founder of Judo, Master Jigoro Kano, wanted a way to denote progress in his new sport, as he had seen other competitive activities do in Japan.
He came up with ranked belts to close the kimono, otherwise known as the gi. This concept lives on in the world of martial arts, and it is one of the few things that many of the different styles have in common.
You may notice that the system starts with lighter colors that get progressively darker. When martial artists first began to use the belts, it was much cheaper for the working class to simply dye their belt the next rank rather than to purchase an entirely new belt.
Beyond this practicality, though, there is also a symbolic reason for all colors. Typically, yellow symbolizes energy, and orange represents stability. The white belt is no exception to hidden meanings.
In many cultures, including Japanese and American, white symbolizes purity and nobility. This is why so many different martial arts styles use the white belt as their starting rank.
As a martial artist myself, I can attest that my white belt days certainly deserved that mark of purity. My mind was a blank slate, waiting for my teacher to fill it with valuable knowledge and discipline fundamental to martial arts.
It makes perfect sense that the white belt is the starting point for so many belt ranking systems.
The standard belt ranking system for karate is as follows:
- White belt
- Yellow belt
- Orange belt
- Green belt
- Blue belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
You should also note that all of the belts before black are known as the “kyu” ranks. This means that people who wear these colored belts are still students. Once they reach the black belt, they enter the “dan” ranks for instructors.
Of course, each belt rank comes with a different level of understanding. Under some academies, each belt level must have a good command of specific katas, or movement patterns.
Black belts will typically administer an exam at each belt as you progress through the ranks. Naturally, these exams will get harder to pass as you continue to level up.
While yellow belts should have a basic understanding of karate movements, green belts should understand how to apply them against an opponent. Meanwhile, brown belts should understand how to have complete and total control over their opponent.
The amount of time people spend at each rank depends on the instructor’s style. There are minimum time spans at each belt, though.
White belts must train actively for at least three months before progressing. Yellow belts and orange belts must train for six. Green belts must train for nine months, blue belts for at least a year, and brown belts for a year and a half.
Remember, though; these are minimum requirements. From my experience, most instructors keep their students at each belt rank for at least one year before allowing them to test, often more depending on the level.
How Do I Get a White Belt?
If you see someone wearing a white belt around their waist, the odds are that they are at the very beginning of their martial arts journey. You can just as easily decide to do the same.
If you decide to dip your toe into the world of martial arts as well, then you should find it pretty easy to get your hands on a white belt. Most schools will not require you to do anything out of the ordinary before receiving your white belt.
As I mentioned before, the white belt represents a state of purity and a clean slate. So, no prior knowledge of the sport is necessary before you receive your karate white belt.
Often, you will need to sign up for the membership or even just for a trial class. My academy presented me with a loaner white belt during my trial class to make sure that the sport was a good fit while still having everything that I needed for class.
Likewise, the staff at the academy will probably give the belt to you with your gi, which you will wear on the mats as your uniform.
In some cases, you may have to buy both the belt and the gi if they do not already factor the cost into your tuition.
Tying Your White Belt for the First Time
Don’t worry; you do not have to know how to tie the belt around your waist as soon as you receive it.
That is partially what the white belt is for. The starter belt allows you to learn how to properly tie your belt around your gi to make sure that your whole uniform is in tip-top shape before training begins. Of course, your peers and instructors will help you learn how to tie the belt.
I know that I certainly had an issue tying my belt when I started training. With the help of my white belt as a training tool and the instruction of my peers, I can now tie my belt with my eyes closed in just a few seconds.
No one will judge you for doing it wrong. In my experience, more people even come out with their pants on backward more often than not.
Is There a White Belt Ritual?
You may be expecting to participate in some sort of white belt ritual when you first step onto the mats. While this usually is not the case, every martial arts school has the liberty to do as they please.
You shouldn’t be surprised if your school asks you to complete a type of ritual before you may tie the white belt around your waist.
In most cases, though, dojo staff will hand you a karate white belt right off the bat. After all, it is a necessary part of the uniform, and most martial arts instructors require head-to-toe perfect uniforms before a student can participate in the class.
Karate also adopts many of its rituals and traditions from other martial arts, such as Judo, which actively uses the opponent’s belt as a part of the fighting system. So, while karate practitioners may not need to use the belt to perform, tradition dictates that they wear it at all times.
Once again, it should not come as a surprise if the school requires you to complete some sort of activity before handing over your white belt. Some instructors like to enforce formalities in all aspects of karate.
In most cases, though, expect that your academy will give you one before you step onto the mats.
However, do keep in mind that some martial arts schools may require you to buy your white belt while others include the cost in your tuition. This will continue with each new belt rank. The same will go for the gi and any other necessary sparring equipment.
How Long Does the Average Person Stay at a White Belt?
The amount of time that the average person spends as a karate white belt depends on the style, the school, and the person’s dedication to karate.
On average, newcomers to the sport tend to spend roughly six months as a white belt. Of course, this is with very consistent training that leads to a good command of the basics of each of the martial arts belts.
This is non-negotiable because they will need to test their knowledge and stamina to move on in the system.
Some schools choose to hold their students at white belt a little longer. My school, for example, is very strict about rank. Our students must exhibit the skills and qualities of the next level before taking the exam for it.
So, students may spend anywhere from eight to twelve months at white belt rank before they can test to enter the next stage of their journey.
Two other factors can affect how soon you move on to the next stage: time spent training and the difficulty of the martial arts you’re learning.
Time Spent Training
Not everyone can train as consistently as they would like to. Some hobbyists work full-time jobs or have school and can only make it into the dojo once or twice a week.
These people will not progress to the next belt as quickly, but that is fine. Everyone moves at their own pace in karate. When they finally make it to the next rank, they will have a huge reason to celebrate.
It is also worth mentioning that the difficulty of the style of karate plays into how long someone will spend as a white belt. There are different styles of karate, each with varying levels of difficulty.
It might be easy to gain all the knowledge to move on to your next belt in six months in one style, but another may have you working at that next rank for at least a year.
The same applies to martial arts in general. The average for all styles of karate is six months, but a sport like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can ask two or more years of its white belt practitioners before they move onto the next level.
Regardless of which style of karate you plan to partake in or how consistent you intend on being, remember that you are not racing against time. Enjoy your time as a white belt, and soak in all of the knowledge you can.
This is your journey, and you will complete it, no matter how long it takes.
If you find yourself standing on the mats with a white belt holding your gi closed, you should be beyond proud of yourself because it means that you decided to take the first step of your martial arts journey, which can often be the hardest step to take.
Remember that you start from a fresh, blank slate when you don your white belt. Do not place any expectations on yourself coming in other than keeping an open mind and diligent work ethic to soak in all of the knowledge you can.
If you find that you want to continue practicing karate, remember that the ranking system is not meant to scare you. Instead, it will give you something to work towards in the form of more manageable goals.
Most importantly, remember that you are doing karate because you want to. It is a healthy, rewarding sport, and you will start to see the benefits from the moment you begin to get that white belt a little dirty.