What I’ve heard about belts from my research.
“In the days before Kano created Judo, there was no kyu/dan ranking system in the martial arts. A more traditional method of recognizing achievement was the presentation of certificates or scrolls, often with the secrets of the school inscribed. Kano started the modern rank system when he awarded shodan to two of his senior students (Shiro Saigo and Tsunejiro Tomita) in 1883. Even then, there was no external differentiation between yudansha (black belt ranks) and mudansha (those who hadn’t yet attained black belt ranking).
Kano apparently began the custom of having his yudansha wear black obi (belts) in 1886.
The Judo practice uniform and belt system eventually spread to many of the other modern martial arts, such as aikido and karate, which adapted them for their purpose. Karateka in Okinawa didn’t use any sort of special uniform at all in the old days. The kyu/dan ranking system, and the modern karategi (modified judogi) were first adopted by Funakoshi in an effort to encourage karate’s acceptance by the Japanese. He awarded the first shodan ranks given in karate to Tokuda, Otsuka, Akiba, Shimizu, Hirose, Gima, and Kasuya on April 10, 1924. The adoption of the kyu/dan system and the adoption of a standard uniform based on thejudogi were 2 of the 4 conditions which the Dai-Nippon Butokukai required before recognizing karate as a “real” martial art. If you look at photographs of Okinawan karateka training in the early part of this century, you’ll see that they were training in their everyday clothes.”
Another interesting point is: “Something about the martial arts encourages myths and legends. Perhaps it’s the questionable “ history” of the arts themselves, or the adventure-seeking nature of many of its practitioners. Whatever the reason, this tendency toward grandiose fact-bending is nowhere more evident than in the various explanations for our belt system. One of the most common myths – told and repeated by many “ authorities” – is that in days of old all students started by wearing white belts, which eventually turned brown from use and dirt and at some magical point beyond that, turned black.Not a bad story – (“Grasshopper”) – but all you need to do is observe the well-worn belt of a high-ranking Black Belt to see through this fantasy. In fact the reverse is more likely true – look at that black belt and you will notice it is almost white where use has made it threadbare; even the black dye has been reduced to white. A white belt would wear out before it ever turned black.”
Heck Kano took the belt system from SWIMMING! How weird is that?He simply borrowed the system in use at the Japanese public schools where belt ranks (obi in Japanese) were used by different athletic departments, most notably for ranking swimmers.
The idea that belt ranks and the black belt comes from the 19th century rather than ancient customs could be a bummer for some but its actually awesome!! Because it shows how the teaching of our arts can still grow and evolve no matter how old they are. Just think of what else we can take from education advances in teaching and apply to improve our styles!
We have written records and photo evidence or the creation, we have kano on record talking about how he made it and who he took it from.
There’s pretty solid evidence for the creator of belts being Kano. Just my unwanted two cents. I like to nerd out on these things so sorry for shoe hornning myself into the convo!