Do You Have to Earn a White Belt in Martial Arts?

One of the first questions that I asked when I started looking into martial arts is what a white belt is and how I needed to go about getting one. Where does it fit in the rankings for martial arts? Is it the same across martial arts? I decided to investigate.

In martial arts with belt systems, a white belt is “earned” upon starting the martial art. A white belt symbolizes purity and new beginnings and is given to you at the beginning of your martial arts journey in martial arts disciplines that include a belt system or grading system.

Now that we know that a white belt is given to you at the beginning of your martial arts training, let’s take a look into which martial arts use these systems and what it means to be a white belt in martial arts.

Which Martial Arts Have Belt Systems?

There are many disciplines of traditional martial arts in the world with varying levels of popularity that have belt systems. Most traditional martial arts include some sort of belt ranking system due to their shared origins.

Take a look at this list to see some of the more popular martial arts that have belt systems:

  1. Krav Maga
  2. Karate
  3. Taekwondo
  4. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  5. Aikido
  6. Judo
  7. Capoeira
  8. Arnis (also known as Kali or Eskrima)
  9. Hapkido

How Long Does It Take to Get a White Belt in Martial Arts?

Most martial arts that include a belt system award you a white belt upon starting your training in that martial art. So you would receive your white belt ranking when you start your first class at the school or dojo.

How Long Do You Stay a White Belt in Martial Arts?

The timeline to promotion out of the white belt depends upon the specific martial art discipline and as well as the school or instructor that is in charge of grading.

Take a look at the table below to get an of how long it first promotions typically take in each martial art:

Martial ArtEstimated Time to Promote Out of White Belt
Krav Maga4 Months
Karate3 Months
Taekwondo3 Months
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu6 to 36 Months
Aikido3 to 6 Months
Judo4 to 6 Months
Capoeira12 Months
Arnis2 to 3 Months
Hapkido3 Months
Click the links for more details. This table shows the average times to promotion in months. Specific times will vary based on the school or dojo that you attend.

What Is a White Belt in Martial Arts?

In traditional martial arts, a white belt signifies that the student is a complete beginner. The white belt represents purity and the mythos of the belt is that through hard work and training your belt will slowly become dirty with use and become a black belt, which is the most common ending rank.

What is Expected of a White Belt in Martial Arts?

White belts are expected to learn the rules, manners, and learning methods that will allow them to acquire self-discipline and martial arts skills. White belts are expected to make mistakes but also to put forward a good faith effort to be the best student that they can be.

Do Stripes Get Added to White Belts in Martial Arts?

Stripes are commonly used in martial arts to denote progress along a belt rank. In many instances, these stripes are used to determine eligibility for testing into the next belt rank in the grading system.

Some of the more popular martial arts that use a stripe system include:

  1. Karate
  2. Taekwondo
  3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  4. Jeet Kune Do
  5. Hapkido

Striping systems are more common for kids’ martial arts programs because it gives them positive reinforcement and keeps them motivated and excited to continue training.

What are the Belt Ranks in Martial Arts?

The majority of martial arts belt ranking systems go through a belt color progression that gradually gets darker, progressing from white belt all the way to black belt.

The most typical martial arts belt color rankings used are:

  1. White Belt
  2. Yellow Belt
  3. Orange Belt
  4. Green Belt
  5. Blue Belt
  6. Purple Belt
  7. Black Belt

In many children’s martial arts programs you also see the inclusion of stripes and half belt colors in order to provide them with positive reinforcement and proof of their progress.

Are Martial Arts White Belts Allowed to Compete?

Most martial arts tournaments allow white belts to compete in a beginner division. Competing as a white belt helps you to become familiar with the format and reduces competition anxiety for future tournaments.

Some martial arts discourage competition at the white belt level for safety concerns. This is primarily for more full-contact sparring tournaments like Judo in which injuries are more common with a lack of experience.

Final Thoughts

Not all martial arts have white belts and grading systems, but the usefulness of the belt system is obvious as it can give beginners an idea of their progression. Giving a martial artist a white belt at the beginning and having there be a visible progression as belt colors change and stripes are awarded has its uses, especially when it comes to kids programs.

Norms for white belts will vary from martial art to martial art and from school to school, so don’t worry about how your progression looks from white belt to the next belt and just keep training and realize that improvement is not based wholly on the color of your belt.

For more check out Can You Be Demoted in Martial Arts? Are Belt Ranks Forever?


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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