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All About the Martial Arts Black Belt

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What do you think of when you hear the words martial arts black belt? Some no doubt begin to imagine flying ninjas and Jackie Chan movies. Others may have a more realistic vision, usually one of martial arts superiority. But does attaining a black belt in fact signify a martial arts expert? What's more, do you know how the belt system came about? How about the names of some of the greatest black belts in history?

The bottom line is that if you want to know these things and more about the black belt in martial arts, then you've come to the right place.

The History of the Black Belt:

If you've been around the martial arts for any length of time, you've probably heard about those ancient martial artists that once started training with a white belt only to see it change color over time, eventually turning black. Thus, came the idea of a black belt, right? Wrong. Rather, the system of using belt color to signify ability and rank was first used by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo. The first black belts he awarded were in the 1880's before adopting a full belt system to signify ranking later. From there, many systems and styles assimilated this idea and structure into their training.

Does a Martial Arts Black Belt Signify a Martial Arts Expert?:

Yes and no. That depends on the system, as many have adopted belt grading in their own unique ways. For example, some styles award a black belt within three years, while others may require 10 years of training to achieve such status.

Generally, a black belt is at least very proficient in a style's techniques. In many cases, true experts may have degrees attached to their black belts (2nd degree black belt, for example) or are actually called masters of their art.

The bottom line is that in almost all situations, a black belt is at least a very strong practitioner and possibly even an expert.

Some Black Belts to Know:

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, here are some martial arts black belts that you should become acquainted with.

  • Helio Gracie: Widely considered to be the inventor of modern day Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Gracie was a 10th degree master of his chosen art upon his death in January of 2009. Along the way, he made major improvements to the guard (fighting off of one's back) and his family played a large role in the advent of modern day MMA competition.
  • Jigori Kano: Kano invented the martial arts style of judo, looking for an alternative to the more violent jujutsu of his era. His vision of seeing judo become a sport was eventually realized in 1910. Kano was also the inventor of the belt grading system. He died a 12th dan of his system.
  • Chuck Norris: Norris, a famous martial arts actor, is a black belt in Tang Soo Do, a form of karate, and Tae Kwon Do (an 8th degree Black Belt Grand Master). Beyond that, Norris managed a 183-10-2 estimated overall karate tournament record during his competitive days.
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