The First Uniform and Black Belt in Karate

In the board-game of Go, Hon’inbō Dōsaku 本因坊道策 (1645-1702) created the first rank system. It had three ranks only: Meijin (9th dan), Jun-meijin (8th dan), and Jōzu (7th dan). Later this classification was enhanced to include nine dan 段 ranks. At that time there was no distinction between professional players and amateurs, and there were no kyū ranks – the kyū ranks were only added during the Meiji era. Today beginners in Go who have just learned the game are usually placed at 30th kyū.

BTW, in 1682, the Ryūkyūan Go-player Hama Higa Pēchin played against above mentioned Hon’inbō Dōsaku, and if I am not mistaken, he was awarded rank for his good skill. Since this Hama Higa Pēchin is also considered the creator of Hama Higa no Sai, he would have been the first Okinawan martial artist with a dan rank… albeit in Go.

In August 1883 Kanō, in reference to the game of Go, conferred shodan (1st dan) on two of his disciples, Tomita Tsunejirō and Saigō Shirō, and it was decided that a dan-grade was to be represented by the color of the belt.

The kyū-grades in martial arts, on the other hand, originated in the Metropolitan Police Department of Tōkyō, which introduced a kyū-system for Gekken (the predecessor-name of Kendō), ranging from 8th to 1st kyū.

From the above two, the Dai Nippon Butokukai adopted a combined dan-kyū-system, which it used for jūdō, kendō, and kyūdō.

Kanō Jigorō supported Funakoshi and invited him to present Karate at the Kōdōkan in 1922. Since it was a formal occasion, Funakoshi wore a suit tailored by himself in the fashion of a jūdō suit. Since Funakoshi had no rank at all, on personal instruction by Kanō he was bestowed a black belt from the stock of the Kōdōkan. And this can be considered the beginning of both karate-gi and the dan-kyū-system in Karate.

So the first person in Karate who was given — or awarded — a black belt was in fact Funakoshi Gichin. In the picture below, from Funakoshi’s 1925 book, you see the long self-sewn suit with short sleeves. Even the knot of the belt might point to jūdō, since it might have been a fashion at the Kōdōkan at the time – knots in the middle can simply be painful during ukemi and randori, as everybody knows. Anyway, after the demo at the Kōdōkan, Funakoshi used a black waistband instead of the black jūdō belt. Such a waistband can also be seen in the photo below.

It was in this way that Funkoshi established the practice uniform of karate based on the fashion of a jūdō suit, and he also established the ranking system by adopting the black belt from jūdō. Two years later he awarded the first black belts to his students.

The first black belt and dogi in Karate.

The first black belt and dogi in Karate.

BTW, one characteristic of pre-1945 traditional Karate appears to be the lack of patches.

© 2016 – 2017, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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