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rec.martial-arts FAQ part 4 of 4 (LONG)
Section - Re: Belt colors -- why black?

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Top Document: rec.martial-arts FAQ part 4 of 4 (LONG)
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Rick Shank <> wrote:
>Stephen O Gombosi <> wrote:
>>Neil Brydges  <> wrote:
>>>One reason I heard for belts being black was that you started off as a
>>>white belt. As you trained the belt gathered dirt and eventually after
>>>many years became black. This was then modified in more recent times


>>... The kyu/dan ranking system, and the white/black belt
>>distinction that goes with it, is a recent (post-1880) invention.

>But your accounting does not deny that the motivation for the chosen
>colors was consistant with Neil's version does it?

Well, let's examine this fable in a little more detail.

First:  the rank system predates the practice uniform itself (although only
        by a few years). The obi distinction is a bit later than the rank
        system and a bit earlier than the modern uniform and its (modified)
        obi. Kano originally had his students practice in formal kimono,
        as some traditional jujutsu systems *still* do, complete with
        a wide, traditional obi (really closer to a sash than the modern
        "belt"). Let's just say that Kano's students were as likely to
        show up with a dirty kimono and obi as you are to show up for a
        job interview in a mud-caked suit.

Second: the notion that there would be a certain cachet associated with
        filth in a culture as obsessed with cleanliness and ritual purity
        as Japan is pretty absurd to begin with.

Third:  very high ranks in Japanese and Okinawan arts are often indicated
        by red and/or red&white belts. It's hard to see how this is
        consistent with the idea that colors result from progressive
        staining or overdyeing. To clarify: such systems tend to reserve
        red obis for 9th or 10th dan. If the staining theory is correct,
        why is this the case? Note that this accounts for the unease
        many practitioners of such systems feel around 14 year-old TKD
        red belts ;-).


Below answers the following Groaner:

9) A three-day course does/doesn't make you invincible.

Can you really learn to defend myself after only a three-day course?

Many people are so uncomfortable with the notion of being attacked that
they "freeze". Many people have been so conditioned against responding to
an attack that they simply don't feel *capable* of resisting. There are
short "self-defense" courses which seek to break these inhibitions by
confronting students with an "attacker" in a safe, supportive environment
where physical resistance is not only permitted, but strongly encouraged.
Many people have reported that such courses have been useful to them. If
you feel you're in the same boat, you may wish to investigate these
courses. Note that *none* of these courses can provide you with the sort
of conditioned, automatic response that constant repetitive training
provides, nor will they do much to increase the power or skill with which
you execute those techniques. In other words, they're not a *substitute*
for long-term training in a martial art. What they *can* do is help break
down the psychological barriers which may impede you from defending
yourself to the limit of your current knowledge and abilities.

Below answers the following Groaner:

19) What's the best martial art for self-defense?


The answer is "it depends".

Before you can answer this question (and, make no mistake about it, you
*are* the one who is going to have to answer it), you need to ask
*yourself* some other questions:

1) What do you *mean* by the term "self-defense"? What sort of situations
   do you envisage that require some sort of "self-defense"? Single or
   multiple opponents? Armed or unarmed? Size relative to you? Do you
   expect to be grabbed, thrown, kicked, or punched? Can you speculate
   on the motivations for an attack? Do you expect merely to be robbed,
   or do you consider rape, maiming, or murder a possibility? These
   are very unpleasant questions to think about, but they're necessary
   to figure out what your *personal* definition of "self-defense" is.
   Essentially, what you have to figure out is:

   a) What do you consider an "attack" that requires some sort of response?
   b) What sort of response do you, deep in your heart of hearts, consider

   Note that the law where you reside may have a very different
   definition from the one you have in mind.

2) Who are you? What sort of personality type are you? Are you timid
   or assertive? What are your physical attributes? Note that an art
   which works well for a 220lb (100kg, for those of you in *rational*
   countries) 18 year-old female body-builder may prove useless for
   a 70 year-old man half her size, or for a small child.

3) How much time and effort are you *really* willing to put into this?
   Note that most people *drastically* overestimate this - you're probably
   no exception to the rule. Almost any martial art can be used for
   "self-defense" *IF* you're willing to invest the effort to become
   truly proficient at it. This includes a lot of arts which don't look
   too practical at first glance. A lot of martial arts practice is
   repetitive, boring, painful, sweaty, exhausting WORK. How much of
   that are you really prepared to endure solely for something as nebulous
   as "self-defense"?

Now that we've scared you sufficiently, let's discuss some specifics.
Almost all martial arts have some "self-defense" application, but that
application may be of marginal utility to you.

For example, the art of Shindo Muso Ryu Jodo is probably hard to beat if
you have to fight a traditional Japanese swordsman while armed with only
a stick.  But few people find themselves in that situation these days.
Nevertheless, such an art develops excellent timing and an instinctive
sense of distance - both of which are of great utility in defending

More mundane, and, if you will, "practical" specialties include throwing,
punching, kicking, groundfighting, and so forth.  There is endless
argument about which of these is more "street applicable", with
not much general consensus.  Some are probably better for one class
of attacks, some for another.

