The Legend of the Unwashed Black Belt in Martial Arts

If you have read my hub on Taekwon-do belt colours and their meanings you would have learned that the black belt signifies the student’s maturity and proficiency, and that there are nine degrees in this belt rank. The tenth is only awarded posthumously.

The black belt is the highest belt in martial arts and there have been successful efforts to standarise the award of black belt especially in Taekwon-do. To add to the mystique and sense of achievement with possessing the black belt degree is the legend that in ancient days the fighters wore the same white belt throughout the period of training and it was never washed so it ended up black. This is a popular misconception, yet there are some persons who may believe in the legend because of the fear that washing the belt would "wash away the knowledge" or "wash one's Qi away".

Rhee Tae Kwon-Do 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Dan black belts.  Photo courtsy Wikimedia Commons.  Original uploader was User:Janggeom.
Rhee Tae Kwon-Do 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Dan black belts. Photo courtsy Wikimedia Commons. Original uploader was User:Janggeom.

The use of belt colour to denote rank in the martial art is a recent phenomenon, originating in the 19th century in Japan, so there is no truth to the myth that there is great ancient significance to belt colour.  This whole belt colour thing is of more value to the organizational discipline and balance sheet of martial arts clubs than to the standard of training and fighting. 

I have heard that grading and award of belt ranks vary around the world, but I can testify that the local Taekwon-do club has extreme strict grading requirements which the student must fulfill. 

Interestingly, in my White Belt manual I find that one of the rule is “Ti - belt - is not to be worn around the neck and is not to be washed.”

Legends persist.

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Comments 6 comments

kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

sunforged profile image

sunforged 6 years ago from

I had never heard the myth of the unwashed belt, but it is a fun piece of folklore!

glendoncaba profile image

glendoncaba 6 years ago from Somewhere in the hubverse Author

@kaltopsyd: Thank you.

@the great sunforged: Happy you enjoyed. Now I must do 10 more hubs today to complete 60 day challenge. Mental martial arts goal!!!

LeanMan profile image

LeanMan 6 years ago from At the Gemba

I must admit that my suit was washed after every session, but the belt......

Faybe Bay profile image

Faybe Bay 6 years ago from Florida

This was a very fun and informative hub. I like the old story, and I had heard about not washing the belt.

Kyle 6 years ago

I was taught this. I followed it until me belt began to smell like stale urine. I washed it. I still have my knowledge, and I smell nice too :)

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