We often get the questions, “What do belt colors mean?” and “What order do the belts go in?”
Well, grasshopper, it’s complicated.
The idea behind belts is that instead of trying to learn everything all at once, you start with basics. Then, the difficulty increases as you master each new thing.
Different styles and arts have different systems of ranking. You can see NWSMA’s here. Think of it like stairs: you might have 6 1-foot high steps, or you might have 12 half-foot steps. They both lead to the same place. However, the second one might be a little easier for, say, an 8-year old to climb. But an adult might not be challenged enough by smaller steps.
Then there’s color.
The Tae Kwon Do interpretation for the colors is pretty cool. White is pure and knows nothing. Yellow is a seed in the ground. Green is the plant that sprouts from the ground. Blue is the sky which the plant grows towards. Red/brown is a blossom on the plant, but also signifies danger because the red belt does not yet have full control.
The only absolute meaning for each belt is visible improvement. And what about that theoretical place where all steps lead to: the black belt?
The meaning of black belt is highly individual (which is what makes it cool). For example, a black belt who started as an adult may never be able to kick more than chest high. That is probably a big achievement for them, and that’s fine. A black belt kid probably could, but maybe the kid doesn’t have the same mental maturity as the adult. Etcetera.
The road to black belt is never the same for two people. We generally think of black belt as a master of the basics or some high level of technical ability and mental strength.
A master once said, “All the belt is there for is to hold up your pants.”
Belt color and rank matters less than your character, your skill, and what you give back to martial arts and your community.
Check out our piece on how long it takes to get a black belt at NWSMA!