To sum up, what you need to do is peruse the various style descriptions
in the "Martial Arts FAQ", and read the "Newbie Guide" which was written
explicitly to help you begin to look for a school that suits you, even
if you know relatively little about martial arts. Both are available at: .

Look these FAQs over in light of the answers you've given to the questions
above. Then, see what's available in your area. If you still can't
decide, feel free to ask on rec.martial-arts.moderated (and rec.martial-

If you phrase your question carefully, you can avoid being flamed
and probably get a lot of helpful advice. In other words, *don't*
ask "What's the best martial art?", "What's the best martial art for a
street fight?", "What's the best martial art to learn self-defense?".
Instead, ask something more like, "I'm a 28-year-old female, about 5'2",
strong, but not aerobically fit. I have a two-year-old child I take with
me everywhere I go. When I go shopping, I'm always afraid that some guy
is going to try to rob or rape me in one of the parking ramps. Of course
I can't run away and leave my two-year-old, and I don't really want to
hurt anybody, just get away safely. I can devote four nights a week to
practicing *something*. Does anybody have any suggestions?

Below answers the following Groaner:

20) 90% of all fights end up on the ground.


Many people feel that ground-fighting is an important aspect to consider
in a potential attack, citing an often quoted (but never attributed)
statistic that "90% of all fights end on the ground".

This may or may not be true. It's kind of hard to tell, since the sources
for that statistic are unknown. Note that even if it is true, it may
simply mean that 90% of all fighters are incapable of punching or kicking
effectively enough to do any real damage, or that 90% of the people who get
into fights are too drunk to stay on their feet.

Having said that, if you ever *are* taken to ground, being able to fight
there is a useful skill. Note that this doesn't necessarily imply

Note also that being on the ground can place one at a disadvantage when
dealing with multiple assailants (especially armed ones), and can make
escape or evasion rather difficult. Not to mention the condition of the
ground itself at the time (broken glass? gravel? mud? snow?).

There are frequent discussions about whether ground-fighting is, or is
not, an essential aspect of most attacks, and whether one needs to
be versed in ground-fighting tactics to be considered sufficiently
versed in self-defense techniques, in order to be prepared for an attack.
There is not, however, a lot of consensus on the answer.

Below answers the following Groaner:

21) Is a gun the best martial arts defense?


Should you get a gun?

Especially in the United States, there's a lot of concern about the
use of firearms in self-defense as well as their use by assailants.

In the martial arts newsgroups, there is considerable disagreement
about the entire topic of gun ownership and usage. Never-ending debates
are easily resurrected about whether a gun: safe; will be available when needed; can be made readily
  available if needed; might be taken from you and used against you;
  can be brought into play fast enough against someone [unarmed/armed
  with a knife/armed with a gun]; the legalities of if and when a gun
  can be used; etc....

Three key questions if you are considering the purchase of a gun for

 o Are you willing to put the time and effort into learning how to
   use it, and maintaining those skills?

 o Are you able to deal with the psychological consequences of
   injuring, permanently maiming or disabling, or killing someone
   as a result of you pulling the trigger?

 o Are you able to deal with the possible legal consequences of
   injuring, permanently maiming or disabling, or killing someone
   as a result of you pulling the trigger?

If you want advice on the purchase or use of such weapons, it's probably
best to seek it in the newsgroups devoted to firearms: rec.guns, and
for the verbosely masochistic, talk.politics.guns. The NRA certifies
instructors in a well-proven basic pistol syllabus, and can probably
help you find a local gun club that offers an NRA-type course. Most gun
stores and ranges will also be able to direct you toward one, perhaps
more efficiently (note that this is neither an endorsement nor a
rejection of the NRA's political views). If you feel you must have a
gun for self-defense, at least have the good sense to learn how to own
it responsibly and use it safely.

Below answers the following Groaner:

22) What are the chances of an unarmed martial artist versus a gun-wielder?


As far as defending oneself from firearms is concerned, the best
advice is to avoid getting yourself into situations where this might
be necessary.  From close range, it's certainly possible for an unarmed
person to effectively deal with a gun - but it's *very* difficult and
*very* dangerous. The odds of failure are pretty high, and the cost of
failure is death. Remember that the next time you see someone kick a gun
out of someone's hand on TV. If the assailant is out of reach, unarmed
techniques are practically useless.



Thanks to the following people for contributing their wisdom, prose,
suggestions, and encouragement to this guide.  (The appearance of
their names here does not signify agreement with everything written
here, of course.)

   Stephen Chan            Steve Gombosi          David Poore
   Terry Chan              Peter Hahn             Lauren Radner
   Joe Chew                Michael Lawrie         Bill Rankin
   Doug Cohen              Mary Malmros           Michael Robinson
   Bud Glunt               Jeff Pipkins           Andy Vida-Szucs

(C) Copyright 1997, Lauren B. Radner.  All rights reserved.

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