You might be asking, what does it matter how you tie your belt. You might as well ask why does it matter how you tie your laces, or how you wear your coat. It matters because there's a right way and a wrong way. The right way is comfortable, visually appealling and functional. The wrong way is simply a knot...

A bit of history

Coloured belts are a Western invention designed to denote progress and achievement. Back in Japan and China, there was no coloured belt system. A belt served a number of purposes - it kept your jacket closed so that it didn't get in the way, and it in the process, the jacket kept you warmer.

Modern martial arts has derived from Shaolin monks who lived in temples in ancient China. They developed a martial tradition that was at first voluntarily, then later compulsorily used in the service of the Emperor. The monks practised Buddhism and they lived a simple lifestyle, and had no need to impress people with their martial arts experience, so it's likely that they all wore simple saffron-coloured robes, and belts of the same colour.

At some time, martial arts instructors developed the habit of never washing their belts, and thus the longer one had been training, the dirtier the belt became, resulting in a black belt becoming a symbol of great experience (or a very dirty lifestyle!). In any case, the belt has gained spiritual significance to many martial artists who say that the soul of their training and martial arts is in their belt, which has accompanied them throughout. Such martial artists continue to recommend that one should never wash one's belt, and whilst I respect their right to make this decision, it's nothing more than an affectation based on a tradition that had practical significance when it originated.

Given that we have dispensed with the original meaning of a black belt by introducing coloured grades, I suggest that if you wish to wash your belt, you do so guilt free, as I do.

Sometime after the martial arts moved to the West, instructors adapted the idea of the belt, to use it to denote experience. Modern Westerners felt the need for more achievable goals than mere experience, and they also wanted to denote smaller increments in progress.

In the West, there were originally two belt colours - White - a novice, and black - one who had finished his "apprenticeship". Then developed the habit of dying the belt to show progress. Initially, the same belt was simply dyed progressively darker colours: for instance:- white, yellow, green, blue, brown, black. Other colours include purple and red, although the grade of these belts varies from style to style.

Nowadays, nobody can be bothered to get the dye out each time you grade. You just buy a new belt from your sensei, so the colour progression is less important, and is no longer influenced by what colour can be modified into what colour - hence the fact that many styles now include striped belts.

In an attempt to provide even smaller achievement increments, which will enthuse new students, many styles, including GKR, offer "half-grades" denoted by tags or stripes. These tags are generally the same colour as the next belt. In GKR, you can attain a single yellow tag on a white belt, a single orange tag on a yellow belt, and one or two black tags on a brown belt. At brown-belt level, it can take two or three years to progress to black, so these tags help to maintain enthusiasm, whilst providing targets for students to aim for.

How to tie your belt

Please note, brand new belts will be very stiff and hard to tie properly until you've broken them in. If you don't mind washing your belt, that will soften the material far quicker.

Your belt should have a plain end, and an end (and side) with a label. For clarity, the label side in our drawings is yellow, and the plain side is white.
With the label facing outwards, wrap the belt anti-clockwise around you (viewed from above) so that the label-end is somewhere near your back. The exact position will vary according to your waist size and the length of your belt. The main part of your belt should be in the front.
Holding the label end in place, continue to wrap the belt around you. If you pull the belt firmly, it should be able to hold the label end in place against your body.
If the belt is long enough, wrap it one more time around your body, ending up with the loose end at the front. If the belt is not long enough, skip this stage.
Take the loose plain belt end and tuck it under the two layers of belt in front of you. This bit is vitally important, if you do not tuck beneath both layers, then as soon as you start training, the bottom layer will droop down, and look unsightly.

If there is only one layer, just tuck it under that.

Now for the tricky bit - reach behind you and find the label end which is hopefully held in place by two circles of belt. Pull the end down and out from the layers of belt on top of it, and unwind the label end anti-clockwise until it is at the front. At this stage, you should have two belt ends of roughly equal length; the label end hanging down and the plain end poking up. If the ends are not equal at this stage, you'll have to adjust how far you wind the belt around you in the first stage. Kids often have to start much further around, whilst chunkier people often start further back.
Bend the plain end down. Take the label end, and without twisting it, pass it behind the plain one.
Now wrap the label end once around the plain end.
Pull both ends outwards to the sides to tighten the knot, then downwards at 45 degrees to give it the right shape. The two ends should both be pointing out and down at 45 degrees and should be of equal length. Click here to find out why the length is important.

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Click above to download a printable version of this tutorial in  Word format (.zip file - 63k - You'll need a zip program to access it).

All graphics and text on this page are copyright Mat Broomfield. Feel free to use or print the pages for yourself if you are a student.
Senseis, feel free to print multiple copies for your GKR students only.
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