To be covered in this same series - 1. The origin of the Kenpo Self Defense Techniques 2. The origin of each Kenpo Kata. 3. How does KUMITE (Free style) fit into Kenpo?
What is the origin of the colored belt system in Kenpo?
Almost all Japanese - Okinawan - martial arts systems originally followed the belt system as used in Judo. They also used the Japanese names to identify each belt. This was simply the Japanese counting system!
The belt system had two levels:
1. Kyu's (grade) were divided into 5 levels (The counting was done backward with the highest Kyu being the lowest rank)
|Gokyu - 5th kyu white||Yonkyu - 4th kyu - white||Sankyu - 3rd Brown||Nikyu - 2nd Brown||Ikkyu - 1st Brown|
Three levels of brown belt - youth below the age of 16 were awarded a purple belt in place of an Adult brown belt.
2. Dan's (Rank) were divided into 10 levels starting with the lowest Dan rank: Shodan (1st dan working up to the highest: Judan; 10th dan.)
Females of the Dan ranking were awarded a black belt with a White stripe that was placed in the middle of the belt and ran its entire length. Women could earn rank by 1: Rondori (freestyle competition) 2. Kata
When Ed Parker opened his own studios in Pasadena (1966), he always followed this system using the established Japanese rankings.
NOTE: The Japanese Judo system had adopted 10th dan (Judan) as the highest rank. This would not be true of the karate systems. In the early development of Karate, 5th dan was the upper limit - gradually raised to 7th dan and then in the late 60's and 70's to10th. This was true of Kenpo as well. (In fact, many of the original karate "masters" never had a dan -black belt - ranking ... including Master Funakoshi!)
The Korean systems had adopted a top rank of 9th Dan! In the original Korean ranking they did not use a "black belt" as the highest rank but a "deep midnight blue" belt.
The first minor change in Kenpo's (Ed Parker's) belt system when my I and my brothers talked Ed into adding Brown stripes to the first two white belts
A white belt with no stripes was unranked. The 5th kyu saw the placement of a 1/4" iron-on brown stripe placed one inch from the tip. 4th Ky added a 2nd brown strip 1/2 above the first tip. Ed parker agreed to this addition and if became our job to add the stripes after the promotion. All promotions were done in groups, so after each promotion we were there with an electric iron and iron-on brown stripes to add to each belt. Suddenly you were no longer just a "White Belt" This was important for many of the students because the usual time to make Brown Belt was about two years. You could have a student with two-plus years training - almost ready for brown belt and a new beginning student both wearing the same "plain white belt"
You were no longer a white belt you were a XX Kyu or XX Kyu.
Later this same system would be extended to the Brown Belts where a black stripe would be placed on the brown belt. to indicate; Sankyu, Nikyu or Ikkyu! In American Kenpo this was extended to black belts.
Enter the colored belt system.
While we studied under Ed Parker we wrote down and filmed everything we had ever been taught. All of the self defense techniques were written down on 4X6" filing cards. (Ed used the same method.) They were then divided by defense against grabs; left punch; right punch; kicks; multiple attack; etc.
When the Tracy brothers moved to San Francisco and opened our first studio - we set about "organizing" the structure of Kenpo.
The first thing we did was to create requirements for each belt level. It became apparent there was so much material to be learned up to Black Belt that, from a manageable teaching standpoint, there was a need for breaking "white belt" down into 4 levels rather than the 2 that had been the "norm." Even more so we wanted to make a greater distinction between each rank of white belt.
The techniques were sorted into groups of 40 self defense techniques. They were first divided by 1 - "must" know and 2 - difficulty. Then Katas were assigned to each belt level. There would be two katas per belt - (Short, long one) Short Two, Long Two - on down the line!
Enter the modern belt system. At that time (1962-63) we had formed our own supply company (Oriental Wholesale Supplies) to import our Gi's and belts directly from Japan. Back then we could get a #5 white Gi (unbleached) with belt - with all import duties - for $3.25. It would be years later until the pure white Gi was used. The early bleached white Gi's were so flimsy they would tear the first time you were grabbed.
At different times, many colored belts had been used by different systems; James Mitose even used a blue belt. The purple belts was available because of its use in Judo and a new green belt was out there. But what would we use as the 4th color? Our suppliers from Japan contacted us with a offer for "orange" belts that had came about as a mistake in the dying process.
Originally we would never have considered an "Orange" belt.- Back then we were all pretty "macho" - and what adult male would wear an Orange Belt? As fate would have it, they offered us such low price on over 1000 orange belts we could not turn it down.
The "Colored Belt" System in Kenpo was born:
Orange Belt - Shichikyu
Purple Belt - Rokkyu
Blue Belt - Gokyu
Green Belt - Yonkyu
Some time later we would reluctantly add Yellow Belt - Hachikyu - as a Youth Belt: (Only 10 self defense techniques as opposed to 40 for all the other belts.)
After Ed Parker saw that the Colored Belt system was being accepted, he then added the belt system we were using. Ed would make one change in that he would also award "Yellow Belt" for adults. It was at this time Ed Parker would establish and put out his first set of "written manuals" that had 32 self defense techniques for each belt. with the exception of yellow belt which had 10 self defense techniques.
"Trouble in River City"
Originally Tracy's and Ed Parker taught exactly the same self defense techniques. (We learned them all from Ed.). When we moved to San Francisco we were simply an extension of Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate. We used the same brochures and advertising (Click here for a copy of that original brochure.) The young Black Belt with the short hair doing the brick breaking is me!
However, Tracy's 1962-63 had given individual names to each of the self defense techniques. We offered to let Ed Parker use our copyrighted names - but by now Tracy's had taken on an identity its own as we had expanded out and had more studios than Ed Parker. So Ed then created his own set of names. That was not too bad because then you simply had to have a cross-reference of the names since most of them were the same identical techniques.
As American Kenpo developed most of the techniques were changed from the original forms used by Tracys and only about 10% of the techniques remained the same.
As the Martial Arts became more commercial, we also added Yellow Belt as an adult rank - mainly so that a family with adults and children could be promoted at the same time.
Over the years almost all major martial arts systems would adopt a "colored belt system". That is why the use of the Japanese numbering system was critical. What might be a green belt in one system would be a purple belt in another system. That did not matter because everyone used the Kyu designation, also. No matter the color of the belt, a Yonkyu was still a Yonkyu.
Copyright 2001 - Al Tracy - all rights reserved
last undated 10/18/2010