Much has been said about the origins of the Martial Arts belt system. Lets start with the "Legendary origin". It never ceases to amaze me that to this day, many very established and well known Martial Arts teachers still don't know or are unwilling to pass on the truth to their students. The legend, or untrue version that so many teachers pass on is that the belt system started out a long time ago with the white belt. Over a long period of time the practitioners belt would become soiled with dirt, grass stains, blood sweat and tears of the individual, from training outside. The belt would then gradually become darker over time as the belt became "more experienced" so to speak. Going from pure white, to a Yellow, to a green and eventually to a darker Brown and ultimately black. Tradition said that you were NEVER to wash your belt, or the "experience" would wash away. To this day the tradition of not washing the belt is still widely practiced in most academies, though for the reason that earned merit stripes or tips will come off in the wash.
Now to the real story. The modern Martial Arts belt system can be traced to one man, Master Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo (pictured here). You see, Kano was a school teacher. He had seen other forms of Japanese competitions using a ranking system and thought he would like to adopt something similar for his new Martial Art of Judo. Prior to Kano's creation of Judo, other older Samurai martial arts used a five level ranking system called a Menkyo or licence system. A certificate was issued but no outward display of rank was used. Professor Kano saw that games such a the Japanese strategy game of "Go" ranked its players for competition and that Japanese swimmers who were more advanced wore a "black ribbon" around their waist. Kano then set about adding a rank structure to Judo. Originally in 1883 Kano only had two belts, White and Black. White was for students and Black was for teachers or advanced. There were no Black Belt or "Dan" grades as of yet. He awarded the very first two Black Belts to Shiro Saigo and Tomita Tsunejiro. The original Black Belts were not like the belts that we wear today. They were a wide "Obi" or belt that was originally worn over the kimono to keep it closed and to hold the swords of the samurai. Kano then added a three under black Belt ranks. It wasn't until the 1930's or 40's that a European martial artist came up with the colored belt system that we base things on today with colors such as white, yellow, orange, Green, purple blue, Red ect. So there ya have it! Not at all what many, even here in Tracy are still teaching.